Long-distance view of Historic Springfield City Hall
Long-distance view of Historic Springfield City Hall (Photo by Dean Curtis)

Sixteen different organizations stand to get a boost through some federal pass-through funding up for debate when the Springfield City Council meets July 11.

The projects range from $7.3 million in artificial soccer, baseball and softball fields to $50,000 for educational programming at Springfield’s nonprofit science museum-turned-school. The recommendations come from the City Council American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Review Committee, which met and discussed the proposals June 23. All told, the four council members on the committee waded through more than 50 funding requests adding up to $210 million. The Springfield city government has about $40 million to work with.

Councilman Matthew Simpson, the committee chairman, said Springfield’s goal should be to provide “one-time money for one-time projects” with “long-term transformative impact” on the Springfield community.

ARPA is a $1.9 trillion federal aid package the U.S. Congress enacted in March 2021 to provide financial aid to families, governments, businesses, schools, nonprofits and others impacted by the economic recesses of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of that $1.9 trillion, $350 billion is going to state and local governments as part of the Fiscal Recovery Fund.

Funds must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026. A council bill sets aside $7 million for projects to help with homelessness and housing projects that the ARPA committee will review at a later date. The committee anticipates holding more meetings and making more funding recommendations for the City Council as a whole to consider in the upcoming months.   

One of the spending recommendations is in-house.

“Our Historic City Hall really needs renovation,” Zone 2 Councilman Abe McGull said.

“It literally is in shambles,” General Councilwoman Heather Hardinger said.

“It is in shambles and it’s almost embarrassing,” McGull said. “I just want to make sure that we have enough monies to do a one-time fix to that project.”

Springfield City Council ARPA Committee 

Funding recommendations up for debate July 11:

$7.3 million for the Cooper/Killian sports complexes

$7 million for housing and homeless projects

$4 million to renovate Historic City Hall

$3 million for the Springfield Art Museum’s education wing

$3 million for the Ozark Greenways Chadwick Flyer Trail development

$2 million to the Boys and Girls Club/Foster Adopt Connect teen center

$1 million for Restore SGF housing renewal effort

$750,000 for Missouri State University for the Grand Street underpass

$750,000 for Ozarks Technical Community College airframe and powerplant training facility

$650,000 for the Family Connects Program

$500,000 for the Springfield-Greene County Library

$500,000 for Jordan Creek daylighting project

$500,000 for a housing study

$250,000 for the Ozark Empire Fair youth agricultural education center

$100,000 for the Burrell Behavioral Health 24/7 mental help hotline

$50,000 for the Discovery Center

Money for sports fields

The Cooper Sports Complex and the adjacent Killian Softball Complex in northeastern Springfield stand to receive $7.3 million in funding from the city, with the idea that the fields will host larger tournaments and bring in teams from outside Southwest Missouri.

“Soccer, baseball and softball are what we’re wanting to turn into anchor tournament facilities to not only have for local teams and residents to be able to use throughout the year for recreation and health, but also to draw in those statewide, regional and super-regional tournaments that benefit local businesses and drive up revenue, which allows us to invest in other things,” Simpson said.

The Springfield City Council had obligated $5 million for the Cooper Soccer Complex without identifying a specific funding source, and so the $7.3 million in ARPA funds would finance putting turf on the soccer fields with about $2.3 million left for softball and baseball fields.

McGull also favors the turf project because of its potential to pay off in tourism revenue.

“I know it brings in new revenue to the city whenever we have traveling parents and soccer players that visit our city,” McGull said. “When you bring in all these people from out of town, the last thing you want to do is cancel an event, and having artificial turf prevents that or mitigates it to some extent.” 

The total estimated cost to upgrade all of the soccer, softball and baseball fields is $23.3 million. There is no money specified for the Cooper Tennis Complex, which Simpson said is already a best-in-class sports venue.

“The tennis facility is already where it should be and is attracting the pickleball championship, as well,” Simpson said.

The Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau staff identified about $2 million in funding from a mixture of sources, some from private donations, that it can contribute to the Killian softball fields project.

The battle against homelessness

In addition to the $7 million to combat homelessness allocated through the bill appearing on July 11, another $5.3 million is set aside for issues of housing and homelessness prevention pending the results of a study on housing issues in Springfield expected to be complete by the end of July.

This brings the total dollar amount available for homeless and housing projects to approximately $12.3 million, when combined with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) ARPA funds. 

While $12.3 million won’t solve everything in Springfield, where 1,397 people were homeless as of the last Connecting Grounds Street Census on June 24, it’s a move in a good direction in the mind of General Councilman Andrew Lear.

“Our housing issue is a generational project,” Lear said.

Training airplane mechanics

Springfield Branson National Airport (Photo by Dean Curtis)

The committee pledged to commit three-quarters of a million dollars for development of the Ozarks Technical Community College Center for Excellence for Airframe and Powerplant Maintenance at the Springfield-Branson National Airport. The airport and OTC also stand to receive $5 million in funding from the State of Missouri and another $750,000 from Greene County in ARPA funding.

“The investment is actually going to occur on the city facility, which is the airport. It very much compliments the pilot training program,” Springfield Director of Aviation Brian Weiler said.

EnvoyAir, a subsidiary of American Airlines, has a 20-year lease at the Springfield-Branson National Airport for a maintenance hangar. Weiler said this investment brings about 75 jobs to the airport, and therefore, makes it worthwhile to have a program where people who want to repair and maintain airplanes can get training.

The potential for good pay garnered McGull’s support.

“This is great for Springfield creating a hub for training for high paying jobs,” McGull said.

Weiler added that having the school for airplane mechanics gives Springfield great potential to attract more maintenance bases with other airlines in the future.

“Airline maintenance bases are kind of like Walgreens and CVS; when you get one, you get others,” Weiler said.

Retention payments for first responders and public health workers

On Aug. 23, 2021, the Springfield City Council allocated $8 million to support the Springfield-Greene County Health Department for continuing services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as recommended by the ARPA Review Committee. The committee is now recommending to amend the funds to be set aside for potential COVID-19 response to $3,026,290. This funding allocation will remain for COVID-19 responses, unless the funds are reallocated by City Council for other ARPA projects, as funds become available.    

On Jan. 24, the City Council approved the use of ARPA dollars for retention pay for all full-time Springfield Fire Department, Springfield Police Department and Springfield-Greene County Health Department staff. 

“There are things — other projects that I think we’ll be able to do that address public safety in an upstream way, as well,” Simpson said.

How priorities are set

Springfield city staffers conducted a survey to determine funding priorities for the ARPA funds in the fall of 2021.  

The four-page questionnaire was mailed on Sept. 27, 2021, to 5,000 randomly selected households within the city limits of Springfield. Results were based on 1,438 completed questionnaires (1,237 mail and 201 online). Overall findings have a +/- 2.6-percent margin of error, a 95-percent statistical confidence interval.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger