Officials in Springfield, Massachusetts have marked another step forward in the city’s recovery from the tornado that caused extensive damage 26 months ago.
With children singing and bright white, blue, and gold balloons buffeted by a gentle breeze, Square One celebrated the opening of its new center on Main Street in the South End Neighborhood on Wednesday. It is just two blocks from where the early childhood education organization’s preschool and administrative offices were destroyed when the tornado roared through Springfield on June 1st, 2011.
The opening fulfilled a promise to return to the South End that Square One President and CEO Joan Kagen made to city officials days after the tornado. The neighborhood is where Square One was founded as Springfield Day Nursery in 1883.
Kagen said there were numerous obstacles to overcome. The organization needed to raise close to $2.5 million to cover its losses from the tornado and to pay to renovate and lease new space. In the midst of planning the return to the South End another of Square One’s preschool locations in Springfield was destroyed by a natural gas explosion last November.
The new facility in the South End, which occupies the first two floors of a three story brick building, has been named Family Square. In addition to the preschool and administrative offices it will also house several programs that provide support services to parents.
The center will employ 60 people when it is fully staffed by early next year.
Janet Mock, a social worker with Square One, recalled taking shelter under a large conference table in the old building as the tornado approached and said she was happy to be back in the South End.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, one of several elected officials along with community and business leaders who attended the ceremony for the new Square One facility, said the tornado recovery in the South End is progressing well. He said most businesses have returned and some have expanded with the help of government grants and loans. New housing being built. A park is undergoing a $1 million renovation. Plans are in the works to build a city-owned community center to replace the one that was destroyed.
The South End Neighborhood is where MGM proposes to build an $800 million resort casino.