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New North Citizens Council breaks ground for neighborhood center

Paul Tuthill
Federal, state, and local officials joined with members of the New North Citizens Council and family members of the late Barbara Rivera to break ground for the construction of a $15 million community center -- the first in Springfield' North End neighborhood -- that will be named for the community activist.

The Springfield building will house all the agency's social service programs

One neighborhood in Springfield, Massachusetts has longed for a community center for decades. Now, it is just a little more than a year away.

The groundbreaking ceremony in the North End neighborhood Monday for the $15 million project spearheaded by the New North Citizens Council drew well over 100 people.

In addition to meeting rooms, the new center will have a full gymnasium, a medical clinic and it will be the headquarters for the New North Citizens Council, which is both a civic association and a social service agency for the region’s growing Hispanic population. This will put all of the programs including housing, violence prevention, food security, and youth mentoring under one roof, said Maria Ligus, New North’s executive director.

“One stop shopping – it’ll be a hub of activity,” Ligus said. “We’re pretty excited.”

A combination of public and private funds are paying for the project.

Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal said he urged New North to apply for money from the American Rescue Plan Act and the city of Springfield obliged by awarding the project $2.5 million from its allotment of ARPA funds.

“It was the professionalism of the advocacy,” Neal explained. “We got together and they said can you see what you can do about using some of the federal money for the purpose of building this neighborhood center and that is exactly what we are going to do.”

The Massachusetts legislature approved a $1 million bond for the project.

At the groundbreaking, Dennis Duquette, President of the MassMutual Foundation, announced a $1.5 million contribution.

The new center is being named for Barbara Rivera, the late community activist who was New North’s executive director for many years. Her three daughters participated in the groundbreaking. Janet Rodriquez Denny said it is a happy day for the family.

“We are just so honored that they remember my mom,” she said. “We are honored that they still remember her and continue on her legacy.”

The center is going up on a large vacant lot on Chestnut Street where the Chestnut Junior High School once stood. It was heavily damaged in a fire and torn down in 2014. The city sold the land to New North for $150,000.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the new center will be a tremendous asset to the North End.

“The North End is a hidden jewel — beautiful families, beautiful homes, beautiful businesses starting to open up now,” he said.

The target date for opening the building is September 2023. It would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the New North Citizens Council.

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.