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Mortgage lender holds onto former Masonic Temple

Date: 2/1/2012

Feb. 1, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD —Although the former The Holy Communion of Churches (HCOC) no longer owns the Masonic Temple at 339-341 State St., the mortgage holder is not asking the HCOC and the 500-person congregation to leave the building anytime soon.

Archbishop Timothy Paul explained to Reminder Publications after the foreclosure auction of the historic building on Jan. 26, the lender, California Baptist Foundation doesn’t want the building left vacant.

“We will maintain it, “Paul said. “[The mortgage holder] doesn’t want to see it go dark or become an eyesore.”

Paul said that while the future plans for the building haven’t been discussed with him, the foreclosure would not affect the completion of construction on a Holiday Inn Express in the building owned by a development subsidiary of the HCOC.

The building was bought back by the lender for $724,000. Alex Hogan, the attorney from the firm of Shatz, Schwartz & Fenton representing the mortgage holder, had no comment about the sale or future plans for the building.

Paul said the congregation is planning to move to another location and is considering two locations in the city.

Auctioneer Corey Fisher of Aaron Posnick & Co. made fast work of the auction, reading the legal notice, asking for questions and then announcing there was an initial bid of $724,000. Members of the press outnumbered people who had signed up as potential bidders.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building’s cornerstone was laid in 1924 and the structure completed in 1926. Paul noted the historic designation complicates some of the repairs and upgrades that need to be done to the building, which he estimated at about $2 million.

According to the information supplied by The Register, “[The] Masonic Temple’s neo-classical style exterior is monumental. It is built of Indiana limestone with terra cotta trim. The front has symbols and Egyptian detailing characteristic of Masonry.

“The main entrance is centrally located and reached by two flights of stairs. Above the door is a two-storey colonnade of four columns that are meant to be replicas of a late Egyptian temple. The central ornament behind the colonnade is a large panel with the square and compass, gold triangle, Maltese Cross, and an Assyrian double eagle. A frieze over the colonnade has three panels. The side panels are inscribed: A.L. 5924 and A.D. 1924. The central panel has the Latin words: ‘Aedificatum Ut Lux Splendesceret’ (‘Erected That Light Might Become Brighter’).”

The Valley of Springfield, a Scottish Rite Masonic order, was the last Masonic group to use the building and relocated in 2003.

According to the assessment conducted on the property, Praise and Glory Church of God in Christ Inc. bought the property in 2007 for $1.7 million.

The building was appraised at the time of the purchase for $2.35 million and has dropped in value to $800,000 according to Paul.

Deputy Director of Economic Development Brian Connors said the temple is “an important historic structure” and that the city will introduce itself to the owners to encourage redevelopment.

The appraisal report by Jerome C. Franklin and Robert E. Bennett also noted, “The upper floors are accessed via two elevators, which are old, outdated, manually controlled with only one functioning at the time of our inspection. We were shown a letter from the Massachusetts elevator inspector, which noted that the functioning elevator would be out of compliance as of Jan. 1, 2012 unless numerous conditions within the elevator shaft and the elevator mechanicals were repaired and/or replaced.”

Paul said the heating costs were between $12,000 and $15,000 a month during the winter, one of the reasons that forced the sale.

According to the report, “The building is heated via forced hot air which is provided from two oil fired furnaces which feed enormous air exchangers. The air exchanger systems are original to the building and are outdated requiring service, parts, and mechanicals from a bygone era. Although the heat systems are functional at the present time they are extremely inefficient. There are a few water heaters. Electrical service to the building is provided by a dated service with undetermined electrical capacity. Many of the electrical service switching components albeit currently functioning are obsolete and would likely require complete system wide replacement to be up to current electrical code. The building is not sprinklered.

“The subject building has problems that limit public services. Problems include deficiencies in the heating/cooling/ventilation distribution, electrical and communications cabling and lighting. The age of the structure causes increased maintenance costs, much of which are not cost effective or energy effective. The facility does not have modern technology. The facility is in not in compliance with the American Disabilities Act. The roof of the structure has had constant issues many of which still require repairs. Some of the water issues have migrated to various areas of the building. Rooms have been removed from service due to water and mold. The existence of underground oil storage tanks and asbestos also reduces the desirability and cost of maintenance of the property.”

As far as a future use, the appraisers wrote, “The subject property is improved with a multi- story building that has historically been used as an institutional use property. Our highest and best use ‘as vacant’ scenario determined that the best use of the land as vacant would be for the property to be held for future development most likely in a mixed use or municipal/institutional capacity. Considering the subject property ‘as is’ the property is less than adequately suited for use as an institutional use property due to the limited amount of land, large building area, poor condition of the property and the poor utility of the property.”

Paul, said, “This was a difficult decision, however, the Holy Synod concluded that an investment of this magnitude would be better served in a new construction for the local congregation that is energy efficient, designed to meet the needs of the church and the services we offer to the community.”

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