The German Gerena School opened in 1975 to serve the growing North End population and to unite the North End through its system of tunnels. The tunnels now suffer from persistent water and mold due to aging and broken waterproof lining and poor ventilation. The water and mold exacerbate health concerns such as asthma, which affects Springfield residents at a rate twice that of the state average.
These issues have prompted community action. Organizations such as Neighbor 2 Neighbor have called on the city and state to make Gerena safe for the school children and community members who rely on the tunnels. Driven by a sense of mutual aid, organizers draw attention to the connections between income inequality, environmental injustice, and racism. Gerena is one site that demonstrates these injustices in the North End community. As such, activists have been persistent and resilient in the fight to make Gerena a safe and vibrant space for the North End once again. Through organization and grassroots activism, local groups empower those who are directly affected by injustice to take control of decisions that impact their communities.
In 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (Mass DOT), which is responsible for the upkeep of the Gerena tunnels, approved funding for waterproofing the Gerena tunnels. These tunnel repairs were estimated to cost up to $3 million. In October of 2020, the city of Springfield completed a repair plan for the tunnel system’s water leaks. In April 2021, Mass DOT approved the plan and agreed to fund $1.2 million of the estimated $2.18 million project.
For more information on the history and issues surrounding Gerena, view these segments presented by New England Public Media’s Connecting Point.