Months into a frustrating search for a new home for Springfield's Mason Square library, momentum is building in support of what many see as the perfect site: 765 State Street.
If that address sounds familiar, it's because that already was home to the library before it was evicted by the Springfield Library and Museums Association, which sold the branch—with no public input or warning—to the Urban League in 2003. The sale helped fuel the successful campaign to take control of the city's libraries from the publicly funded, privately run SLMA and turn it over to the city; City Hall sued the SLMA over the sale and won a $334,000 settlement, to be used for a new Mason Square branch.
Finding a new home has been tough, however. A search committee has spent months evaluating about a dozen sites in the neighborhood, finally settling this summer on Muhammad's Mosque #13, just a few doors up State Street from the old library. That plan fell apart, however, when mosque leaders changed their minds about selling the building.
Earlier this month, City Councilor Tim Rooke and Mo Jones, a former councilor who's running again to get back on the Council, proposed that the city invoke its eminent domain powers to take back the original library site. While the Urban League set aside a small section of the building for library services, it's a tiny and inadequate space, and a letdown to patrons who'd grown accustomed to the large, sunny space the library used to occupy. Rooke says the city could use the settlement it won from the SLMA to offer a fair asking price to the Urban League for the building, which was rehabbed with city funds not long before it was sold.
So far, City Hall is mum on the proposal. But Rooke and Jones' proposal has won the support of the Mason Square Library Advisory Committee, which has fought hard over the past four years to restore its community branch.