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Brookings School rises ‘from the rubble’ of 2011 tornado

Date: 6/5/2015

SPRINGFIELD – In his invocation at the dedication ceremonies of the new Elias Brookings Elementary School, Rev. Mark Baymon described the new school as a phoenix rising “from the rumble.”

The ceremony was emotional at times with stories of the damage done by the tornado and the hope for the future the new school represents.

The dedication ceremony on May 29 was only a few days away from the fourth anniversary of the June 1, 2011 tornado that hit Springfield and damaged at two of its schools. The damage to the Brookings School, built in 1926, was deemed too severe to repair, while the Margaret Dryden Veterans Memorial School was renovated.

Mayor Domenic Sarno noted the new Brookings School was a $27.5 million project and he expressed thanks to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which provided an initial rate of reimbursement of 80 percent.

That figure jumped to 100 percent due to a successful bill sponsored by state Sen. James Welch, Sarno added.

“This school is absolutely wonderful,” Sarno said.

State Treasurer Deb Goldberg said the school is the “symbol of the incredible collaboration” between the city and the state.

She added, “Springfield is not only back but it’s better than ever.”

Jack McCarthy, the executive director of the MSBA, said the city has received since 2004 more than $380 million from the MSBA for new schools and repairs and renovations to schools. He added this sum is the greatest of any community in the Commonwealth.

Superintendent Daniel Warwick said that he “approaches [the school] with a deep sense of gratitude.”

He added, “This is an example of the community’s priorities, putting the kids first.”

Warwick noted that Brookings had been a level 4 school, but despite the challenges of moving the school into a nearby temporary building, Principal Terry Powe and her staff had raised test scores to elevate the school to Level 3.

 Powe received a standing ovation from the audience as she spoke. She recalled how she received a call from the night janitor that the building had been destroyed.

“I get emotional when I think back to June 1, 2011,” Powe said.

When she returned to the school, she saw how in one first grade class “every single desk was flipped.” No students were at the school as the tornado had hit at 4:38 p.m.

She said “the hand of God” had protected the students and the staff.

Sarno told Reminder Publications Ruth Elizabeth Park where the mobile school buildings were constructed must now be renovated. The city had released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for re-use of the former Brookings school building last year, but Sarno said he wanted to see if a larger group of proposals could be solicited and said a RFP would be released later this year.