The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to pay Springfield, Massachusetts $25 million for the destruction of public property by the 2011 tornado. It is a final settlement that city officials worked relentlessly to obtain.
The $25 million will be spent to construct four new public facilities, including an environmental education center, a neighborhood community center and a senior center. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who along with Congressman Richard Neal, signed papers Monday to officially accept the money,said it took two-and-a-half years of battling federal bureaucracy to get the city what he believed it was due.
" I want to thank all the residents and the business community for their resiliency and patience. We are not only rebuilding structures, we are rebuilding human lives."
Sarno said FEMA initially offered to reimburse the city $4.2 million for losses from the storm, which was the most powerful tornado to hit Massachusetts in 50 years. The city appealed numerous FEMA rejections of requests for reimbursements, and hired a consultant with expertise in dealing with FEMA. Springfield got help in its appeals from Congressman Neal, the state’s two U.S. Senators and Governor Deval Patrick.
" It has been very methodical and tedious, but we kept pushing back," said Sarno.
Neal said Springfield did quite well in its dealings with FEMA. He said the agency was under extraordinary pressure in 2011 because of a string of expensive natural disasters across the country including wildfires in the West, tornadoes in the Midwest and hurricanes in the East.
" They (FEMA) were not going to give a blanket award given the spate of bad weather than walloped the country."
Neal, a former Springfield mayor, praised the city’s plans for spending the FEMA money.
The city will spend $8 million to construct a new community center in the South End neighborhood. The center was directly in the path of the tornado, which tore the slate roof off the building. The new center will be built in a park a few blocks from the old location.
The city opted not to replace some other heavily damaged buildings, including a former middle school that was not being used at the time of the storm, so Sarno said the FEMA money will be spent on alternative projects.
" And this not only reinvigorates the areas that were affected, but continues the transformation of the city of Springfield, highlighting our positives and tackling our urban challenges."
The city plans to spend $12 million to build a new senior center, $3 million to renovate a building to house an environmental education program for the city’s schools, and $10 million to turn a former U.S. Army Reserve center into a multiple use facility for the police department. It will become the home of the police training academy, the base for the tactical response unit and the location for evidence storage.
Officials said construction on all four projects will start later this year.
Springfield has now received a total of $75 million for tornado recovery projects. The city is spending $21 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to rebuild infrastructure and put up new housing in a low- income neighborhood slammed by the tornado.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority has given the city a total of $45 million to replace one school and repair a second damaged by the tornado.