BPC Ball Fields Must Be Totally Rebuilt Before Play Can Resume

During the construction of the Battery Park City ball fields in the summer of 2011, a worker carries some of the hundreds of recyclable pads that cover a fabric base. Photo by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Battery Park City’s $3 million artificial-turf ball fields will need a "total replacement" before they reopen, the Battery Park City Authority announced Wednesday, Dec. 19, on its website. What that means for the Downtown Little League, and the 1,100 children who are expecting to play on them next spring, is unknown.

“We are frankly at the mercy of the Authority,” Downtown Little League president Bill Martino said. “We are hopeful that they are going to look to get the work started and completed as soon as possible.”

The fields, installed in the summer of 2011, were inundated with flood water from Hurricane Sandy.

It took nearly seven weeks for the Authority and its contractors to complete a damage assessment, and there are still unknowns remaining. In its online statement, the Authority said that until the artificial turf and the layers beneath it are removed will contractors know whether the complex of "storm management" and irrigation systems need to be repaired as well.

“As such, a determination as to duration of the project is not known,” the Authority wrote on its site.

A major component of the field is its drainage system, in which rainwater drains through the layers of porous materials below the artificial grass and is pumped into a 100,000-gallon tank in a residential building next to the field.

In early December, BPCA spokesman Matt Monahan told Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee that there were worries about the contents of the water that soaked the fields.

"A source of our concern [is] for possible health issues from the foul water the surge carried, which contained salt from the river/harbor, backwash from overtaxed sewers and whatever else may have been in the water emerging from the tunnel," Monahan later told the Trib in an email.

Martino said he was told by an Authority staff member several weeks ago to start looking for an alternate playing field. That was not an option, he replied.

“The only alternative is to cancel our season for 1,100 children and their families,” Martino said.  “There are no other options, other than we have a season or we don't.

The original installation took just under three months, and was carried out between the end of the Little League season and the start of the Downtown Soccer League's season. The field’s opening was delayed for close to two weeks because of particularly wet weather. It is unclear what impact winter weather would have on the construction, which involves the installation of layers of stone, geotextile fabric, padding and, finally, a carpet with “grass” fiber punched into it and weighted with coconut husks, peat and sand.

In November, before the need for total reconstruction of the fields was announced, a representative from Stantec, the firm that designed the field, said the company would like to avoid the use of a "cold weather" glue on the fields and instead make repairs in the spring.

While the Authority is beginning the process of hiring a contractor in charge of the construction, some question what changes should be made to the fields' design to prevent a repeat future storm damage.

“We hope they will be proactively addressing this situation so it can be as resilient as a lot of the other infrastructure in Battery Park City,” said Community Board 1 Chair Catherine McVay Hughes.

In the meantime, Martino said he remained optimistic that the field could be replaced, if not by the start of the league’s permit on March 1, then by the start of its season the following month.

“Of course I am hopeful, I have to be hopeful,” Martino said. “Every time I get an email from a parent, which is a couple a day, I say we expect to be playing April 1.”

Mark Costello, a former Downtown Little League president who serves on CB1’s Youth Committee and was involved in planning the fields, questioned the timing and manner of the Authority’s announcement.

“Announcing this on a website without a courtesy call, without some background information is very cavalier,” Costello said in a telephone interview. “It’s hard to understand why it’s coming out now, a few days before Christmas, why the community board was blindsided and the leagues too.”

Uncertainty over the upcoming Little League season, Costello added, creates problems for parents, who this month have been signing their children up for baseball.

“It’s a big part of people’s lives,” he said.