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New England News

Tornado Scars Remain Three Years Later


People in Springfield, Massachusetts reflected Sunday on the third anniversary of the tornado that left a major scar on the city.   While officials say they are proud of the recovery process, they acknowledge more work is ahead. 

New homes are under construction in the low-income Maple High-Six Corners neighborhood in keeping with a master plan painstakingly put together in the months after the June 1, 2011 tornado. A new elementary school is under construction to replace one destroyed by the storm. Thousands of new trees have been planted.

However, two landmark institutions, the South End Community Center and Cathedral High School, remain in temporary locations. Officials say progress toward rebuilding both will become visible later this year.

Springfield will use part of a $25 million final settlement with FEMA that was reached earlier this year to build a new South End Community Center.  Mayor Domenic Sarno said the community center will be moved a few blocks from its current location to a new home at Emerson Wright Park.

" I am looking to make an announcement in late summer and get shovels in the ground asap."

The old community center and several other tornado-damaged buildings are in the footprint of the $800 million resort casino proposed by MGM.  The project’s design calls preservation of the community center façade.

Springfield’s only Catholic high school has been closed for three years now. Cathedral High school students have been attending classes in a former elementary school in Wilbraham. For almost three years, students, parents, alumni and Cathedral neighbors in the city’s East Forest Park neighborhood fretted about the school’s future.

" They are an anchor institution for the city of Springfield and East Forest Park," said Sarno.

At a press conference in March, Bishop Timothy McDonnell announced the diocese will rebuild the school at its current location.

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

The delay in making a formal announcement about Cathedral High School was blamed on a protracted arbitration between the diocese and its insurance company and then negotiations with FEMA. The new high school will cost an estimated $38.5 million with FEMA paying 75 percent.

Church officials also set up an endowment to solicit donations to a scholarship fund in an effort to increase enrollment at Cathedral which has sagged to fewer than 300 students.

The demolition of the tornado-damaged high school building could take place this summer, according to a spokesperson for the diocese.

More than $100 million in federal and state funds have been given to Springfield to pay for tornado recovery projects.

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