Reminder Assistant Editor
SPRINGFIELD "In some ways the city of Springfield is divided. There are different factions, which is not unusual for large groups of people," Gov. Deval Patrick said, "but we need to pull together to succeed. We need unity."
In what may have been the first ever Cabinet meeting in Western Massachusetts, Patrick urged the city of Springfield to bond together to achieve the goals described in the Springfield Partnership.
The Partnership plans will boost the levels of public safety, education and housing in Springfield using both local and state aid.
It was an "important opportunity to seize for a partnership between the city and the Commonwealth," Patrick said. The governor promised $30 million in direct state aid to invest in the city over the next few years.
Public Safety Commitments
Kevin Burke, Gov. Patrick's Secretary of Public Safety and Security, said $560,000 of state aid will go toward the hiring of 10 new police officers in Springfield. One million dollars will be released by the Finance Control Board to pay for police overtime as well.
"Crime is down in the city, even with the bulge in the murder rate," Burke stated. "From a law enforcement point of view, Springfield has brought itself up."
The state has also made a commitment to expand the police training facility at the Springfield Technical Community College as well as create a site in Western Massachusetts for firefighter training. Currently, all future firefighters have to travel east to Bolton, Mass., northeast of Worcester, for their training.
Mayoral candidate Domenic Sarno, while appreciative of what the state has done already, believes that 50 new police officers are needed, and told the governor and his cabinet this when the floor was opened for comments.
Dan O'Connell, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, said that the strengthening of employer programs that assist employees with down payments on homes lets Springfield set an example for the rest of the state. Baystate Medical, Mass Mutual and Springfield College are all pioneers in this field. A $250,000 match from the state will help other businesses do the same.
O'Connell also said his department has been working closely with Rep. Angelo Puppolo to end homelessness in the region.
Part of the $30 million in state aid will go toward fixing the public housing situation in Springfield. Patrick said the state would match the city's contribution to the Worthington Street Shelter Housing Project, which will contain shelter beds, services and housing units.
The state is also prepared to make an immediate capital investment that will allow the Springfield Housing Authority to improve housing and ensure public housing is affordable and safe.
Improving the Business Environment
One major way to improve the city is to improve the business environment, according to the Springfield Partnership.
The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development is working with the Hampden County Regional Employment Board to develop a plan that can meet the needs of Springfield residents by removing barriers to employment participation and mobility.
"It's not that there's a lack of jobs. A lot of jobs are going unfilled because of a lack of training and education," Suzanne Bump, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, said.
The Massachusetts Office of Business Development is actively seeking to bring new businesses to the city as well.
The "State Investments and Local Initiatives" outlined in the Partnership will help to improve business in the area for commuters and residents. In addition to the press conference announcing the Springfield Partnership, Patrick also opened a new Governor's Office in the State Office Building on Dwight Street. This comes with needed improvements to Main Street North, Union Station, Pynchon Point, Roosevelt Bridge and the Chapman Valve development site.
"There are lots of projects going on right now, both road and rail," Bernard Cohen, Secretary of Transportation and Construction, said. "We're good to go on State Street and the state has matched the city's $350,000 contribution for Union Station rehabilitation."
Commitment to Education
As Bump stated, there is a need for adult education and training in Springfield. "We need more plans for adult basic education," she said. "The need is particularly acute here."
In planning future action for the city, the Partnership stated how important early education and care are for the youngest residents of Springfield. It also called for a stronger link between kindergarten through twelfth grades and higher education institutions. "We need to expand the time for teaching and learning," Patrick said.
Antonette Pepe, a member of the city's school committee, told Patrick "poor does not mean dumb," and he agreed. "We need to lower class sizes in this city to lower the drop out rate and make our children successful."
Christopher Gabrieli, chairman of the city's Finance Control Board, said one of the city's main goals academically is to go after the achievement gap. "Every child in Springfield had made progress," he said. "We can really feel the governor's educational eye on Springfield."
Potential Future Investments
Housing for all income groups, renewable energy resources, workforce development, understanding business clusters and the possibility of a high speed rail system linking Springfield to Hartford and New Haven were listed as potential future investments.
Helping the City Help Itself
"It cannot be understated that this is not a destination, but only one step of our journey," Patrick declared. "There are so many assets to Springfield, like its location, educational institutions and medical facilities. I plan on maintaining an ongoing and regular presence in Western Massachusetts to realize our vision for this city."
"We were promised this partnership a year ago, and Gov. Patrick kept his promise," Mayor Charles Ryan said. "I know the momentum this city has and I'm very confident that we can make Springfield relevant again."
Patrick ended the presentation of the Springfield Partnership by stating, "My vision for Springfield is to make it a successful, sustainable economy and a safe city.
"This is about giving Springfield a chance."