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Low Bid Submitted To Replace Tornado-Damaged Community Center


The city accepted the bid from Fontaine Bros. Inc., one of seven bids submitted to build the new South End Community Center.  Officials had set a $9.2 million price ceiling for the project, which is being paid for with federal disaster aid.  No timetable for the project has been announced, but a groundbreaking is expected this fall.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the project is a big step forward in the city’s recovery from the disaster.

" About 99 percent of the tornado-ravaged areas have been rebuilt, or the plan is there to start the bricks and mortar," said Sarno.

   This is a special project for Sarno, who served as executive director of the center before his election as mayor in 2007.

The new community center will be in a two-story building with a gymnasium, exercise room, offices, and multi-purpose rooms. 

The original South End Community Center was in a former state armory building on Howard Street. The new center will be built in Emerson Wight Park, which was recently renovated and expanded. A nearby complex of apartment buildings has undergone a multimillion dollar renovation.

Sarno said the community center will fit right in.

"It is also a big part of the puzzle to address public safety issues.  Give our young people something positive to do and they are less likely to be caught up in the vicious cycle of poverty and public safety issues," said Sarno.

The city plans to buy the Marble Street Apartments from the Springfield Housing Authority, relocate 46 families now living there, and tear down the buildings to put in a parking lot for the community center.

Sarno said the public housing development is antiquated and isolated at the end of a dead-end street.

" We are going to look to rehouse these families in better housing with better opportunities," said Sarno.

In the aftermath of the tornado four years ago, advocates for the poor said they feared the city would not replace the housing for low income people that was destroyed.  Kristina Foye, Deputy Regional Director of U.S. Housing and Urban Development said she sees no evidence the city is discriminating against the poor in its tornado recovery work.

" The efforts ( the city) has undertaken so far have been outstanding," she said.

Officials with HUD toured Springfield last June 1st, the fourth anniversary of the tornado.  Robert Shumeyko of HUD said the city’s recovery has been well thought out.

"There was a lot of emphasis at the community level and that has resulted in these really holistic projects we see and the rebuilding effort which has been one of the more successful as far as disaster rebuilding," he said.

Springfield received more than $40 million from the federal government for disaster relief following the tornado.

In the months that followed the tornado, city officials held a series of public forums as part of a process to come up with a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. City officials estimate more than 3,000 people participated in the planning process.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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