By Eric Fisher
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — ECOS, or the Environmental Center for Our Schools, has been teaching Springfield students since 1970. It was the year of the first Earth Day, and ever since teachers there have been introducing young city dwellers to the great outdoors of Forest Park. Over 8,000 of them per year, in fact.
But there’s one problem. The circa 1936 structure that houses the ECOS program, hasn’t changed much at all since 1936. Floors are old and creaky, windows are broken, and a number of birds are now residents of the roof. Aside from a new boiler and some patches to the roof, little has been done to keep the building up-to-date.
“They (the students) should have a facility that teachers them as they’re in the facility, and in this case that’s not happening,” says Burt Freedman, a teacher in the ECOS program.
He’s been fighting for renovations for over a decade, appealing to Springfield city leaders. While he’s managed to win a few battles and get a few improvements for the classroom, he has something completely different in mind. A total renovation and expansion effort.
“The environmental center should be a showcase for green energy efficiency,” says Freedman.
With a $75,000 grant from the city, Freedman has gone forward with design and development plans. They call for an energy-efficient structure, a model ‘green’ facility complete with solar panels and new technology. Freedman wants the new classroom to be a lesson in itself.
“I think we’re in better shape than we’ve ever been,” says Freedman.
Springfield Chief Financial Officer Lee Erdmann estimates the cost of the project to be between 2 and 3 million dollars. He’s currently looking at a program of selling bonds to pay for it, and estimates that the city may be in shape to go forward in the next 1-2 years.
“I am confident that this will happen, it will just depend on the timing of when we have the available funding to move forward,” says Erdmann.
If approved and built, the new building would be called the Clifford A. Phaneuf Environmental Center.
“We look at the renovation as the last jewel in the crown of Forest Park and the park system in Springfield,” says Freedman.