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Officials Seek To Replicate Missing Union Station Benches

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WAMC
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Officials have had no luck tracking down antique wooden benches missing from Union Station in Springfield, Massachusetts. So, now vocational school students may be enlisted to construct replicas to be included in the massive renovation of the historic transportation building.

With the expected opening of Union Station, after an $88.5 million restoration, just six months away, Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said he has contacted Putnam Vocational Technical Academy to see if students at the Springfield high school can build benches in the same style as the ones that are believed to have been stolen.

" We are hoping we will be able to make an arrangement with Putnam Vocational to recreate a couple of benches for us that we would use in the terminal," said Kennedy.

           He  said what he hopes the students can build would not be exact duplicates of the simple wooden benches that served passengers from the day Union Station opened in 1926.  The new benches should have modern amenities such as power ports for mobile devices.

" We would also like to see some of the ergonomics of the 21st Century built into the benches," said Kennedy.

It was revealed earlier this year that as many as 40 benches, each 18 feet long and weighing about 1,000 pounds, were missing from the Union Station worksite, and are believed to have been stolen. How the suspected theft occurred is a mystery.  The building was sealed up from the time the Springfield Redevelopment Authority acquired it in 1989 until the renovation project started in 2012.

SRA officials have checked antique stores, junk dealers, and online auction sites. They’ve followed up various tips in a so-far unsuccessful effort to locate the missing benches.

Many other antiques that were found in the derelict station are being restored.  These include the large clock in the passenger waiting room, a chalkboard that displayed the railroad timetables, several baggage carts, and two barber chairs from the station’s barber shop.

Joe Carvalho, the retired president of the Springfield Museums and an historical consultant on the Union Station project, said the restored artifacts will be used along with photograph murals to highlight the history of transportation in Springfield.

" It is going to help transport people in their mind to what that era was like," he said. " We can tell stories through those objects. That is what museums do. That is what historians do."

Congressman Richard Neal, who has championed the restoration of Union Station from the time he was mayor in the late 1980s, said a goal of the project was to evoke the mid-20th Century heyday of train travel and transform a downtown landmark for modern civic uses.

" We don't want this just to be a museum. We want people to utilize it for a variety of initiatives and activities," said Neal.

The restored Union Station is expected to open to the public in January 2017.  But officials say there will be a six-month delay in building a new high-level train boarding platform.  The original design of the platform had to be scrapped because it did not comply with federal regulations for disability access.

Officials project 4 million passengers will use the new Union Station during its first year in operation.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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