McGovern applauds vision for long-term revitalization in South Deerfield

SOUTH DEERFIELD — U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, was invited by the Select Board to City Hall on Friday afternoon as officials continued their presentation of the South Deerfield campus, a long-term project which, officials said would revitalize downtown.

Denise Mason, Select Board Members and Chair of the Connecting Community Initiative, presented the city’s plan for Deerfield 2030, which aims to increase walkability, accessibility and connectivity for all residents in creating a campus based around the township, Tilton Library, City Hall, and the South County Senior Center. , while preparing for climate change. The biggest challenge the city faces in realizing the plan is the high cost of the project and the need for infrastructure works.

“This vision will set Deerfield on a dynamic path into the future,” said Board Chairman Trevor McDaniel. “That vision may never take off as Deerfield faces a mountain of debt due to our crumbling infrastructure.”

The heart of this campus will be the South County Senior Center, which has seen limited use in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the discovery of mold and asbestos in the building. The city plans to completely renovate the building — with the help of Community Preservation Act money — into a dual-use city hall and seniors/community center. Additionally, the town plans to renovate the South Deerfield Congregational Church, which was donated to the town four years ago.

Including work at the South Deerfield sewage treatment plant, the city estimated in December that pursuing these projects could total $40 million over five to 10 years, which McGovern said is unfeasible for a small town like Deerfield.

“We need to recommit rural developments because that’s a hard number to come by,” McGovern said, adding that a federal earmarking to fund parts of the city’s projects is unlikely until at least fiscal 2024. due to the federal appropriations calendar and the upcoming November election. Instead, he said, the city should seek additional grant opportunities with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), noting that it can help facilitate conversations.

McGovern said that larger municipalities, such as Boston, have many professional grant writers and are able to secure large swaths of state funding, but helping smaller towns secure grants is an opportunity to bring money to western Massachusetts. Additionally, there are still billions of dollars left in the US Bailout Act (ARPA) and federal infrastructure money that needs to be appropriated by the state government.

“It’s an opportunity to level the playing field,” McGovern said. “We also want to get our fair share here.”

With federal grants and funding still to be allocated, McGovern said Deerfield can work its way up to bring down the price on the city campus.

“I have to believe, based on the vision you’ve presented here today, that there are a variety of places where there could be federal resources that you can use to get things done,” said- he declared.

After meeting at City Hall, city officials took McGovern on a brief walking tour of the South County Senior Center and South Deerfield Congregational Church, which is considered a long-term temporary location for senior center. The center currently divides its time between a tent on the lawn and the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church.

McGovern suggested that Deerfield officials meet and communicate with him every couple of months to update him on their progress both on campus and on the Connecting Community Initiative, as they can serve as a role model for the rest of the state.

After the tour, McGovern said Deerfield’s Select board and their various partners on other boards should be proud of the plan they’ve put in place.

“I think it’s great, I’m impressed with the vision,” McGovern said, paraphrasing Hillary Clinton’s use of “It takes a village” to follow through on a vision. “You need a plan, and a village is useless without a plan.”

McGovern said many other cities that approach government officials “usually react to any immediate issues” that affect them, but Deerfield has taken a “holistic view” of addressing affordable housing, tourism and climate resilience.

“A better way to approach this is to have a holistic plan,” he said in an interview. “Let’s connect the dots…so we know where we’re going.”

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