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2013 in review: Area faces changes, challenges

Jan. 3, 2014 |

By G. Michael Dobbs news@thereminder.com SPRINGFIELD – There were other events besides the casino issue that took place in Springfield in 2013 and here is a review of some of the most prominent. Jan. 31, 2013 The occasion of Joseph Contant taking the oath of office on Jan. 24 as fire commissioner for Springfield had, as master of ceremonies Anthony Cignoli noted, a backdrop of a long and significant history. Springfield, Cignoli said, first established its Fire Department in 1794 and had the first motorized department in the nation. There was history for Contant was well as he was a second-generation firefighter. He said his father became a firefighter in the city when Contant was four years old in 1970. “Everything I have now is from the Springfield Fire Department,” Contant said. His late father was represented by his firefighter’s helmet. March 7, 2013 In May 2014, there will be a new addition to downtown Springfield a state of the art radio facility housing the home of the WFCR, New England Public Radio. Congressman Richard Neal and Mayor Domenic Sarno joined WFCR officials at a “wall-breaking” ceremony on March 4 on the ground floor of the historic Fuller Building at 1525 Main St. The move to Springfield is part modernization for WFCR’s facilities and part of the commitment of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst to the city, Martin Miller, WFCR CEO and general manager, explained. “It’s the culmination of many year’s worth of work,” Miller said. Standing in the area once occupied by a clothing store, Miller said that deconstruction of the area will continue with construction beginning later this year. The construction of the studios on Main Street is considered as part of the investment in the city the University of Massachusetts is making. April 4, 2013 The License Commission postponed its ruling regarding a 1 a.m. closing time for entertainment venues to its meeting on April 18, 2013, citing lost documents as the reason for the decision. Peter Sygnator, chairman, stated that the Police Department statistics had been “misplaced” and that the commission would resubmit the request for the information. He said statistics from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012 and from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013 would be requested. Sarno first suggested ending the sale of alcohol at an earlier time in July 2012, following what he said were improvements in public safety in the club district downtown by the cessation of entertainment at 1 a.m. Despite Sarno’s wishes, the board did not change the closing time to 1 a.m. April 19, 2013 In a candid question and answer period with area business people and municipal officials, Stephen Crosby, chair of the state Gaming Commission, said, “We have only one chance to get this right.” In a question about competition from other expanded gaming in other New England states, Crosby said the commission doesn’t have to award the three licenses the gaming legislation created. It could grant two or one or none, he said. Crosby also underscored the commission’s job is not to guide municipalities through their own selection process. “If a local [government] makes a mistake, if doesn’t impugn our integrity, if it doesn’t screw our particular process but it’s a mistake in our view, that’s their business,” he said. Crosby spoke at a meeting sponsored by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield on April 17. Crosby said the current timetable for the commission to complete its phase one of the selection process – the financial and criminal vetting of the casinos companies that have applied for a license – wouldn’t be completed until September or October. Not only was the timetable for making decisions altered, but Crosby himself came under fire later in the year for his involvement in a property associated with a proposed casino development. May 3, 2013 The first host agreement between a casino developer and a municipality was signed before an audience of more than 100 people at the MassMutual Center on May 1. MGM Resorts International and MGM Springfield President William Hornbuckle said that much more work needs to be done in order for the city and the company to bring their plan before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for consideration. Hornbuckle said that members of the company had been looking at Springfield as a location since 1996 when casino gaming was on a referendum. Although that vote went against potential developers, Hornbuckle believes MGM’s efforts so far to be part of the community are a good start to build the support the proposal will need. MGM will undoubtedly be granted the sole casino license for Western Massachusetts later this year. May 23, 2013 After 40 years, Janis Santos, the executive director of Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start Inc., is in a unique position. As an early childhood educator, she works with young people who were once her students. “How rewarding is it to work with someone who was your student?” she asked during an interview with Reminder Publications. Santos’ 40th anniversary with the Head Start program was recently marked by a dinner with staff, parents, former student and community leaders as well as her receiving the Head Start Pioneer Award at the National Head Start Association (NHSA) Legacy Luncheon in Washington D.C. June 20, 