By Robin Jovanovich
After the floodwaters of Hurricane Ida had receded, Gregg Howells wasted no time doing a walkthrough of the Rye YMCA facility with members of the Rye Y’s architectural and engineering team and staff.
“The storm hit the Y hard; there was no sheetrock that didn’t have to be removed,” reported the longtime executive director. “After surveying the damage and consulting with members of the facilities committee and the trustees, we committed to a longer rebuilding process, one that includes moving outlets up where we can, maybe even the boiler, and replacing the sheetrock with block and stucco. We decided to rebuild in a more resilient way.”
Since the end of September, crew from Arturo, a family-owned and operated company in Harrison, have worked 12- and 13-hour days with no time off to get the Y back up and running. They were the firm that did the Y rebuild in spring 2007, after severe back-to-back floods.
In addition to ensuring the reconstruction moved ahead, Howells had another critical assignment: to find space for the Y’s educational programs and athletic activities. “With both pools out of commission, we had to find lanes for our swimmers. We needed classroom space; we needed fields.”
The Carver Center and the Darien YMCA opened their doors to the Rye Y, as did Christ’s Church, the Rye City School District, and Rye Recreation.
The Fitness Center reopened in mid-October and the Pa Cope Pool right afterwards, but the six-lane pool had lots of stains, so the Y decided to “make an investment in the future” — take out the plaster and replace with tile.
In the storm, the Y lost everything from its front desk to its lower-level workout spaces to its path along Blind Brook. But the Y never despaired or lost its purpose.
Noting that the cost to rebuild is prohibitive, Howells also noted that flood insurance doesn’t cover damage to fencing, pools, pathways, leased equipment. “We had reserves and we’re covered for $500,000 of repairs to the building and
$500,000 of lost contents, but we’ll be out of pocket. Insurance only pays for what was there, not the enhancements you make, and we feel we have to upgrade to protect the Y against future storms.” He added that they were looking at FEMA grants and loans, but it’s a very long process and FEMA loans only pay for 20 percent of upgrades.
What Howells and many other heads of organizations and businesses severely impacted by the flooding hope is that there is renewed focus on flood mitigation.
“The Y was closed for over a month. We lost at least $100,000 in business. Flood insurance doesn’t provide for business interruption.” Howells paused before adding: “For anyone who has lived through this, it is disheartening.”
On the other hand, Howells is heartened by the work and good spirits of his staff. “They love this place, and they all work hard. The aquatics staff didn’t have programs to run, so they helped with cleanup.”
The timing of Ida was heartbreaking. “First the pandemic, then the flood,” said Howells. “And we’re in the middle of a capital campaign for the Studios, which are set to open at 1037 Boston Post Road, behind City Hall, in 2022.”
Gregg Howells is not discouraged, just busy and desirous of action on the part of city, state, and federal officials.