Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

School district officials express concerns about Village of Pelham proposal to build storm reservoirs and pumps at Julianne’s Playground


The board of education Jan. 3 heard a report from the facilities committee on the Village of Pelham’s proposed construction of a stormwater reservoir under school district-owned Julianne’s Playground, with school officials expressing concerns about diesel exhaust from water pumps and the impact on the site’s future usability by the district.

Board President Dr. Michael Owen-Michaane, who sits on the facilities committee, said, the “committee was really engaged in fact finding and due diligence.” Village of Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen and Deputy Mayor Michael “presented the proposal to the facilities committee, which I think was for a three-million-gallon water tank under the tennis courts and basketball court, which we estimated was about the size of six Olympic swimming pools underground. Plus the above ground diesel pumps, which were five or six,” he said. “I did do some research on my own, and the federal government classifies diesel exhaust as likely to cause cancer in humans, so it’s a little concerning having it on a playground.”

Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ said, “As I listen to a lot of the conversation, liability and build-ability are our two major concerns. While we don’t have plans to build anything right now (at the park), we have potential there.”

When Board Vice President Ian Rowe asked what could happen to the playground under the Village of Pelham plan, Assistant Superintendent for Business Jim Hricay said, “When they gave us the broad stroke of the project, it was to install or construct the water retention system and then restore the park in like or better condition.”

The school board is expected to continue consideration of the Village of Pelham’s proposal at its Jan. 17 meeting, when Mullen will attend to present, according to a school district email.

Mullen twice last year asked for a joint work session of the Village of Pelham board and the Pelham school trustees to discuss constructing the reservoirs under the blacktop and tennis courts at the park as well as pumps above ground. The $10 million to $15 million project is one major component of Pelham’s plan to overhaul its rainwater sewer system to reduce the flooding that plagues large parts of the village during intense rain storms. The reservoirs would hold excess runoff during severe storms, and the pumps would separately move the water to the Hutchinson River. The village has budgeted $1 million for the restoration and renovation of the park once the tanks and pumps are completed.

Village of Pelham officials laid out the entire project to residents during public Zoom sessions in October. The estimated $39 million total price-tag 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. Under the estimates, the north Pelham work would cost $31 million to $32 million and the Highbrook area around $7 million.

At the October meetings, Mullen said if the school district would not allow the work to proceed at the playground, then the engineers would need to replan the construction, with the possibility of purchasing houses to access the pipes.

During public comment at the school board meeting, Pelham resident Maureen Borsella, whose late daughter Julianne the playground is named after, said, “I just want to let you know how special Julianne’s Playground is to this community. Julianne was our daughter, and I don’t know all the particulars of the project, but the playground is such a special place. We don’t have a lot of green space in the town, and I just feel like it’s not the appropriate place to put these diesel power generators now hearing that they could cause cancer, and I just urge everyone to please let the public get more involved before any decision is really made. It is very very important, and it is a very cherished part of the community.”

The next board of education meeting will take place on Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the middle school library.



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    Scott WolfgangJan 12, 2024 at 9:46 pm

    To put some of these dimensions in perspective, the underground tank(s) would cover an area 35% the size of a football field (endzones included). This assumes the tank is uniform 20 feet deep as they need 400,000 cubic feet to hold the proposed 3 million gallons of water. The engineering report claims that with the amount of rock in the park it is still hard to determine what is actually possible. Thus if the tank(s) was just 10 feet in depth on average, it would have to cover the underground area of 70% the size of a football field to hold the 3 million gallons. There would also be 5 above ground diesel powered pumps that would cover the area of a tennis court. The pitch from VoP leadership is that there wouldn’t be much disruption to the park and they would return it in even better shape than they received it, but this seems optimistic given the scale of the structures they are proposing to need.

    Also, the District said at the last BoE meeting that it would not provide an easement and that the only way such a project would work for it is if the District no longer owned Julianne’s. That would mean VoP or ToP would have to acquire it (either though a purchase or some type of land swap — the Townhouse, Gazebo or Town Hall or some combo therof). Given the rapid push of development VoP has undertaken, would it be any surprise if it subsequently sold off the unneeded land on Julianne’s to make way for new housing or solve other deferred maintenance issues like they did with the Pelham Green project?