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New North Citizens Council receives $2M in ARPA funds for community center in Springfield

 The proposed building plan for the New North Citizens Council community center.
Nirvani Williams
The proposed building plan for the New North Citizens Council community center.

A non-profit in Springfield has received $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to build a new community center to serve low-income residents of color in Hampden County.

Jose Claudio, chief operating officer, and Maria Ligus, executive director of the New North Citizens Council, are planning to turn an empty lot on Chestnut Street in Springfield into a community center.

The center will be named the Barbara Rivera Community Center after the first executive director for the agency which was founded in 1973.

The organization will provide disability services, HIV informational sessions, and even a gym at the new facility.

Ligus said it will be like a one-stop-shop of advocacy services for the community.

"It's just a great project because it lifts up the community," she said. "It's something new, something for them. We've always been located in old buildings, buildings that have been condemned afterwards. So this will be a very nice space for the community and for the staff."

The center will be located in the city's Memorial Square neighborhood, with a predominantly Latino population, according to neighborhood information found on the city's website. Almost all of the organization's employees are bilingual.

Ligus said that New North's original building was also condemned and demolished in 2013 leaving residents without a place to gather.

"The neighborhood does not have a community center if residents wanted to use a big space for any particular reason," she said. "We don't have halls or banquet halls or anything like that. So this is a place where people could use the space."

The Brightwood and Memorial Square neighborhoods, which make up the city's North End, have not had a true community space since German Gerena Schools community rooms were flooded in 1994, Claudio said.

"This is going to be great for our community because it's something that was promised such a long time ago. And we have fought long and hard to make this happen," he said. "I think when the community walks in and sees the beautiful Barbara Rivera Center, it's going to be a great relief for a lot of us. Also, people are going to understand that we're here to stay and that we're here to really make a difference in our community."

The project is estimated to cost $15 million. The Council is in partnership with medical group, Liberty Health Systems, but will need to raise $7.5 million dollars to complete the construction of their building.

Ligus estimates that the building will open September 2023.

Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.
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