Plan targets Urban League site for library: Springfield MA Republican, 10/18/07

By Mike Plaisance

Calling it a moral issue, a City Council candidate and an incumbent councilor want the city to consider taking the Urban League of Springfield property at 765 State St. by eminent domain and returning it to a full-fledged library.

The proposal has drawn sympathetic but cautious reactions, given the costly legal battle that likely would ensue, as well as a "no comment" from the Urban League.

Council candidate Morris Jones said on Wednesday the 2003 sale of the branch library at 765 State St. from the private Springfield Museums and Library Association (now the Springfield Museums Association) to the Urban League for $700,000 was wrong and should be corrected.

Jones and Councilor Timothy J. Rooke, who is running for re-election, want a city Law Department evaluation about possibly taking 765 State St. City Solicitor Edward M. Pikula didn't return calls seeking comment.

"We can do that and I support that," Jones said.

Jones, who was on the City Council from 1983 to 1992, said the people who live and work in Mason Square deserve the return of a full-fledged library at 765 State St.

"That's a moral question," he said.

The library association reported in 2003 that the Mason Square Library had the lowest circulation of the branch libraries, but very high program attendance.

Library Director Emily B. Bader said today that except for a period in the year or so before the 2003 sale in which renovations put some of the library off limits, attendance was always high from Mason Square users.

"That library was being extremely well used," Bader said.

Space for a library still exists at 765 State St., but officials and Mason Square residents dismiss it as only a part of a room that is inadequate as a library.

In December, Mayor Charles V. Ryan appointed a search committee to study sites for a new Mason Square library branch.

The search committee examined a dozen locations and voted unanimously on July 13 to recommend the city begin negotiating to buy Muhammad's Mosque 13 at 727 State St. - with committee members maintaining during the study that the best spot remained 765 State St.

But a month later, mosque officials told Ryan they had reconsidered and won't be selling the site.

Rooke said it is clear the Mason Square area wants 765 State St. to be its library and other possible sites have been reviewed, so that warrants a possible taking by eminent domain.

The Urban League was emphatic with the mayor's search committee that it won't sell 765 State St.

Still, Rooke said it is worth risking a legal battle to look into eminent domain.

"I'm hoping they would reach some spirit of cooperation for the sake of the kids," Rooke said.

A. Craig Brown, of the league's board of directors, said in a voice-mail message the league had no comment on the eminent domain proposal.

Ryan, who said he believes 765 State St. remains the best site for a library for Mason Square, said he would have to study the issue before he could give his position on the eminent domain possibility.

City Councilor Domenic J. Sarno, Ryan's opponent in the Nov. 6 race for mayor, also said he would need to do a review before commenting.

Elizabeth B. Stevens is on the Mason Square Library Advisory Committee and was on the mayor's search committee. She would love to get 765 State St. back as a library, and while she doubts the chances of the eminent domain plan, she said, "I wish them well."

Springfield MA Republican: http://www.repub.com