2013 A tour of school buildings by city officials showed that substantial progress has been made on improving the city’s educational infrastructure. School Superintendent Daniel Warwick, School Committee member Antoinette Pepe and Executive Director of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management Patrick Sullivan visited five schools on June 13 to review the work that has been done to this date and discuss future improvements. Warwick said the average age for the city’s schools is 55 years and until recently any funding for the repair or renovation of the buildings came from the city alone. He explained the Massachusetts School Building Administration (MSBA) has instituted a grant program for school repairs and over the past three years has completed more than $25 million in renovations through funds from the state and matching amounts from the city. By August, the amount of total funding for repairs and renovation will be $37 million. “The MSBA never used to support older buildings,” Warwick explained. He said the funding has been used to complete projects such as replacing 100-year-old windows on school buildings. From the September 2011 through August 2013, there have been roof, window and door replacements at the Warner School; roof replacement at German Gerena Community School; door replacement at Washington School; window replacement at White Street School; new roofs at John F. Kennedy Middle School and John J. Duggan Middle School, which also received new windows; and new roof at Frank H. Freedman School and Mary M. Walsh School. Warwick recently announced the city would seek state funding for replacements to the Home Street and Brightwood elementary schools. July 12, 2013 Students and teachers joined with state and local officials in marking the formal ground breaking of the new Elias Brookings Museum Magnet School on July 10. The elementary school in the Maple High Six Corners neighborhood was damaged in the June 1, 2011 tornado. Students have been attending the school in mobile temporary buildings constructed in Ruth Elizabeth Park adjacent to the school. School Superintendent Daniel Warwick explained to Reminder Publications that traditionally school officials would have considered repairing the existing structure that was built in 1926. He credited Sarno and state Treasurer Steven Grossman with working out a plan to build a new school building across the street on a location owned by Springfield College. “It was the right thing to do with our money,” Warwick said. He noted the classroom size did not meet modern standards and that “rebuilding made no sense.” Work on the new Brookings School continues through the winter. Oct. 10, 2013 The centennial celebration for the Municipal Group – City Hall, Symphony Hall and the Campanile – was kicked off on Oct. 4 with an announcement of upcoming activities and the presentation of a key to the city. In this case, the ceremonial key that was discovered on eBay by the staff of the Spirit of Springfield is literally a key to City Hall that was given to Mayor John Avery Dennison in 1913. Joining Sarno and Spirit of Springfield Judith Matt in making the announcement was Dennison’s grandson Jonathan Fantini Porter. Porter is the Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security. The celebration marking the anniversary will be conducted Dec. 6 to 8, 2013 and included a lighting ceremony in Court Square and a holiday open house at City Hall. The Springfield Symphony presented its annual Holiday Pops Concert and there was a free performance of the 215th Army Band from the Massachusetts Army National Guard. According to information compiled by the Spirit of Springfield, the Municipal Group was built after the previous City Hall was destroyed in a fire in 1905. There had been an auditorium where a vaudeville show was taking place and a lit kerosene lamp was tipped over by a monkey. The new series of buildings were designed by the New York City architecture firm of Pell and Corbett and constructed at a cost of $2 million. When they are completed, President William Howard Taft spoke at the dedication and called the group “one of the distinctive civic centers in the nation and indeed the world.” Dec. 6, 2013 Reaction to the announcement that that University of Massachusetts (UMass) will open a satellite campus at Tower Square in the fall of next year was mixed from the three private schools that make the city their home. Few details about what programs would be offered, the number of administrators and faculty members at the new facility or a target number for students were offered at the announcement on Nov. 26. UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said the initial space to be leased would be 25,000 square-feet on the mezzanine level of Tower Square. Depending on the number of students, that area could be increased to 50,000 square feet. The decision to increase the UMass presence will be due to “organic growth,” he added. Subbaswamy said that university officials must “figure out what needs exist” to plan the academic offerings. He explained that both Baystate Health System and MassMutual will be consulted about educational developments those companies might have. Although UMass officials have not spoken directly to the three private colleges, Subbaswamy said, “Our intention is to be good partners.” To this date, not additional details about the academic offerings have been released.

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