Apr 3, 2014

UPDATED: Cathedral, St. Michael Academy rebuilding discussed at community meeting



(Photos from video by Stephen Kiltonic)

By Carolee McGrath

SPRINGFIELD – Officials from the Diocese of Springfield participated in a special meeting of the East Forest Park Civic Association held at St. Michael’s Academy on Plumtree Road, here, Wednesday night to update residents on the plans to rebuild facilities damaged by the June 2011 tornado.

Mark E. Dupont, director of public affairs for the diocese, told those gathered that the decision had been made to build a new facility on Surrey Road. He said the total allocated to address “hard construction costs” for the academic facilities damaged by the tornado will be $40 million.

The facilities include all of Cathedral High School, along with the preschool and middle school units of St. Michael’s Academy.

“We know the community here is greatly concerned about the future of our facilities in their neighborhood, so we have committed to keeping them informed,” Dupont told iobserve.

In addition to the construction costs, Dupont said several million dollars in additional funds would be used to cover “soft costs” like playing fields, landscaping, furnishings and cost overrun contingencies. Additionally, expenses continue to be incurred with the rental fees for the Cathedral High School temporary site in Wilbraham, as well as security and some cleanup at the Surrey Road location.

Last month, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) awarded the diocese $21 million in the form of a grant to be used to rebuild the damaged school properties. However, to qualify for the funds, the diocese must pay an additional $8 million beyond the insurance proceeds to meet the federal 75/25 percent cost-sharing formula.

This money would also be in addition to the nearly $10 million in subsidies the diocese has provided Cathedral High School to help meet its operating expenses over the last decade.

Last fall, the diocese reached a $60 million settlement with insurer Catholic Mutual to cover damage sustained by Cathedral and St. Michael’s Academy. That settlement also included St. Michael’s priests’ residence and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in the South End, both ravaged by the tornado. In addition, the insurance settlement covered damage to St. Jude Mission Church in Indian Orchard caused by the July 26, 2011 microburst.

The diocese has spent $20 million of the insurance money to cover costs associated with all of the sites.

Dupont (in right photo) said he expects the bidding process to begin this month and demolition on the site to get underway by the summer. He said demolition will be a lengthy and careful process, as crews will have to remove asbestos from the site. Dupont believes the new building will not be ready for about two years.

“There is two miles of asbestos-covered pipe in the former Cathedral building,” he told those gathered.

He went on to explain that the diocese hopes to restart discussions between the design team and the academic teams from both schools so that plans can start to be drawn up for the new building and other facility upgrades.

Responding to concerns on the condition of the Wendover site, which contained the priests’ residence and preschool, Dupont announced that clearing the trees would start in May and the site would be cleaned up as part of the demolition phase. There are no plans, he said, for the eventual reuse of that land.

As the diocese works to bring Cathedral High School back to Surrey Road, there is also an effort underway to boost enrollment. Cathedral’s president, Ann Southworth (pictured at left), spoke at the meeting about the Cathedral Endowment Fund for Tuition Assistance.

“Our goal is to raise $10 million so that anyone who wants to come to our school can come,” Southworth said. “The good news is we have been very successful.”

As of April 3, the campaign had raised or received pledges totaling $839,000 from 366 donors.  Southworth indicated they were close to receiving a number of additional major gifts, which could boast the fund by an additional $2 million. These would be added to existing Cathedral tuition endowment funds which total $880,000. 

Michelle Gaudette D’Amour, class of 1969, and her husband Donald D’Amour, chairman and chief executive officer of Big Y, have pledged $500,000 to be designated for financial aid for multiple-child families.

The D’Amours, longtime supporters of Catholic education in Springfield, also have offered a challenge grant of $1 million if 2,000 donors respond to the tuition campaign.

In other news, Cathedral High School was recently accepted as part of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, which Southworth said is another draw for prospective students.

“Now students can walk out with a Cathedral diploma that everyone is jealous of: an International Baccalaureate Diploma. This school has raised the bar once again. It has always been the best school around.”