SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield City Council approved all 14 projects proposed for funding by the Community Preservation Committee, including the rehabilitation of several vacant buildings in the city.

Community preservation funding is governed by state law, requiring a certain amount of funding be directed to accounts for open space, housing and historical preservation. In the six years since the city adopted community preservation funding, the committee has distributed $13 million for 86 projects. This year, there were 32 applications for funding in Springfield.

Councilor Zaida Govan recused herself from voting on the community preservation projects, as she said she was directly connected to two of them. All the remaining councilors supported the 14 funding recommendations.
Among the building restorations was the former Indian Orchard fire station, which has been vacant for several years. The Indian Orchard Citizen’s Council and the city had applied to the committee for funding to repurpose the Oak Street structure into a community center with a computer lab, health clinics, and educational and meeting spaces. Committee Chair Robert McCarroll said funding for the renovation of the doors, windows and roof of the building was approved last year. This year, the committee recommended the maximum of $300,000 to be put toward a $4 million elevator project to make the building accessible. Part of the total price tag will be covered by $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding that the city committed for initial stabilization.

Two properties, at 174 and 176 Maple St. have been on the Springfield Preservation Trust’s endangered property list for several years. The city’s Office of Housing, along with Disaster and Recovery Compliance, Community Development Applied for $300,000 each to act as an incentive for developers to consider purchasing the properties. The parcels, two of six deteriorated row houses on Maple Street, previously underwent foreclosure by the city and have been vacant since.

Another $300,000 total was recommended by the committee for repairs to be done to the remaining four row houses, 178-184 Maple St. Those properties are privately owned by Paul Bongiorni of Maple Street Row Houses LLC., who wishes to redevelop the rowhouses into apartment buildings with three units each. the current plan is to lease the units at market rate, however bongiorni said he would be “open to” making some of the units affordable.

Councilor Tracey Whitfield asked McCarroll to clarify, as she was under the impression that Community Preservation Act-funded housing must be affordable. McCarroll said that because the funding would be taken from the program’s undesignated reserve, it did not have to meet affordable housing guidelines. Were the funding to come from the housing reserve, income-specific restrictions would be required.

Yet another building owned by the city is 60 Byers St. McCarroll called the property “a unique and rare” modernist house. The city foreclosed on this property a little more than a decade ago. A developer purchased the property at one point but walked away after a fire damaged the interior. Since then, it has been vacant, but the city is interested in seeking new proposals for the property from developers. Because $244,000 of the total recommended $300,000 would come from the housing reserve, half of the units developed in this property would need to meet income guidelines. McCarroll said the property may never be sold without the CPA funding incentive because the value after renovations would not outweigh the cost of the work.

The committee recommended $300,000 for the final phase of exterior restoration to the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. The main entry and some of the exterior windows were renovated, in part, with a previous round of CPA funding. This year’s funding would help replace the remaining windows and clean the exterior of the building.

Whitfield pointed out that several of the projects concerned city-owned properties. “I’m not sure if that’s what the voters intended,” she said. McCarroll countered that assertion and said most projects in municipalities that use the Community Preservation Act funding mechanism are owned or administered by the local government.
The committee itself applied for $300,000 to help restore the exterior of homes in the city’s historic district neighborhoods of Quadrangle-Matoon, McKnight, Maple Hill, Lower Maple, Forest Park Heights, Colony Hills and Ridgewood. The program, which has been in previous years, allows for grants up to $30,000 for awarded through a lottery to residents of historic houses in these areas.

Councilor Malo Brown spoke in favor of the program. He said he has seen seniors nearly lose their homes due to the cost associated with exterior upkeep. McCarroll said the repairs and maintenance must adhere to the standards established by the state secretary of the interior’s office. “You can’t just buy off the rack at Home Depot,” he explained.

St. John’s Congregational Church, at 69 Hancock St., needs replacement shingles for the exterior of the building. McCarroll noted that the building is on the National Historic Register. Councilors Brown, Tim Allen, Jose Delgado, Victor Davila, and Whitfield spoke in favor of the project, but Whitfield questioned whether the shingles would be wood or a more durable material. McCarroll reminded her that the historic nature of the building mandates that the materials be in keeping with the building’s original state.

After comments by Brown supporting the religious nature of the building, McCarroll emphasized that the committee cannot “advance” any religion, but also must not discriminate against a project based on its religious use.

A few parks were on the list of projects. The Old Timer’s Softball League applied for $300,000 to improve the Van Sickle softball diamond in East Springfield, including updates to the field, dugouts and backstop. For the installation of a walking path and accessible swing set at Treetop Park in the Outer Belt neighborhood will use $250,000 in CPA funding. Repairs to the Clarendon Fountain and landscaping at Triangle Terrace will run $150,000. These projects would be managed by the Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, as they are city property.

The removal of invasive Japanese knotwood throughout the city and the restoration of native plants in Forest Park neighborhood, will cost $55,000 and $13,000, respectively. The funding for both projects was requested by the organization Regreen Springfield.

The remaining projects are the repair of six antique lampposts in Colony Hills for $35,213 and an elevator for The Drama Studio, which McCarroll said is the last step in making the historic building accessible. The business requested $60,000 for the project.