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Funds Oked To Convert Former Military Base To Police Use

exterior of a former U.S. Army reserve center that is to become a Springfield Police Dept Annex.

Funds have been authorized to renovate a closed U.S. Army reserve center in western Massachusetts for various law enforcement uses.

The Springfield City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve $11.3 million for the project to renovate the 15,000-square foot building on the city’s east side for public safety uses. The Springfield Police Department plans to use the former military building for a training academy, juvenile assessment center, long-term evidence storage, and as home to the tactical response unit.

The federal government turned over the former Arthur MacArthur Army Reserve Center on East  Street to the city free of charge late last year, but with a deed restriction that it be used only for law enforcement purposes.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city had eyed the closed reserve center for police uses for almost a decade.

" We, as you know, continue to expand our policing into the neighborhoods, but we need physical plant," said Sarno.

Police Commissioner John Barbieri said the police academy, which has moved from one temporary location to another for the last several years, will now have a permanent home.

" It will give us the type of training and professional atmosphere that officers require," explained Barbieri.  " Modern-day policing for a modern-day society."

Also, the police department will be able to give up expensive leased space it currently uses to evaluate juveniles, who are suspected in crimes, caught up in domestic violence or reported as runaways.

" Our primary goal is not to traumatize children. We want to take them to a place that is modern, and does not appear to be  a jail," said Barbieri.

Barbieri said roughly 6,500 square feet will be used for long-term storage of evidence in criminal cases.

The renovations to the complex are expected to take about 18 months to complete. The city has already hired a contractor for the project through competitive bidding.

Also, a name has been chosen for the facility. It will be dedicated as The Paul J. Fenton Public Safety Annex in memory of the former Springfield police chief who died in 2007.

Timothy Fenton, a retired Springfield police officer, said the complex will be his father’s lasting legacy.

The city will use almost $2.9 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the project to renovate the former reserve center.  The money is from funds the city received to rebuild public property destroyed by the June 1, 2011 tornado.  But, officials said the city has permission to use some of the FEMA aid for non-disaster recovery.

The former reserve center was closed in 2005 as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. A reserve center in Chicopee and one in Windsor Locks, Connecticut were closed at the same time.

The operations of the three centers were consolidated in a new building that was constructed at the Westover Air Force Reserve Base.

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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