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City on tight deadline to finalize plans for new Brookings School

Date: 4/25/2012

April 25, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Domenic Sarno and other city officials wanted to set the record straight: the city intends to pursue the construction of a new Elias Brookings Museum Magnet School and not just repair the circa 1925 building that was damaged in the June 1, 2011 tornado.

Sarno, State Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, Brookings School Principal Terry Powe and City Councilor Bud Williams were among those who addressed the recent rumors and discussed the plans for the future of the school.

"There seems to have been some questions, miscommunications and misunderstandings," Sarno said.

City Councilor Melvin Edwards had called for a community meeting on April 9 to solicit neighborhood input for the school. That meeting was cancelled.

According to an email sent to members of the Maple High Six Corners neighborhood, Edwards said the new school would be constructed on the corner of Walnut and Hickory streets, and while Sarno said a Walnut Street location was being considered he would not offer specifics about possible sites for the school.

The Walnut Street area "seems to make sense to us," Sarno said.

The temporary school buildings were assembled in the playing field of Ruth Elizabeth Park, which is bordered by Hancock and Walnut streets. The parking lot for the temporary building is in a vacant parcel on the other side of Walnut Street.

Sarno said the city is working with both Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and is meeting the requirements of both those entities.

Coakley-Rivera said, "Even before the tornado, we knew we needed a new Brookings School."

Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said a new school would be part of a greater redevelopment of the area that would include housing as well.

Rita Coppola-Wallace, capital asset construction director, said the city is on a very tight timeline for the school's rebuilding plans.

She said on April 24, the city will forward documentation to the MSBA justifying why a new school should be built. On May 23, the city will make a presentation to the MSBA, which will then announce its decision on June 6.

The public will be invited to participate in a planning session on May 15.

Coppola-Wallace said that repairing the old school would cost between $24 million and $25 million and that a new school would actually be several million dollars less expensive.

The old school building has classrooms that are too small by today's standards, she said.

There are not current plans for the re-use of the original Brookings School building, Sarno added.

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