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Former school, damaged by tornado, gets historic designation

The former Brookings Elementary school damaged by a tornado in 2011 has been approved as a local historic district.
City of Springfield
The former Brookings Elementary school damaged by a tornado in 2011 has been approved as a local historic district.

The former Elias Brookings school is being converted to apartments

A former school in Springfield, Massachusetts that was heavily damaged by a tornado in 2011 has been given an historic designation as work continues to transform it to housing.

The Springfield City Council voted unanimously for the final-step approval to create the Elias Brookings Local Historic District – a designation that will protect from alteration the exterior features of the nearly century-old building.

In 2018, the city sold the building in the Maple High/Six Corners neighborhood to a nonprofit housing developer. Earlier this year, Home City Development launched a $20 million renovation to build 42 affordable apartments in the former school.

Part of the financing for the project includes $250,000 in Community Preservation Act funds that came with a stipulation that an historic district designation be sought, said Bob McCarroll, chairman of the Community Preservation Committee.

“The committee feels very strongly that if we giving money to fix an historic resource we need to know that historic resource is protected in the future,” McCarroll said.

The school, built in 1925, was designed by Morris Maloney in the Collegiate Gothic Style.

The tornado punched a hole in the roof and broke out windows causing extensive interior water damage, but did not destroy the building’s historic features, said McCarroll.

“It was so sturdily built,” he said.

Of the 20 local historic districts in Springfield, half consist of a single building.

The project to build apartments in the former school building is expected to be completed next year.

Affordable housing is a great reuse for the neighborhood landmark, said Ward 3 City Councilor Melvin Edwards at the groundbreaking for the project.

“You never want to have a vacant historic building sit and end up being destroyed because of neglect,” Edwards said. “This is a benefit for the entire city.”

A new Brookings Elementary School was build a few blocks from the original. It opened in 2015.

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.