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Preservationists advocate for mansion

Date: 1/25/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD —The management of Mercy Medical Center met with advocates of historic preservation and City Councilors Bud Williams and Tim Allen on Jan. 22 in an effort to begin a discussion to save the Allis Mansion on the medical center's campus.

The councilors were not playing any official role in the discussion other than trying to facilitate a conversation between the two sides.

Daniel Moen, president and CEO of the Sisters of Providence Health System, explained the building, that was constructed in 1867 and was used by the Sisters of Providence as the site of its first health ministry, is in serious disrepair after standing unused for more than a decade. An engineering report estimated the cost of bringing the building back up to code would be between $6 million and $7 million.

Mercy has leased part of its property to a developer who will build a new $20 million medical office complex. Four of the current buildings are slated to come down to make room for this new building, Moen explained. While the Allis Mansion is not in the footprint of the new construction, it is slated to be demolished as well.

Moen said, "The biggest priority [for the medical center] are the patients we take care of."

He added, "There is no fiscally responsible way to put money into that building."

Even though the building carries with it significant history for the Sisters of Providence Moen said the order supports the decision to remove the mansion.

Even though the demolition permit allows the developer to tear down the mansion immediately, Moen said, "I'm open to the discussions if there are options."

Historic preservation expert Gregory Farmer of Agricola Corporation explained what motivates preservation and renovation is a defined use.

"Use is what helps determine budget and justifies cost," he explained.

James Boone of the Springfield Preservation Trust acknowledged the condition of the structure.

"It's is in bad shape, but the reason it's in bad shape is because Mercy neglected it," Boone asserted.

Moen responded by stating the limited resources the medical center has had have been put into patient care.

Boone stated he and others believe there could be a role for the old building and Michelle Barker of Preservation Massachusetts, a state-wide nonprofit organization, offered the model of historic curatorship in which a developer would pay for the renovation in exchange for rent-free use of the building as a possible solution.

Williams suggested an additional delay to devise a plan and while Moen seemed open to the proposal, he added, "What it comes down to is where the funding [to save the building] is going to come from."

Moen was planning to tour the Allis Mansion with Boone and others on Jan. 23.