South End Community Center opens after six years without a home

The previous home was devastated by the June 1, 2011 tornado, but FEMA money helped fund the new building.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP)  – It’s a day that’s 6 years in the making for the city of Springfield. The South End Community Center finally has a permanent home – on Marble Street next to Emerson Wight Park.

Since 1939, the Springfield South End Community Center has served as a refuge for neighborhood kids to play, socialize and learn life lessons. Its first location was on Williams Street, but that had to close to make room for senior housing in the form of Gentile Apartments.

A look back: The South End Community Center

Then-State Representative Anthony Scibelli, the chair of the state Ways and Means Committee, secured a new home for it at the armory building on Howard Street. At first, in the 1970s, the center shared a space with the National Guard. Built in 1895, the building was drafty, but large.

That building was devastated by the June 1, 2011 tornado. Fortunately, about 35 children were able to seek refuge in the weapons vault as the tornado carved a path through the building.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who was once the executive director of the South End Community Center, said he was very diligent in keeping track of each dollar lost and spent in the days following the tornado. That way, he was able to accurately report how much money the City would need from the federal government to rebuild. Until the facility could be rebuilt, services were held throughout the city, including summer camp at Central High School.

The new South End Community Center is largely funded by federal emergency money. It cost about 10.3 million dollars to build (about 6 million in federal tax money).

Thursday morning, generations of residents who benefited from the South End Community Center over the years, and who helped make this new one possible, gathered inside the new facility for a ribbon cutting. Downstairs is a large basketball court and concessions stand. Upstairs are classrooms and a weight room. “Holistic community endeavor, so we’ll have adults in the building in the morning and afternoon and children from the afternoon to the evening. So from 7AM to 9:30PM, we’ll be rocking and rolling,” said South End Community Center Executive Director Chae Swan.

“Busy hands, busy minds, keeps people out of trouble,” said Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri. He added, “We need to remind the young boys and girls at this age that what they do now matters and they’ve got a lot more options than they think they do.” The C3 Policing Initiative began in the South End, and regular meetings will now be held in one of the classrooms.

This new building may be in the center of the city’s south end, but doors are now open to any child in need of something to do.