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Tornado Damaged Catholic High School To Be Rebuilt


A Catholic high school in Springfield, Massachusetts that was severely damaged by the 2011 tornado will be replaced with the help of federal funds.  Rebuilding Cathedral High School is seen as a key step to completing the city’s recovery from the natural disaster.

The fate of Cathedral High School had hung like a storm cloud over East Forest Park – the middle class neighborhood that took a direct hit from the tornado.   The single- family homes have since been repaired or replaced. But the school campus is surrounded by a chain-link fence. Parts of the roof are covered by blue tarps and windows remain boarded up.

So, neighborhood residents literally cheered the announcement by Bishop Timothy McDonnell that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and the Federal Emergency Management Agency had reached a $38 million agreement.

" We now have the brick and mortar funds to rebuild here on Surrey Road. And so we shall."

The FEMA funds will be used to rebuild Cathedral High School, and St. Michael’s Academy pre-school and middle school which share the Surrey Road campus.

FEMA will provide 75 percent of the funding for the project and the diocese will cover the balance using proceeds from a $60 million insurance settlement for tornado damage to the school campus, a church and a residence for retired priests.

A timetable for the construction and other details were not announced.

" We have the concepts.  What we want to do is take the concepts and put flesh and bones on them -- the plans. Then when the plans are ready we can go out to bid. When the bids come back we can go to contract, sign the contracts and begin rebuilding," said McDonnell.

Local officials praised Congressman Richard Neal, a former mayor of Springfield, for his help in securing the FEMA funds. Neal said the FEMA assistance assures Cathedral high’s existence for future generations.

" One can not begin to imagine the city of Springfield without Cathedral High School."

As the diocese went through a lengthy arbitration process with its insurance company over tornado damage claims and then began negotiating last fall with FEMA, Bishop McDonnell refused to publicly commit to rebuilding Cathedral High School.  There was pressure from city officials, neighborhood groups, alumni, current students and their parents.

" My four kids went to high school here. It has been very dear to us. They've been good neighbors and we are delighted today it is going to be rebuilt," said  Kathleen Murphy, who  lives on a street just in back of the school.

Cathedral High School was built in 1959 and designed for 3,000 students.  The current enrollment is fewer than 300 students.  Classes are being held in a rented school in Wilbraham.

The diocese recently launched a campaign to create a $10 million endowment fund for scholarships to help more students afford the tuition.

According to FEMA, the city of Springfield, homeowners and businesses, have received a total of $35 million to help rebuild from the 2011 tornado.  Congressman Neal said the city has been treated fairly by the often-criticized federal agency.

" Based on the requests I've made, they've honored every one of them."

Funds for the agreement with the diocese come in part from the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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