New Neighborhood Center Is Built Six Years After Tornado

Oct 31, 2017

    A new $10 million neighborhood community center has been built in Springfield, Massachusetts. It is one of the last major rebuilding projects from the June 2011 tornado that tore through part of the city.

    Mayor Domenic Sarno said the new community center means a lot to the South End neighborhood and to him personally. Sarno was executive director of the community center before being elected mayor in 2007.

    " From the ashes rises a phoenix and it is really heartfelt, really heartfelt," said Sarno.

    Rebuilding the South End Community Center was part of the disaster recovery master plan that was crafted in the months that followed the tornado, but the project ran into delays over funding and bureaucratic red tape.

   The city filed five appeals with the Federal Emergency Management Agency before being approved to spend $6 million on the project.  The city put up the additional funds.

    For the last six years, the community center has operated its programs at temporary locations including schools and church basements. Sarno praised the community center’s board of directors and its staff for their patience and perseverance.

    " They were like vagabonds," said Sarno. " We put them everywhere and anywhere to make sure their programs kept going."

   The South End Community Center was founded in 1939 in a former school building on Williams Street.  In the 1970s, it moved to the National Guard Armory on Howard Street.  That building, constructed in 1895, was devastated by the tornado.  

     " The faces might have changed but the mission is still the same, and this becomes another marquee oasis," Sarno said.

    The new 29,000-square foot building on Marble Street features a large gymnasium with basketball courts and a multi-purpose room that will be used for boxing, wrestling, and dancing.  There is an exercise center, classrooms, and administrative offices on the second floor.

    Richard “Skip” Rousseau, a member of the center’s board of directors and a longtime former patron, said he knows firsthand what a difference the center can make in young peoples’ lives.

    " This is going to be something great for these kids here ( in the neighborhood) and all through the city of Springfield," said Rousseau.  " We are going to save kids from getting in trouble."

    The new community center is part of a neighborhood undergoing dramatic change.  The MGM casino is being built just a few blocks away.  There are new housing developments.  Emerson Wight Park, which abuts the community center, has been renovated and expanded.

    An apartment complex owned by the Springfield Housing Authority is going to be torn down as part of a project to open up the dead end of Marble Street to allow traffic to flow between two major thoroughfares, Main Street and Central Street.