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Former school damaged by 2011 tornado is now an apartment building

The former Elias Brookings School, built in 1925, and severely damaged by the June 1, 2011 tornado was restored and redeveloped as the 42-unit Brookings Apartments.
Paul Tuthill
The former Elias Brookings School, built in 1925, and severely damaged by the June 1, 2011 tornado was restored and redeveloped as the 42-unit Brookings Apartments.

Project celebrated for both historic preservation and needed housing

A ribbon cutting took place Wednesday in Springfield, Massachusetts to celebrate the redevelopment of a former school building into apartments – 11 years to the day the school was wrecked by a tornado.

The old Brookings school is now the Elias Brookings Apartments consisting of 42 rental units with 1, 2, or 3 bedrooms available for people earning a wide range of incomes.

Federal, state, and local officials, the developers, project funders, and tenants gathered Wednesday afternoon on the hardwood floor of what used to be the school gym and is now the community room to cheer the completion of this historic restoration project and to note how far the Maple High/Six Corners neighborhood has come since the June 2011 tornado cut a path of destruction through it.

U.S. Representative Richard Neal of Springfield said it is an example of human resiliency.

“ Eleven years ago on this date much of western Massachusetts was wracked by a terrific tornado and the ability for restoration and renewal is in evidence here today,” Neal said.

Kiaraliz Balle, who was 9-years-old in 2011 and living in a part of Springfield not directly impacted by the tornado, moved into an apartment in Brookings in April with her 1-year old son Edami.

“I love it here,” she said. “It is very comfortable and very spacious and it gave me an opportunity to be independent and live alone with my son in a beautiful apartment.” She noted the design touches such as leaving chalkboards on the walls in each apartment.

The tornado punched a hole in the roof and broke out windows, causing extensive water damage that left the building unusable as a school. In 2018, the city sold it to Home City Development, a nonprofit developer of multi-family and mixed-use properties in western Massachusetts.

Peter Serafino, director of Real Estate Development for Home City, said 13 sources of funds were used for the $20 million project including money from the federal and state governments and the city of Springfield, historic and low-income housing tax credits.

“This is a twofer, it is both an historic rehabilitation and also affordable housing,” he said.

Built in 1925, the Brookings School is designated as a local historic district.

The opening of the Brookings Apartments is another milestone in the neighborhood’s transformation over the last decade along with the new Brookings School that opened in 2015, the Educare pre-school, upgrades to Ruth Elizabeth Park, the Six Corners rotary, and the realignment of Central Street, said Ward 3 City Councilor Melvin Edwards.

“There are so many things for us to be proud of and I want people to know that we are not done yet,” Edwards said.

Springfield has annually observed the anniversary of the tornado with the tolling of church bells at 4:38 p.m. – the time the tornado touched down in the city.

The EF-3 tornado with winds of up to 160 mph traveled for 38 miles through parts of western and central Massachusetts. Three people were killed and 200 injured.

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.