Planning Begins to Protect Ball Fields from Next Ravaging Storm

During Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012, water rushes onto the Batttery Park City ball fields and heads towards further destruction of the bottom floor of the Asphalt Green community center. It cost $7 million to repair the two facilities, according to the Battery Park City Authority. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Nov. 20, 2018

Six years after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Battery Park City ball fields and the Asphalt Green community center next door, the Battery Park City Authority is on a mission to save those heavily used recreational facilities from the next crippling flood.

A design and engineering firm contracted by the Authority is now tasked with devising a protective barrier system along West, Warren and Murray Streets. At an initial public meeting Monday evening, representatives from the company, STV, as well as the Authority, set the stage for what is expected to be a 27-month, $14 million project. (This is one of four resiliency plans underway for Battery Park City, which also include the neighborhood's north and south ends, and along its western edge.)

“We’re looking at the perimeter of that whole site and figuring out various options as far as what needs protection, and how,” said Karen Robison, STV’s manager for the ball field project.

“The goal,” she noted, “is to integrate seamlessly what is already there.”

The firm said the design would likely feature a combination of permanent walls that could be raised to their full height in advance of a storm surge along with lower and lighter deployable barriers that would be installed only when needed.

“You’re not looking at an 8-foot wall, you’re looking at a 4-foot wall that can become an 8-foot wall,” Chris Cerino, the project’s engineer, said of the former option. “The wall can be extendable.”

“The problem with the self deploying [wall] that we’re looking at is that it takes up more land area,” Cerino added. The reason, he said, is the soft landfill where it will be installed.

“You’re not in great soil so resisting 10 feet of water is very challenging,” he said.

A higher wall would probably be needed along the West Street side of the field, the lowest level of the site and the point where water gushed onto the fields and into the lower floors of the community center during Superstorm Sandy. Deployable barriers may be used at higher elevations, such as the entrances to the fields on Warren and Murray Streets.

Uppermost in the minds of many at the meeting was the disruption to Downtown’s baseball, soccer and football leagues during the construction. Bill Bialosky, commissioner of the Downtown Soccer League, worried that resiliency work on the two other fields used by local kids, Pier 40 and East River Park, will be underway at the same time.  

“There’s going to be a season or two [during construction] where we’re going to have to jam all 1,900 of our kids onto this ballfield,” Bialosky said. “So we hope you will be really sensitive about how you limit the area of construction “

“You’re  talking about a [construction] start date of October, 2019, which would be right dead center in our season,” said the soccer league’s vice president, Eileen Montague.

“We are going to do our very best to phase the construction so that the negative impact on play time is as little as possible,” replied Gwen Dawson, the BPCA’s vice president of real property. “That said, it won’t be zero.”

“The good news is that everybody is working to protect the fields,” Dawson added. “The bad news is that everybody is working to protect the fields and there’s going to be an impact, there’s going to be a little pain involved.”

Superstorm Sandy’s damage to the ball fields and Asphalt Green facilities in October 2012 remains a fresh, bad memory for many. The $3 million, artificial turf fields, rebuilt just the year before, were inundated with three feet of water, laced with sewer backflow that ran river-like along West Street, out of the Battery Tunnel, and from the north as well. The water caused the foam layer underneath the artificial turf to float up, bursting some seams of the fabric field. The pressure to get the fields repaired and ready for play in time for the Downtown Little League season was intense. Experts from the Mets were even brought in to help. (The fields were indeed up and running for opening day.)

“I have to admit selfishly that part of the reason I want to see this project happen is I don’t ever want to go through again what I went through with the field after Sandy,” Dawson said.

“I don’t want to even think,” she added, “about how many nights of sleep I lost in that process.”

According to STV, the contractor, the design is expected to be completed, and construction to begin, next fall, with work completed by the end of 2020. The community will continue to be consulted throughout the process, they said.