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Park plans may include rec center, pool

Kids take advantage of the sprinkler in the

Kids take advantage of the sprinkler in the playground at Ellsworth W. Allen Park in South Farmingdale. (June 24, 2011) Credit: John Dunn

Months of meetings with civic groups and athletic clubs have honed the vision for one of Oyster Bay Town's largest projects in recent memory.

The expansion of South Farmingdale's Ellsworth W. Allen Park from 16 to 38 acres could include up to five turf playing fields, a 250,000-square-foot community center and -- most significantly -- an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Before anything is decided, Town Supervisor John Venditto promised a larger community forum this fall to discuss potential designs and their costs. He wouldn't estimate a price tag, but acknowledged few recent projects (except the new $65 million Hicksville parking garage) compare.

"We're not just talking about playing fields here," Venditto said. "We're talking about a very significant investment in our suburban lifestyle."

Next month, the town board will hold a hearing to change area zoning from light industrial to recreational. It comes just as a decade-long, $12-million environmental cleanup wraps up.

The 22-acre Motor Avenue site onto which the park will grow was once an industrial finishing plant. "We've come a long way," Venditto said. "I remember the days when the entire community was afraid to drink the water."

Working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Oyster Bay led a cleanup that officials say exceeded stringent state and federal standards.

Meanwhile, as the project grew into focus, the community wish list simply grew. In small meetings this spring with about 40 local sports and civic groups, two ideas had the loudest proponents.

"We have been asking for an intergenerational-recreational community center for Farmingdale for a long time," Chuck Gosline, a leader of the Concerned Citizens Association of Farmingdale, wrote in an email.

Such a facility would offer meeting space for seniors and civics, and athletic program space for children and adults.

Then there's the pool.

Earlier this year, dozens of parents and members of the Farmingdale Aquatics swimming squad filled a town hall meeting to ask that the Allen Park expansion include an Olympic-size pool. Officials said they were open to the suggestion.

Last week, Venditto said the significant cost of such a facility -- which he put in the eight-figure range -- has led to an alternative: a possible inter-municipal agreement to renovate Farmingdale High School's swimming pool, and open it to wider community use.

"Hopefully that will satisfy the needs out there," the supervisor said, adding it would just be one option presented.

But Farmingdale Aquatics coach Bill Manton said a larger pool at a public park "j ust opens up so many more possibilities," including room for simultaneous practices and swimming safety classes. With the town's school discussions, he doubts the new pool's chances.

"They're just looking to please the most amount of people," Manton said of the town.

From blight to park

2002: Condemned first 15 acres of old Liberty Industrial Finishing site on Motor Avenue

2003: Additional nine acres of the old site is proposed for a new Stop & Shop, which was later built

2010: Condemned final seven acres of site for park expansion

July 26: Public hearing planned for industrial-to-recreational zone change

Fall 2011: Community forum planned to review potential expansion designs

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