Construction Projects Aim To Revitalize Springfield

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(Host) In Springfield, some long-anticipated improvements appear to be coming to fruition, as the town continues to dig out from the rubble and toxic waste of its vanished machine tool industry.

As VPR’s Susan Keese reports, construction projects are everywhere this spring.

(Foster) ‘"See the new siding?

(Keese) The big, new, energy-efficient windows that replaced the old wrecked panes of the Fellows Gear Shaper plant flash a message: the rambling brick hulk in the middle of downtown Springfield is coming back to life.

Two investors who bought the building struck a deal with the local hospital to build a new health center here, with doctors’ offices and a walk-in clinic.

Ted Foster was one of thousands of machinists who worked here when the plant operated. For the past 11 years, he’s been a caretaker. And he’s excited about the new life planned for the property.

(Foster) "Ah, it’s going to be nice. It’s going to be like a little city. You got the hospital, all your doctors are going to be here. They’re talking about putting a restaurant up on the north end. Yeah, it’ll boost everything. It’s good to see it come back."

(Keese) The medical complex, which will take up about a quarter of the old factory, is set to open by the end of 2011. Developers hope the activity will attract other businesses to the space.

The company that owns Springfield Hospital is setting up the new center. The hospital is in the midst of change, too.

Doctors prescribe exercise or therapy in the pool of Springfield’s Edgar May Recreation Center.  

Hospital CEO Glenn Cordoner says the focus is shifting from just treating diseases to helping people and the community to be more healthy.

(Cordoner) "It’s changed lives. An enormous amount of weight loss has been attributed to that program, and patients now all of a sudden are achieving health outcomes and health goals that would have been impossible."

(Keese) Now the hospital is also planning to buy and run the non profit rec center, which is struggling financially.

The lion’s share of funding for the work in Springfield comes from government programs – like the ones behind the renovations on the local movie theater destroyed by arson in 2008.

(Flint)"The plans are for it to be open by the first of July. So we’re very excited about that."

(Keese) Bob Flint directs the Springfield Regional Development Corporation. He says the movie theater project also replaces eight apartments and is funded with affordable housing money.

The renovation of the old Fellows plant into the hospital’s clinic will use a total of $13 million in public funding.

The Springfield Regional Development Corporation has been the driving force behind that project. Just recently the group received a little more than half a million dollars to begin cleaning up another factory, Jones and Lamson.

The building stretched for a quarter mile along the main road into town, and Flint says it’s an even tougher challenge than the Fellows plant.

(Flint) "There’s all sorts of chemicals and solvents and oils and we’ve got asbestos. But you know what?  It’s a flat piece of land on a four-lane highway, and we will bring it back."

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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