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Residents want library back

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Erika Williams used to go to the Mason Square Branch Library "all the time," but not anymore.

"I don't go to the book side [referring to the part of the State Street building still used as a library]," she told Reminder Publications last Wednesday. "There's nowhere to sit or play. We used to hang out at the library."

Williams added the branch library used to have programs such as movie screenings and teen nights features it no longer offers.

Her sentiments were echoed by the dozens of entries into a poster contest created by students were on display at a protest in front of the library on Wednesday.

In the fall of 2002, the Springfield Library and Museum Association (SLMA) sold the renovated Mason Square Branch Library to the Springfield Urban League. Although a smaller library has been maintained in the location, residents from several neighborhoods abutting the library formed an Advisory Committee to seek ways to either return the building to full use as a library or find a location in the area for a full-service library.

Benjamin Swan, Jr., president of the McKnight Neighborhood Council said, "One of the major goals [of the Advisory Group] is to return a fully functioning library to Mason Square."

Former City Solicitor Patrick Markey has filed a lawsuit against the SLMA to seek a return of $575,000 in city funds used to renovate the library and compensatory damages to build another library. He is volunteering his time for the effort.

Markey attended the protest last week, which featured posters with the theme "Why I Want my Library Back" made by students from the DeBerry School, Homer Street School and Rebecca Johnson School. He explained the Urban League is not a party in the lawsuit.

Under the Albano Administration, the city bonded $575,000 to be used for renovations at the branch, Markey said. The branch was closed for repairs and re-opened with much fanfare in October 2001.

One year later, citing financial concerns the leadership of the SLMA, decided to close the branch and sell the building to the Urban League. Markey said that, of all of the branch libraries in the city, the Mason Square branch should have been the last one to close because it has an endowment that provides funding for operations.

The SLMA has never paid back the city the $575,000 used for the 2001 renovations, Markey said.

He added that although the SLMA held the title to the building, because the city funded library operations the city had been "partners with the SLMA."

"We believe the city had some right to setting the course for this and other libraries," he said.

Due to of a back up in cases, Markey does not expect the suit to be heard until sometime next year.

Markey said that he and attorneys for the SLMA have had "some success" in negotiating the transfer of certain assets from the SLMA to the city. Both sides are expected to finalize the transfer in probate court in June. The city took over the library system during the final months of the Albano Administration.

The attorney for the SLMA declined to comment.


Winners of the poster contest were:

Deberry School: Marion Stevens, Jasmin Montes and Joseph Crapps;

Homer Street School: Kilene Torres, Amari Williams and Alexia Belcher;

Rebecca Johnson School: Jasmine Peluyera, Tamara Anderson and Aquireya Howe.