Community Center Seeks To Rebound from Flood

Manhattan Youth director Bob Town­­ley stood on the steps leading to the lower levels of the Downtown Community Center, two days after the flood. 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 systems, the boiler, the pool filtration system and power system of the pool. All the big-ticket items—$600,000 to $700,000 items. Each.”

That day 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?

Townley said the center has no flood insurance. “Everything is going to be more money than we have,” he said. “It could be millions of dollars in infrastructure, equipment, loss of program revenue.” Plans for a fund raising campaign is already in the works.

“It will be a process like building the community center,” he said. “This is a rebuilding.”

Within a couple of days after the storm, Manhattan Youth staff had pumps pulling water day and night from the center. On Saturday, five days after the storm, the rooms had been cleared and the damage could be seen.

“Everything ended up in other rooms,” said Townley, who had moved the Manhattan Youth offices, still without power, into the living room of his Battery Park City apartment. “It’s a mess.”

Until some power can be restored in the building, the big damage—to the center’s mechanical equipment—can’t be assessed.

With the water out, the physical work of carrying out the wreckage has begun, as it has in so many flood-torn buildings. On Sunday, less than a week after the storm, a dumpster sat in front of the center, waiting to be filled.
Townley knew the center was in trouble when the phone rang during the storm.

A staff member manning the center told him 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 few blocks away on Chambers Street. “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 four-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.”