Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Mayor Mullen makes second request for work session with school board on building stormwater reservoirs under Julianne’s Playground

‘It will also ensure that the public fully understands the decisions we’re making on their behalf.’
Map shows where in Julianne’s Playground the stormwater reservoirs would be constructed under the existing tennis courts and blacktop as well as the location of the aboveground pump station. The playground equipment is in the area roughly to left of the black dashed line. Source: Preliminary Village-wide Drainage Infrastructure Summary Report

The Village of Pelham has for the second time requested a joint work session with the Pelham school board to discuss constructing stormwater reservoirs under the blacktop and tennis courts at school-district-owned Julianne’s Playground, a major component in Pelham’s $39 million plan to reduce the flooding that plagues large parts of the village during intense rain storms.

In October, village officials asked for the joint meeting with the full board of education but were referred to the district’s facility’s committee, which heard an overview of the village’s plans to make massive improvements to the rainwater sewer system, according to a letter from Village of Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen to Board of Education President Dr. Michael Owen-Michaane and the other school trustees.

Mullen said in his letter dated Tuesday he was repeating his “request for a joint public work session to engage in an open dialogue, address any concerns or questions you may have regarding the project and continue to provide the public with transparent access to our process.”

The joint meeting would “ensure that everyone on the board of education has an opportunity to raise important concerns and have their questions answered,” he said. “It will also ensure that the public fully understands the decisions we’re making on their behalf. Please let me know a date and time in early January that works for your members.”

Mullen said the flooding crisis has “become significantly worse in recent years,” noting almost every village department is dispatched during deluges to rescue people from their homes and vehicles, redirect traffic away from a growing number of inaccessible areas and to assist the school district when schools need to be evacuated—”as happened recently with Colonial Elementary School.” After storms, there are weeks of work clearing debris and aiding with reconstruction.

“The ongoing damage to private homes and businesses puts an intense financial burden on far too many of our residents and threatens to erode the property values that constitute our shared tax base—especially now that Westchester homeowners are required to disclose a property’s flood history when selling to a new owner.” Mullen said.

The village cannot move ahead with grant applications for the sewer system project until it has a deal with the school district for the easement allowing it to build the reservoirs as well as an aboveground pump station, the mayor said. The reservoirs would hold excess flood waters during severe storms, and the pump station would separately move the water to the Hutchinson River.

In an email statement Friday, Owen-Michaane said, “In accordance with standard good governance practices, the facilities committee of the board of education is completing a due diligence review of the Village of Pelham’s proposal, and we expect to have more information to present at a business meeting after the holidays.” He did not respond to the Examiner’s questions on what view the district takes of the impact of the flooding on its students, its facilities and the property values of its taxpayers.

Village of Pelham officials described the large-scale upgrade to the rainwater sewer system during public Zoom sessions in October. The $39 million price-tag is an estimate and would fund projects to improve drainage systems in the areas of north Pelham and on and around Highbrook Avenue, according to a preliminary engineering study by AI Engineers/Dolph Rotfeld Engineering Division. Under the estimates, the north Pelham work would cost $31 million to $32 million and the Highbrook area around $7 million.

Westchester homeowners are required to disclose a property’s flood history when selling to a new owner.

— Village of Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen

At the October meetings, the cost of the project at Julianne’s Playground was put at $10 million to $15 million, with Mullen saying then that if the district didn’t allow the work to proceed, the engineers would need to replan the construction, with the possibility of purchasing houses to access the pipes.

Mullen released his letter to Owen-Michaane in the mayor’s year-end message emailed to residents, at the same time also making available the draft summary report on the drainage project, a document Mullen had said wasn’t in a “shareable format” when the Examiner requested it in early October before the Zoom sessions.

“For those who are not professional stormwater engineers, the basic idea is this: We need to install larger drains throughout the village and we need more control over the amount of water that flows through them,” Mullen said in in the year-end message. “The proposed plan would do exactly that, and it would mitigate flooding for all severe storms, up to and including storms that have only a 1% to 2% chance of happening in any given year.”

Mullen also outlined what might be a historic joint project combining the efforts of the village, the Town of Pelham and the Junior League of Pelham to create “a more robust renovation of the entire park and playground” once the reservoirs and pump station are completed.

“We’ve budgeted approximately $1 million for the restoration and renovation, but specific amounts will be determined during the design phase, in dialogue with all the various stakeholders,” he said.

The Village of Pelham Manor, which received a report from the same engineering firm outlining a minimum of $7.9 million in work to reduce flooding in three areas of the village, has also been dealing with the school district. A Pelham Manor sanitary sewer pipe runs through one of its own storm drainage conduits under Glover Field. This partial obstruction causes flooding in the Wolfs Lane area, the engineers said. Pelham Manor will need access to the district’s athletic field to undertake any project.

Historical note on Julianne’s Playground: It is owned by the Pelham Union Free School District; it is opened in the morning and programmed by the Town of Pelham Recreation Department and it is closed and patrolled by the Village of Pelham. The Junior League of Pelham has been working on a plan to renovate the park, and that is a multi-year effort in the fundraising stage. Julianne’s Playground, once known as Sixth Street Park, is named after Julianne Borsella, a young girl who passed away from Ewing’s sarcoma when she was eight years old. After she died, the Pelham community came together and rallied around the Borsella family in their time of need to create the park in honor of Julianne.

The Village of Pelham has created a new village-wide flood mitigation information landing page on its website.


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  • A

    Arthur LongDec 26, 2023 at 3:13 pm

    The district board has its fiduciary duties to the district, and it makes perfect sense for the board to use its existing governance processes in evaluating this proposal – to do otherwise would call its actions into question and expose it to claims that it was ceding its authority to the Village board, whose fiduciary duties require it to take an action (obtaining the land right for as little as possible) that is directly opposed to the interests of the district (maximizing land value if the district decides to grant the easement). There’s no good reason to let the Mayor of the Village hijack existing processes.

  • T

    todd zuzuloDec 22, 2023 at 7:06 am

    the village should look to Westchester County about possibly
    dredging the reservoir next to the Hutchinson River Parkway
    they did it years ago