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Springfield still rebuilding after 2011 tornado

Date: 5/30/2013

By Katelyn Gendron

SPRINGFIELD — Two years have passed since the June 1, 2011 tornado and the region is still in the midst of recovery.

Mayor Domenic Sarno is asking residents to "take a moment of pause" on June 1 at 4:38 p.m., to pay tribute to all that was lost, while organizations such as Square One is marking the anniversary with a return to the South End at 1095 Main St. The organization's 947 Main St. location was destroyed by the tornado but the new, two-floor facility will restore services to the neighborhood with a soft opening on May 31 and become fully operational by March 2014.

"I believe it would be a fitting tribute to pause and reflect on our ability to join together to work so diligently on making our city whole again," Sarno said. "It has been a long and arduous recovery process but the resiliency of the entire city of Springfield has shone through time and time again. To be where we are today, to possibly be embarking on the largest development project in the city's history [with the casino] is a testament to the patience and fortitude the city of Springfield has exhibited over the past two years to come back stronger and more determined to forge a brighter future."

Joan Kagan, Square One president and CEO, noted the potential for a casino has impacted her organization's return to the South End, as the fate of the 947 Main St. property, which the organization owns, is still unknown.

"We're still looking at different options because of the casino situation there are a lot of moving parts so we're still waiting for decisions to be made," she added.

The loss of the 947 Main St. location did cause a decline in services for 200 children, Kagan said, adding that services have been maintained for 1,000 children and families each day. Staff and services have been disbursed throughout two locations in the city's Technology Park and a facility on Wilbraham Avenue.

"As time marches on and as we get to know what's happening in the South End we'll [add additional services]," she said, noting that Square One is currently in talks with officials for a location at Union Station in the North End.

Square One at 1095 Main St., which they're leasing, will officially open to children and families at the end of June, she explained, with a 20-pupil pre-kindergarten classroom, a Parent Café, Family Square, parent education forums, support services and case managers available to those in need. Administrative staff will make the move in March.

When asked if there was ever any doubt that Square One would remain open in the aftermath of the tornado, Kagan replied, "I remember one of the teachers coming up to me after the tornado and said, 'I just want to thank you. I'm very thankful that no body got hurt and I'm very thankful that I still have a job.' It never occurred to me that we wouldn't jump back up and return to business."

Sarno said, "As we approach the two year anniversary of the June 1, 2011, tornado, I couldn't be prouder of my administration, the residents and businesses of the great city of Springfield for their resiliency during the rebuilding process. Because of the hard work and diligence by many city employees and our consultants we are not only in the position to fully recover but to hopefully reap the benefits of a world class resort casino development project, which is on a scale that the City has never scene.

"In addition, many of our downtown businesses have been rebuilt, or as in the case of Square One, will soon break ground. The City of Springfield is coming back bigger and stronger because of its resilient character," he continued.