|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD The city received good news on the development front last week with two announcements on brick and mortar improvements to the city.
At a press conference on June 21, Mayor Charles Ryan and Finance Control Board Executive Director Philip Puccia announced a $324 million capital improvement plan that would take place over the next five years.
The details of the plan include:
The demolition of the York Street Jail to make the property available for developers;
The demolition of the Chapman Valve building in Indian Orchard;
The renovation of the Mason Square Fire Station;
Other demolition in neighborhoods to address blight;
Public and residential road construction;
School sidewalk reconstruction;
Other sidewalk construction to comply with ADA rules;
New traffic signals;
The closing of the Armory Street landfill;
The closing of the Bondi's island landfill;
Renovations and repairs to the city's elementary and middle schools;
A new Putnam Vocational High School;
Repairs and renovations to other municipal buildings other than schools including the Campanile;
and improvements to the city's parks.
Puccia said the city suffers from "years of neglect," and the Control Board was determined to make investments in municipal holdings such as schools and parks.
Puccia said the city will finance an initial $50 million for the plan through a bond. State and federal grants will make up the rest of the budget.
Ryan said the city could afford the debt service on the bond because of the decline of the city's deficit and because the $2-3 million for that service is already built into the budget.
The most expensive item on the list is the new Putnam High with an estimated price of $100 million. Puccia could not say at this time how much money the state would reimburse the city on the school.
Ryan said he thinks private development of the York Street Jail building has been "given a fair chance," and now favors the demolition of the structure. The removal of the jail would make attracting developers to the riverfront much easier, he explained.
Ryan noted that there are some improvement programs not represented in the plan, but are already underway such as 65 streets that are being paved this year and the replacements of much of the police cruiser fleet.
A goal of 100 new houses over the next five years in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods was announced on Wednesday at a press conference conducted at Tyler Street and Eastern Avenue.
The site of the press conference is one of the locations that will be developed.
The Old Hill Partnership announced the establishment of a $1.5 million acquisition fund through TD Banknorth. The line of credit was secured by Springfield College and will be used by the partnership to purchase vacant and abandoned property, some of it tax title property from the city, for the 100 new owner-occupied homes.
The Old Hill partnership consists of Springfield College, the city of Springfield, the Old Hill Neighborhood Council, Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services, Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity and HAP, Inc.
Construction on 11 of the homes will begin this summer.
Charles Rucks, executive director of Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services, grew up in the Old Hill neighborhood and said that neglect and apathy brought about the conditions that have plagued the neighborhood.
He said he remembered a neighborhood that was safe enough for children to walk to school.
"All the lots had houses and all the houses had families," he said.
Richard Flynn, the president of Springfield College, said the project grew out of "a modest idea" to improve the quality of life of the neighborhood of which the College is part. College officials worked with the neighborhood council on a master plan in late 2004.
In 2005, the state announced a financial commitment for the plan.
With the acquisition fund, Flynn said, "Everything is in place to begin some of those 100 homes almost immediately."
Mayor Charles Ryan said there is "a new spirit of confidence on the Hill. It has been a very good year and next year will be better."
The neighborhood has seen the recent renovation of the Deberry School Gymnasium through public and private funds. Currently school officials are working on a plan to transform the entire schoolyard.
There has also been improvements at the Harriet Tubman Park; an expansion of the Springfield Day Nursery on King Street; and the reconstruction of Walnut Street. The neighborhood will also benefit from the State Street Corridor redevelopment project.
Omega Johnson, president of the Old Hill neighborhood Council, said she was delighted with the news of the housing project moving forward "because it's been a long time coming."