|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD A venerable building that was described as the one-time "heart" of the neighborhood has been renewed.
The former Tapley School at the corner of Bay and Sherman streets has been used as apartments since 1993, but its owners, Home City, have spent $3 million to upgrade the 30 units of housing and repair the building now known as Tapley Court Apartments.
At a ceremony celebrating those improvements on June 11, Home City Executive Director Tom Kegelman described the renovations completed to the building that met standards set by the National Parks Service for historic restorations. The slate roof leaked, the wooden windows of the building had rotted and the heating system needed replacement.
He called the renovation "an amazing project" that "represents a rich heritage."
Home City had bought the property in 2009 and the renovations began last fall, he added. Other work included refreshing the common areas and the installation of a mural acknowledging the history of the building.
The school was constructed in 1887 on property donated by Springfield industrialist George Tapley. It served as a school until the mid-1970s when it was closed and stood vacant for almost 15 years before it was converted into apartments.
Rebecca Johnson, the city's first African-American school principal, led the school from 1956 to 1960. The mural features photos of Johnson, Tapley and students.
Kegelman explained no new apartments were added as part of the renovation and he described the tenants as "typical working class families."
The building features one, two and three bedroom units with off-street parking and heat and hot water included. Kegelman added there are income requirements that must be met by tenants.
Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary for Housing and Community Development for the Commonwealth, congratulated Home City for the renovations and said this week was "housing Week" as declared by Gov. Deval Patrick.
He said the designated week was designed to "recognize the great work on the grass roots level [in housing]."
Gornstein said since 2009 the Commonwealth has leveraged private and public funding to create 10,000 homes, with 1,000 of them in the city of Springfield.
Wayne Phaneuf, executive editor of The Republican, attended the school as a youth and recalled it and Johnson fondly.
"She was one of the most wonderful people in the world," he described her.
He added that when the school was closed in the 1970s as part of an effort to racially balance the city's schools, the action "took the heart out of the neighborhood."
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