|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD As of May 1, the treasures of the Quadrangle will be free to Springfield residents something the city hasn't seen since 1989.
Calling it a "red letter day," Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan and Springfield Museums Association President Joseph Carvalho, III, signed a formal agreement that formally ended the lawsuit between the Association and the city last Tuesday.
Ryan added it was the beginning of a "long and wonderful partnership."
The settlement will allow Springfield residents, with proper identification, to view the regular exhibits at the museums for free; turn over four branch libraries to the city currently owned by the Association; and defines the ownership of the Central Library building.
The city had sued the Association for damages from the sale of the Mason Square Library to the Urban League in 2003. The settlement stipulates the Association will pay the city $333,334 for the construction of a new library.
The Association, a separate non-profit organization, operated the city's libraries for 156 years. The libraries are now a city department, and the settlement also separated various endowments and trusts between the two entities. Through the settlement, the city will receive $8,373,755 in trusts and endowments. An additional sum of $2,741,566 will be divided by a court proceeding through mutual consent of both parties.
The City Council will have to approve of the agreement, followed by approval by the Legislature because, by statue, the city cannot enter into a legal agreement lasting more than three years.
The settlement also has the following provisions:
The city had been paying the Association $1.1 million to support the museums. With the free admission of Springfield residents, the city will pay the Association $1.32 million for the next 25 years.
The city will rent the four library buildings (Indian Orchard, Forest Park, Liberty Street and East Springfield) owned by the Association for the sum of $1 a year. After approval by the Legislature, the Association will turn the buildings over to the city.
The Association will lease the Central Library building to the city for the sum of $1 a year for the next 25 years, and after that for additional five-year options. If the city decided to build a new Central Library the building would remain the property of the Association.
The Association agreed that Springfield residents will comprise at least 25 percent of its board and its executive committee and that the mayor has the right to nominate two persons to be members of each body.
Carvalho said that he really doesn't expect to see a drop in revenue with the free admission of Springfield residents, thanks in part to the increased funding from the city. He hoped that many Springfield residents would continue their membership in the Association as it gives them discounts on various programs and reduced admission rates at other museums in New England.
The museums would still charge for special exhibits and programs.
He explained the fees were instituted in 1989 when fiscal conditions caused the lay-off of 30 employees.
He added that having free admission for residents was a "fairly unique" quality among museums.
Carvalho said the Association and the Ryan Administration are working on new projects that will benefit the city.
"It's an exciting time," he said. "It's a watershed moment for Springfield."