Islip Residents Organize Against Pool Closures

(Photo from Flickr, Creative Commons License)

Town of Islip officials are considering additional service cuts on top of the already announced closings of the public pools at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood and Casamento Park in West Islip, charged Renee Ortiz, a well-known community leader who along with other organizations has been fighting to prevent the closings and other service cuts that impact the community.

A few months ago, Town of Islip authorities announced cuts in funding for programs for adolescent parents (ACCES), substance abuse rehabilitation, as well as the decision by the Department of Human Services to grant itself an important increase (of 28 percent) in tax revenues.

Nonetheless, what has led the community to organize itself is the announcement of the closing of two important recreation centers – the pools at Roberto Clemente (formerly known as Timberline Park) and Casamento – which are among the most used during the summer by hundreds of families from the communities of Brentwood, Bay Shore, Central Islip and West Islip, which have large Hispanic populations.

According to the charges leveled by the activist and the organizations, the decision by the authorities was surprising because there was no previous notice of it, and residents were not given the opportunity to voice their opinions about the closings.  They said that officials have yet to offer a coherent explanation about the closing of the pools, which are the most used in Islip, while pools in Oakdale and Hauppauge will remain open.

‘This Measure Took Us by Surprise’

Ortiz, director of Leadership and Empowerment Through Education & Participation (LEEP), told La Tribuna Hispana that the move to close the two pools took the communities by surprise.  “Unfortunately, there never was any sort of official announcement about the closing of the pool at Roberto Clemente Park and Casamento Park.  A community leader alerted us to the potential closings and to new investigations.  We found out later that these cuts were made when the budget was approved,” she declared.

Once she knew about the cuts, Ortiz organized a community offensive through LEEP.  “The organization, of which I am a co-founder, initiated a first on-line petition at change.org, which has collected favorable reactions to the problem, also garnering attention from other community leaders and members.  To date the petition has gathered over 500 signatures against the closings, and remains open for anyone who wants to sign it,” she said.  Ortiz says there’s around 150,000 residents affected, and that the most impacted areas will felt Central Islip, Brentwood, Bay Shore and West Islip, which have a minority population of African Americans and Hispanics.

On the subject of more sudden service cuts, Ortiz said it would not be unusual.  “Recently, they closed down several human services programs, including one for teen parents and a drug rehabilitation program; their funding was reduced in a big hurry, and those cuts were also the catalysts for similar public protests and opposition.  We have see that, as a last resort, they could eliminate the entire Human Services Department without the least consideration,” she said.

Ortiz announced that community leaders and members met at the Islip Town Hall to express their profound concern about the closing of the two park pools.  “It is important for the community to stand up and send a message to the authorities that our communities are concerned about the pools, and more importantly, that we need them.  These parks are safe spaces which our families deserve, they should be kept as a right,” she contended.

Reactions Against the Closings

The signature-collection campaign has intensified, and neighbors can add their names on the Internet at www.change.org. On the same page residents can also express their opinion against the closing of the pools, like the ones below:

Lorraine Booker, of Central Islip: “For over 30 years I have lived in this community and the parks have always been an integral part of it. My children who are now adults spent many happy times there. Why do taxes go up with diminished services. This cycle must end.”

Vicky Galán, of Central Islip: “We need to keep these pools open so the families in our town have a place to go and enjoy their summers.”

Christina Betts, of Brentwood: “These parks are both dear to me. Growing up in Brentwood my friends and I frequently used these parks to play ball at, and meet for all types of activities. It would be a disservice to our youth to close these parks. Please reconsider the decision to close them.”

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