Springfield, Massachusetts continues to rebuild from the tornado that caused extensive damage to the city 25 months ago. A groundbreaking ceremony was held today to begin construction on a new elementary school to replace one that was rendered unusable by the tornado.
Massachusetts State Treasurer Steven Grossman joined Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and other state and local officials at the groundbreaking for the Elias Brookings Elementary School. The new $28 million school is being built on what is now an empty lot just a few blocks from the boarded-up old school building.
Shortly after the tornado hit, Grossman, as chair of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, pledged to repair Brookings and a second Springfield school, Mary Dryden Elementary ,whose north wing was ripped off by the twister.
The fast-track process included an amendment to state law to lift a cap on how much the state can reimburse Springfield for the school projects. Grossman said there will be no cost to Springfield taxpayers. While the state will foot most of the bill, some expenses will be covered by FEMA.
While repairs to the Dryden school are nearly complete, officials determined last summer that it made more sense to replace the Brookings school that was built in 1925. Mayor Sarno declared Wednesday that Brookings is rising from the ashes like a phoenix.
The new school, which is expected to open in 2015, will be larger than the old one at 65,000 square feet. There will be a state of the art cafeteria and gymnasium that will both be available for community use during non-school hours.
Until the new school is open, the 300 Brookings students will continue to take classes in modular buildings that are set up on the school’s former playground. Brookings Principal Terry Powe said the modular classrooms have been a fine stopgap.
Olivia Walter, who has three children currently attending Brookings, praised principal Powe and the rest of the staff for helping the kids through a devastating time.
The replacement Brookings School is the first major tornado-related construction project in the Maple High Six Corners neighborhood. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Springfield, but the tornado damage, ironically, has opened the way to revitalization. Springfield Housing Director Gerry McCafferty said there are plans to build new single family and multi-family housing .
Springfield officials are launching a series of public hearings this month to get suggestions on how to spend $21.8 million in federal disaster relief money that was awarded earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.