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Springfield awards $2.6 million in preservation grants for historic buildings and parks

SPRINGFIELD – A church that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. A former fire station that is to become the headquarters for a neighborhood council. And three dilapidated but historic residential buildings.

This year they will all receive a financial boost.

The City Council has approved allocating the money raised through this year’s Community Preservation Act to 14 projects, including one that will help members of St. John’s Congregational Church replace the siding of the 113-year-old building in the Old Hill section of the city.

Several members attending the meeting quietly said “Praise God” after the vote took place.

“It will be a great help if we continue to try to keep our church going,” said Dayhige Wright, pastor of the church, which in addition to being a stop on the Underground Railroad, is also home to a number of historical artifacts.

This year, the Community Preservation Act allocated approximately $2.6 million to projects to improve or expand open space, preserve historic properties and promote affordable housing in Springfield.

About $2.2 million came from a 1.5% surcharge on city taxes, $440,000 from a state match and $200,000 earned in interest from money in a savings account. The state competition, which changes annually depending on the number of cities and towns participating, is slightly lower this year. But interest on the money deposited into the commission’s account increased, said Robert McCarroll, chairman of the commission.

Voters approved the 1.5% tax in a 2016 referendum, which includes a provision that exempts the first $100,000 of a property’s assessment. Since then, the city has spent about $13 million on projects to preserve historic buildings, boost affordable housing and protect open space.

“This is the one tax I will never complain about because I think it does so much good for the city,” said City Councilor Zaida Govan.

Unanimous votes

All 14 projects were approved by the council by a vote of 12 to 0. Govan abstained from voting because she is also chair of the Indian Orchard Citizens Council, which received money to convert the former Indian Orchard Fire Station into an office and community center.

The regulations require that at least 10% of the money be spent on each of the three categories. A small amount is reserved for administrative costs. In Springfield, the commission does not award more than $300,000 to any project and does its best to spread the awards across the city to benefit multiple neighborhoods, McCarroll said.

Councilor Tracye Whitfield praised the plan to help members of St John’s Church, saying: “These are the projects I was hoping to see, something new or something different.”

Because Community Preservation Act funds are still taxpayer money, the commission must be careful about the separation of church and state. But in this case, St. John’s Church has significant historic value, so the grant focuses on preserving the building, McCarroll said.

McCarroll said most of the state’s conservation law proceeds are spent on municipal projects. Springfield is an outlier because it spends more money than average on private and nonprofit organizations.

Historic houses

Some of the $300,000 grants will go toward protecting historic homes the city owns, including two historic townhomes at 174 and 176 Maple St. These buildings were already in poor condition and a recent fire further damaged one of the buildings. Another $300,000 will go toward a unique and rare modernist home at 60 Byers St., which is also in poor condition.

The money is being used as an incentive to attract developers as the level of deterioration of the properties means it will cost more to repair them than they will be worth when the work is completed. If no developers bid to buy the property, the money will be used for other grants in the future, McCarroll said.

The committee also proposed a $300,000 grant to Maple Street LLC., which purchased 178, 180, 182 and 184 Maple St. Four other terraced houses, local developers, plan to rehabilitate them into twelve apartments.

Developer Paul J. Bongiorni, one of the partners in the company, said the plan is to renovate the buildings for market-rate housing while remaining open to affordable housing options. The grant is intended for the historic preservation of the exterior.

Initial estimates put the renovations at $5 million. Bongiorni and his partners bought the buildings just days before the fire. Fire officials said firewalls prevented the flames from spreading to his property, but there was smoke and water damage.

The 14 accepted projects are as follows:

  • Indian Orchard Fire Station, $300,000. The money will be used to help the Indian Orchard Neighborhood Council reuse the historic station. The subsidy pays for a lift. Last year, a $250,000 reward was paid for exterior improvements.
  • Historic home renovations, $300,000. The money will be deposited into a fund designed to provide $30,000 grants to individual homeowners in eight neighborhoods to help them finance historically accurate exterior renovations such as replacing roofs, installing windows, repairing of verandas and painting.
  • Van Sickle Softball Diamond, $300,000. The city is applying on behalf of the Springfeld Old Timers Softball League to improve the facility. As part of the project, the property will be transferred from the Springfield School Department and the Springfield Housing Authority to the city as open space.
  • Maple Street townhomes, $300,000. This money will be used by the city to attract developers who will develop two 150-year-old townhomes at 174 and 176 Maple St.
  • Maple Street townhomes, $300,000. This will help a private developer who recently purchased four townhomes at 178-184 Maple St. with exterior renovations.
  • Byers Street development, $300,000. This is intended to attract a developer who will restore a unique and rare house, with the proviso that half of the units will be used for affordable housing.
  • D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, $30,000. The Springfield Museum Corp. will use the money for the final phase of restoring the building’s exterior.
  • St. John’s Congregational Church, $300,000. The city will use the money to replace the exterior siding of the 69 Hancock St. building in the Old Hill neighborhood, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Treetop Park, $250,000. The grant will make improvements to the 17-acre park at 258 Corcoran Blvd. by adding walking paths and an accessible swing.
  • Clarendon Fountain, $150,000. The McKnight Neighborhood Council will work with the city to repair a fountain and improve landscaping at Triangle Terrace Park at Sherman and Bay streets.
  • Drama studio, $60,000. The money will help code the Drama Studio, Oakland 41, and add an elevator to make it accessible to the handicapped.
  • Invasive factory inspection, $55,000. The grant will allow Regreen Springfield to remove Japanese knotweed from multiple parks and nature reserves.
  • Lamppost restoration, $32,213. The money will help the Colony Hills Neighborhood Association restore six vintage lamp posts from 1921.
  • Restoration of native vegetation, $13,000. Regreen Springfield will use the money to restore native vegetation in Forest Park.