By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – The silver lining in the cloud created by June 1, 2011, tornado has finally shown itself.
Mayor Domenic Sarno announced on Jan. 13, the city would be using the $25.3 million in monies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund four projects around the city that have been stalled due to lack of funding: the new senior center in Blunt Park; the Clifford A. Phaneuf Environmental Center in Forest Park; the South End Community Center, to be built in Emerson Wight Park; and the former Army Reserve Center at 50 East St., which will be a new police facility.
Sarno credited the efforts of Congressman Richard E. Neal in advocating for the city during the discussions with FEMA.
Chief Administrative and Finance Officer T.J. Plante explained to Reminder Publications, the $25.3 came from appealing the initial amount of funding FEMA was going to reimburse the city for the damaged Howard Street Armory building – home to the South End Community Center – and the former Zanetti School. He said that at first FEMA was only going to pay the city $4.5 million for the Armory and not pay anything for the school.
After going through an appeal process, FEMA awarded the city $18.1 for the Armory and $7.2 million for the school. Plante said FEMA would allow the funds to be used on other projects in the city.
Without this funding, he said the city could not afford to take on any of the projects at this time.
“This is going to transform the city,” Plante said.
He added the city may have to add some funding of its own to complete all four projects, but that amount would be within the Springfield’s bonding limits.
Sarno noted the $25.3 million can be added to the other awards the city has received. There is $21.8 million in Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funding that will be used to implement a plan to improve the infrastructure in the neighborhoods hit by the storm. There is also $27.9 million from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to repair the Mary A. Dryden Veterans Memorial School and construct a new Elias Brookings Museum Magnet School.
Sarno has said the city has received $75 million in tornado recovery funding.
Executive Director of the Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management Patrick Sullivan gave a rundown of the status of the projects. He said the new senior center to be located in Blunt Park is presently in the stage of finishing the final design. He anticipates the project will be put out to bid mid-spring and groundbreaking could take place as early as this fall. The $12 million project will consist of a 43,000 square foot building with offices for Elder Affairs as well as heath care, fitness and recreation facilities.
The Clifford A. Phaneuf Environmental Center is on a similar timeline as the new senior center, Sullivan explained. It will cost approximately $2.75 million and will be open to the public all through the year for programs on renewable energy and ecology.
The design of the South End Community Center is presently underway, Sullivan said. He expects the project will be put out to bid early in the summer with a groundbreaking either this fall or next spring. The $8 million building will be 37,550 square feet in size with both program space and a gymnasium.
Sarno explained that placing the new center in the park is part of the effort to lessen the residential density of the Hollywood section of the South End.
Sullivan said the renovations to the former Army Reserve building would begin this fall. The cost for that project is between $7.5 million and $10.5 million. The building would have several uses for the Springfield Police Department, which in turn would alleviate over-crowding at the Pearl Street headquarters.
Neal said the FEMA funding is an example of the “notion of national principle.”
He explained, “If there is an earthquake in California we all come to the aid of California … it’s part of being part of the American family.”
Neal noted that some members of Congress only want FEMA money awarded if there is a corresponding cut in the federal budget.