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Debate continues over Mason Square Library

Previous efforts to negotiate a sale of the Urban League building back to the city have failed in the past, the Springfield Library Commission now believes the best way to restore a full service library to the Mason Square area is through eminent domain. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Mayor Domenic Sarno and former Mayor Charles Ryan may not agree on much, but both men told Reminder Publications they want to work together in re-establishing a full service library in Mason Square.

The difference between them is that Ryan, who is president of the Library Foundation the non-profit organization that controls the endowment for the Mason Square Library believes taking back the former library building through eminent domain from the Urban League, its current owners, is the best way to bring back the library.

Sarno, however, made a recent announcement that he had chosen the current location of Muhammad's Mosque #13 on State Street as the site for the new library. Ryan, Emily Bader, the head of the city's library system, and the Mason Square Library Advisory Committee were not invited to the announcement.

"It's a great space. It has a great amount of parking," Sarno said.

Sarno has asked the Foundation to release $950,000 in funds to buy the building.

Ryan explained that, as mayor, he had appointed the commission to compile a list of possible sites for the library. At one point the Mosque was part of that list and was highly rated by commission members and the members of the community who attended the meetings.

The owners of the building, though, withdrew it from sales consideration last year.

Ryan said that while there were detailed analyses of other sites such as the former Mason Square Fire Station and a closed funeral home, there was no such assessment done of the Mosque building. The other sites were ultimately rejected.

He said, "An honorable search [for a new site] had been made."

Architect Stephen Jablonski sent a letter last week to the Mosque requesting permission to perform structural tests to determine if the building is suitable to hold the weighty bookshelves. He is also determining what other renovations must be made in order for the place of worship to be converted into a library.

Ryan did not know how quickly Jablonski would be able to finish the report.

Ryan expressed concerns over the asking price for the Mosque as well as the still unknown costs of renovating the building into a library.

He recounted that prior to the sale of the Mason Square Library to the Urban League during the Albano Administration, the city had financed a $1.1 million bond for renovations to the building. Taxpayers are still paying for those renovations for a building the city didn't own at the time of the bond and doesn't own today, he noted.

Ryan said he wants to ensure the neighborhoods that rely on the library are given one "at least as good as the one that was taken away."

He said, "It's still a long run. It's important that we [he and Sarno] work together and there should be better communication."