Springfield's South End Community Center -- once a vital hub of social life in the neighborhood -- still remains partially reduced to rubble at its location on Howard Street -- nine months after a tornado devastated several communities in Western Massachusetts.
But “Rebuild Springfield,” a public-private master plan unveiled in January, recommends that the Center move to the Gemini site, a three-acre city-owned property with frontage on Main, Central, and Winthrop streets.
Joseph Gallo, head of the board of directors of the South End Community Center, says that the neighborhood needs a new community center with a track, pool, and basketball courts.
"High school principals on my board support the need for these things," Gallo said to The Republican. "We need to give kids a basketball, not a syringe."
Gallo suggests that the city rebuild the Center on Morris Street, which runs along the Gemini site.
Despite being displaced, the Community Center has been continuing some satellite programs around the city, according to Executive Director Chae Swan. These have included a boxing program at the YMCA of Greater Springfield and an after-school program at Milton Bradley School. They also plan to run their summer program at Central High School.
The Center once hosted a multitude of activities including boxing, basketball, indoor soccer, volleyball, open gym, health classes, a school-to-work program, and an anti-gang program. They also rented the gym to entities that provided activities such as karate and dance classes.
More than 25,000 people participated in the Center's various activities, Swan said. But being displaced has made it difficult to serve the community in the way they did before the storm.
“We're still in the thousands [of participants], but we have nowhere near the number we served before,” he said.
Debris is currently being removed from the back of the original South End Community Center, according to officials. They said that the city will seek proposals for renovating the front of the historic building.
The Center's administrative offices have recently moved into a modular trailer across the street from the new site, which was home to a turn-of-the-century textile mill that burned down in 2003. Its remediation was completed in 2008 with clean up grant funds from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, according to the City's website. In October 2009, the city spent an additional $200,000 on further improvements that included leveling the lot, planting trees, and constructing sidewalks on Morris and Central Street.
But it may be a while before the new Center is built.
“There's a lot of preliminary testing and things to get ready,” Swan said. “We certainly have no shovel-in-ground date yet.”
There will be a press event on March 8 at 4 pm at the Gemini site about the new Community Center.
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About the authors
Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.