|By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor|
SPRINGFIELD The announcement last week that city, state and federal officials would change the traffic plan for Mason Square after pressure from residents was seen as "monumental decision" by City Councilor Bud Williams, who made the announcement at a press conference on Thursday.
It was also a victory for a grass roots organization, Save Our Square (SOS), which fought the proposed change.
Department of Public Works Superintendent Al Chwalek explained that instead of restricting traffic on Eastern Avenue, which residents said would make traffic in Mason Square worse, the traffic lights would be re-timed.
The changes for the traffic flow in Mason Square were part of the nearly $14 million State Street Corridor project. Under the original plan, motorists on Eastern Avenue could not cross over Wilbraham Road to reach State Street or Catherine Street. Instead, they would be directed to access both those streets via Rutland Street.
Chwalek said the state would have several different plans from which to choose, and the physical changes to the original plan would be "very small."
David Panagore, the chief economic development officer for the city, said the delay caused by the changes would only be several weeks.
Mayor Charles Ryan said, "Common sense has prevailed."
Old Hill resident and activist Jay Griffin is part of SOS and he explained the group of about 40 concerned citizens came about when they learned of the State Street Corridor plan at a meeting of the committee selecting a new site for the Mason Square Library.
Griffin and others became concerned when they heard the neighborhood councils in the abutting areas to the Square had approved the plan, but various councils' members said they hadn't. This spurred a demonstration SOS organized.
SOS has written its own master plan for the development of the Square. Griffin said the group wants the former Mason Square Fire Station to be renovated and used as off-campus housing for the city's colleges. In the summer the fire station could be used as "base facility for inner city kids to explore the various open spaces in Western Massachusetts, Brimfield, Granville, South Hadley and Westfield to experience camp life," according to the SOS plan.
The group supports the new Mason Square Library to be located at Mohammed Mosque, which is one building away from the site of the former library building.
Another issue SOS is supporting is the moving of the brick building at 576 State St. to a new location for a new use, rather than see it demolished. Griffin, who is part of the organization which sponsors the annual Stone Soul Picnic, said that group is interested in moving the building and re-developing it. He said 278 King St. would be an ideal location for the structure.
Griffin added SOS is also concerned about the unused part of the Indian Motocycle building and the former Knox building on Wilbraham Road and Waltham Avenue. The first, second and third floors on the State Street side of the Indian Motocycle building are empty, and, aside from a tire store, the Knox building is empty.
"It [the Knox building] has all kinds of potential," Griffin said.
SOS is looking for additional members, Griffin said. The group meets weekly at the Mason Square Veteran Program offices at 8237 State St. For more information call Chris Scott at 886-0480.