Clinton Hill residents are pressing the city to fix a year-round flooding issue at a playground and park connected to P.S. 20 and Arts & Letters schools.

The water backup envelops three basketball courts facing Adelphi Street and spreads out after heavy rain to cover a quarter of the Albert J. Parham Playground’s area. It fills with trash, lures mosquitoes, and kids wade into and play in it throughout the year despite efforts to keep them out, residents say. 

“This is a neighborhood full of children, and there are so few parks and green spaces,” said Dawn Babbush, an after-school programs coordinator for Arts & Letters. “To have any of our precious park space shut down in such a way is really a sad thing.”

Babbush first noticed the flooding five years ago and says the issue has exacerbated the last three years. 

In the summer, the water reaches up to an average five-year-old’s shins. In the winter, it freezes over into a “frozen skull-breaking-surface,” according to a parent’s email.

City records show, that 311 service requests concerning sewer backup at 225 Adelphi Street, the school’s address, trace back to 2014. Out of 25 total complaints in the last ten years, 19 were made in June 2016 and five were made in the winter of 2018. All of them are now marked as “closed.”

Last November, according to a city worker who helps maintain the park, residents also informed their local Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, who represents the 35th District including Clinton Hill. Cumbo’s office is working to procure funding from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Parks and Recreation to address the flooding.

“Our office has reached out to the respective city agencies to ensure that this serious matter is fixed and expedited so that families and neighbors can have a place to exercise and relax throughout the summer and into the fall,” the councilmember’s office stated.

Rainfall and sprinkler water backs up from sewage pipes beneath the playground because an abundance of garbage collects in drainage baskets and blocks water-flow, according to a city building worker who asked to be unnamed. 

While the problem could be ameliorated if the park’s budget allowed for more frequent trash pick up, the below-ground pipe system ultimately needs reconstruction, he said.

A close-up of garbage floating in a flooded stairway leading up to the basketball courts. Photo credit: Charlie Innis for BK Reader

Lawrence Watford, co-president of the P.S. 20 Parent-Teacher Association, thinks the flooding aggravates the schools’ overcrowding issues.

“When you have two schools in one building, both well over capacity, it means the outdoor space is critical to the functioning of the school,” said Watford. 

The flooding does not only affect the students at P.S. 20 and Arts & Letters, said Babbush. Elderly residents, teenagers, dog-walkers and parents with strollers walk through the park and use its bathrooms and picnic benches.

“For the people who have grown up in the neighborhood, this park is what they got,” she said. “It’s a political issue, it’s about money and who the city wants to spend their money on.”

Watford said P.S. 20 Principal Barbera is aware of the flooding and the PTA will continue lobbying until the city solves the problem.


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Charlie Innis

I am a freelance writer and editor based in Bushwick with bylines in Spin, Stereogum, the Billfold, and the New School Free Press. If you want to hear me talk nonstop for hours, ask me about Clarice Lispector. Reach...

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