City Seeks Money To Replace School Wrecked By Tornado

Apr 20, 2012

Officials in Springfield Massachusetts announced Friday they intend to seek state and federal funding to build a new school to replace an aged  one that was heavily damaged by the tornado almost a year ago. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

    The Elias Brookings School, which dates to 1925, was rendered unusable after the tornado blew out all the windows and punched holes in the roof of the three story brick building. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno says city officials have concluded it makes sense, both economically, and educationally to build a replacement.

    Sarno said officials are looking at potential sites for a new school within a few blocks  of the old one. City officials will go before the Massachusetts School Building Authority next month to ask  the state to cover up to 80% of the cost to design and construct the new school.  The project may also be eligible for partial reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency because last year’s tornado resulted in a presidential disaster declaration.

    A new school is estimated to cost $28 million, according to Rita Coppola Wallace,the city’s director of capital assests and construction.  It would cost slightly less to repair the damage to the old building.

    A new school building could also provide a lift to the tornado scarred  Maple High-Six Corners neighborhood, where blue tarps still drape many of the houses and apartment buildings, according to Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s Chief Development Officer.

    The target date for opening the new school is the fall of 2015. That will mean an extended stay in modular classrooms  for the Brooking’s schools 300  Kindergarten through 6th grade students.  Principal Terry Powe says the modular classrooms,  erected on the school’s former playground, have been a fine stopgap.

    The city is making repairs to a second school that was  damaged by the tornado. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield is planning to rebuild Cathedral High School. The diocese has gone to arbitration with its insurance company to resolve an impasse over the damage claim. 

Springfield’s mayor has made an urgent appeal to FEMA and state authorities to pay the city’s expenses to remove large piles of tree debris that remain on private property. There’s concern about fire. Earlier this month, a brush  fire in a tornado damaged area in  Brimfield burned up 50 acres. No buildings were damage. But Mayor Sarno says it would be  a  different story if such a fire started in Springfield.

    The city estimated it would cost $ 7 million to remove the storm debris that remains still on private  property.