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Sarno 'keeps momentum going' for ECOS renovations

Date: 5/31/2011

May 30, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — An alumnus of the Environmental Center for Our Schools (ECOS) himself, Mayor Domenic Sarno told Reminder Publications that he has instructed his finance team to allocate funding to "keep the momentum going" for the proposed renovations at the former skate house — now known as the Clifford A. Phaneuf Environmental Center — where the program is located in Forest Park.

Sarno said he wants the city to go to "the next step" in the renovation of the building. While Sarno said he would like to allocate all of the money needed now, he has to be fiscally responsible.

Sarno added he has received many messages of support for ECOS, urging the city to move forward in the process.

According to ECOS senior teacher Burt Freedman, about 10,000 students, teachers and parents participate in the program designed for grades four through seven. While the program itself has not been threatened by budget cuts, Freedman said the facility itself requires updating.

About 75 years ago, the large log cabin style structure was built as a place for people to gather while skating on Porter Lake. During the summer, the building was the place to rent paddle boats.

Freedman said, that despite its age, "it's an ideal spot" for the program. "It's near all of the habitats we need," he explained.

The building has an almost 100 percent southern exposure, which helps with the program's winter survival program, he added.

Two years ago, the Park Commission approved a plan to renovate the building and enlarge it. Freedman said the design part of the project is almost in its last phase, but needs a financial commitment from the city. He hopes the city will bond for the $2.2 million construction cost in the next fiscal year.

MassMutual has given the city a grant of $150,000 for the project.

He expressed concerns the longer the city waits, the greater the possibility the construction costs might increase.

"We are trying to move as quickly as possible," Freedman said.

Once the construction documents are completed, the project would be "shovel ready," Freedman said. The School Committee has allocated $90,000 to pay for those plans, he added.

He praised Capital Asset Construction Director Rita Coppola-Wallace who suggested enlarging the building so neighborhood councils and other groups could use it as a meeting and conference space.

"It's all positive," Freedman said of the project's status. "We've just got to make that last little jump."

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