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Funding for school renovations total $37 million

Date: 6/20/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — A tour of school buildings by city officials showed that substantial progress has been made on improving the city's educational infrastructure.

School Superintendent Daniel Warwick, School Committee member Antoinette Pepe and Executive Director of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management Patrick Sullivan visited five schools on June 13 to review the work that has been done to this date and discuss future improvements.

Warwick said the average age for the city's schools is 55 years and until recently any funding for the repair or renovation of the buildings came from the city alone. He explained the Massachusetts School Building Administration (MSBA) has instituted a grant program for school repairs and over the past three years has completed more than $25 million in renovations through funds from the state and matching amounts from the city. By August, the amount of total funding for repairs and renovation will be $37 million.

"The MSBA never used to support older buildings," Warwick explained. He said the funding has been used to complete projects such as replacing 100-year-old windows on school buildings.

From the September 2011 through August 2013, there have been roof, window and door replacements at the Warner School; roof replacement at German Gerena Community School; door replacement at Washington School; window replacement at White Street School; new roofs at John F. Kennedy Middle School and John J. Duggan Middle School, which also received new windows; and new roof at Frank H. Freedman School and Mary M. Walsh School.

There are also floor tile repairs, heating and cooling improvements, painting, carpeting and other upgrades to various schools.

Pepe said the upgraded heating and cooling systems have greatly improved air quality in schools, which means students are absent far less because of their asthma. Springfield has one of the highest rates of asthma in the state, she explained.

"This is a major, major correction," she said which is "bettering their education."

She said that improving the air quality in schools to then improve student health was one of Sullivan's top priorities.

The replacement of windows in the schools has meant that no longer does snow come through during the winter and students stifle in the warmer weather.

"It was difficult for teachers to teach," Pepe said. "It makes a difference."

Pepe added the renovations help students feel more pride in their schools.

Warwick said the White Street School had improvements completed that included a new playground and parking areas, new furniture windows and tile floors.

He called the renovations "incredible improvements."

Both Warwick and Pepe praised Sullivan for his program to update the school buildings and react to maintenance issues. Warwick brought the media to several rooms in the lower level of Duggan, which had previously been industrial art shops. They are now used for the professional development.

Warwick said the MSBA is currently conducting a new round for grants to improve existing schools and Springfield has made it through the first round.

"That's a very good sign," he said.