Community Center Faces Huge Challenge After Hurricane

Manhattan Youth director Bob Townley views water-filled staircase, part of the 20-foot-high flooding of the Downtown Community Center's lower floors. Photo by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Manhattan Youth director Bob Townley stood on the steps leading to the lower levels of the Downtown Community Center on Wednesday. At the bottom stood a pool of water, just  a hint of the nightmare that lay beyond, more than 20,000 square feet of water, 20 feet high.

"It's hard to imagine," he said, peering down into the murky water. "The ceramic studio, the art studio, the teen lounge, the kitchen, all the system, the boiler, the pool filtration system and power system of the pool system. All the big ticket items—$600,000 to $700,000 items. Each."

On Wednesday, Townley and his staff leaders were trying to come to terms with the devastating damage caused by the swell of Hurricane Sandy waters that flooded the underground garage of 200 Chambers Street next door and gushed into the lower floors of the center at 120 Warren St. How would Manhattan Youth rebuild and continue serving some 3,000 Downtown residents in its after school and many other programs?

"Everything is going to be more money than we have," said Townley, who was unsure on Wednesday whether his organization's insurance policy would cover the damage.

"It's going to be millions of dollars in infrastructure. equipment, loss of program revenue," he said.

(One of the first hurdles was finding a pump. At 2:30 Wednesday afternoon, the first of three pumps arrived. "That's good news," Bob said to his staff, which had set up their offices from the center to the living room of his apartment.)

It was at the height of the storm, around 10 p.m., when Townley got a call from one of the staff members manning the center that water was flooding in from the garage. He decided to go see for himself.

"I knew it was really crazy, but I was going to do it," said Townley, who lives a block away in Battery Park City.  "I wanted to see if our sandbags were holding. I wanted to see what I could do. I always feel like I can solve a problem."

Townley put on waterproof pants, a jacket and boots and went outside. He crossed the Stuyvesant High School bridge. Cops at Greenwich and Chambers tried to wave him over but he continued on, wading through the 4-foot-high rushing water, gripping fences as he went.

"When I got to the community center, the staff took me downstairs. I was shocked. I hugged one of them, Then I shook all their hands and thanked them for pitching in to help the community. There was nothing I could do so I went home."

"I woke up the next morning and cried a little bit," Townley added. "Then I went to the gym. I need to be healthy now."