A look back at 2012

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Before the calendar turns to 2013, we want to take a moment to look back at the year that was 2012. The following is a synopsis of the some of the events and people that made news in 2012. The Citizen’s News would like to wish everyone a happy and safe New Year’s. We’ll see you in 2013.

Passing the torch

Tim James took over as interim Superintendent of Schools in Region 16 in January. He has since been given a two-year contract. –FILE PHOTO

There was a changing of the guard in January atop the administration hierarchy in the Region 16 school district as Tim James stepped into the interim role of superintendent of schools.

James replaced former Superintendent of Schools James Agostine, who left to take the superintendent position in the Monroe school district.

James has since shed the interim tag. In August, the Board of Education approved a two-year contract for James that runs through June 27, 2014.

Teen sentenced for murder

On Jan. 20, Angelina Jamele, of Naugatuck, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for beating her grandmother, Italia Liguori, to death in 2009.

At the time of the sentencing Jamele was 19 years old. Liguori’s brutalized body was found inside her condo on Lantern Park Drive in Naugatuck in September 2009 after Jamele called 911.

In a detailed statement, Jamele said she knocked her grandmother down, then beat her in the head with a wooden walking cane. She punched Liguori, then stomped on her while she was down and stood on her neck, according to her statement.

Commission denies special permits for farm stand

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously in February to deny two special permits for a farm stand off of Straitsville Road on the corner of Porter Hill Road.

The 1.7 acre property is owned by Whitney and Christopher Caporaso. The couple operates a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) on the site, wherein members purchase a share of the farm pre-season and pick up a box of produce each week during the growing season. Some of those members picked up their shares on the farm until Land Use Inspector Bill Donovan issued a cease-and-desist order in August. The town asserts that the Caporasos violated their special permit issued in 2008 which specified that produce would be taken off-site for sale.

The Caporasos are currently fight a Zoning Board of Appeal’s ruling upholding the cease-and-desist order in court.

Media center committee put on hold

In February, the Beacon Falls Board of Selectman voted to suspend the Community Media Center Committee.

The committee was formed to oversee the process of turning the Tracy Lewis House property on Wolfe Avenue into a community/media center. A plan to tear down the house was met with some opposition and new ideas surfaced after the new Board of Selectman took office. However, without money for a preliminary design and no clear direction the committee was put on hold. No new action has been taken regarding the committee since.

Honor thy firefighter

The Naugatuck Board of Fire Commissioners honored firefighters during a formal awards ceremony in February. –FILE PHOTO

The Naugatuck Board of Fire Commissioners honored firefighters for the first time with a formal awards ceremony in February. The idea of such an awards ceremony was first raised some 20 years ago. However, it never came to fruition. When he became chief last year, Ken Hanks made it a priority and possible with the help of the commission and Deputy Chief Ellen Murray.

Whittemore rotunda restored

After fundraising for five years, work finally began on a $382,000 project to restore the rotunda at the Whittemore Library in Naugatuck in March.

“It will be exciting. It will certainly be a relief when it’s done,” Miller said about restoring the rotunda when the project started.

The Massachusetts-based company Crocker Architectural Sheet Metal performed the work, which was completed over the summer.

Chatfield inducted into Hall of Fame

Prospect mayor Robert Chatfield was inducted into the Connecticut State Firefighters Association Hall of Fame in April.

At the time, Chatfield said when he received the letter he became very emotional. For him it was one of the defining moments in his life, ranking just below getting married, the birth of his daughter, and birth of his grandchild.

Chatfield began his career with the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department in October of 1965 after returning home from the Air Force.

Chatfield was not the only firefighter in his family; his father had been a fire chief in the early 1960s.

“I tried my whole career to follow in his footsteps,” Chatfield said.

School board approves breathalyzer policy

The Region 16 Board of Education backed a new policy in March that would give school officials the authority to issue breathalyzer tests to students.

Under the policy, school administrators and their designated representatives can conduct breathalyzer tests at school, on school buses, or at any school-sponsored activity. The tests could be conducted with all students entering a school-sponsored event, with randomly selected students, or with individual students when reasonable suspicion exists that a student is under the influence of, or has used, alcohol.

“It is not an acknowledgement that it needs to be done at this school or any other school,” Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James said about the proposal. “But the board needs the ability to be able to do this if there is reasonable cause or just cause to conduct this type of search.”

Selectmen appoint Greene as town clerk

By a vote of 2-1, the Board of Selectmen appointed Len Greene Sr. town clerk in March to replace former Town Clerk Kurt Novak, who resigned earlier that month.

Novak, a Republican who served as town clerk since 2002, submitted his resignation for personal reasons March 15.

Kicking the record

A group of kickball players played a world-record kickball game in Naugatuck this past March to raise money for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer. –FILE PHOTO

Fifty-two kickball players descended on Linden Park in March to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kickball game and raise money for children’s cancer research.

The game lasted 54 hours, seven seconds and 345 innings and raised about $45,000 for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, a national nonprofit foundation whose mission is to fund and support children’s cancer research and provide information and resources to all those affected by children’s cancer.

The game was organized by former Naugatuck resident Sean Cummings, manager of the Naugatuck-based, co-ed adult kickball league CT Triumph.

“A lot of people asked me when I started this thing, ‘Why you’re doing this? Do you know somebody with cancer?’” Cummings said during the game’s opening ceremony. “Fortunately, I have not known anybody with cancer. … I guess I’m just doing it because I’m a dad. I have a 5-year old, a 1-year old, I have no idea how I would react if I had the horrible news.”

Education foundation awards first grants

In April, the Naugatuck Education Foundation awarded its first round of grants to faculty from the borough’s public schools.

The NEF awarded five, $500 grants for projects, including buying sound equipment for the theater club at Western School so more students can be involved in the club.

“We’re looking for creativity, innovation, excellence and that’s why were here today to reward and award those types of projects,” said Bill Brown, vice chair of the foundation, during a reception to award the grants.

The NEF will award up to $10,000 in grants next year.

Learning to walk again

Naugatuck resident Bill Shannon, who was paralyzed in a fall in 2011, walks out of the Beacon Brook Health Center April 3. -FILE PHOTO

Bill Shannon of Naugatuck fell from his ladder in the fall of 2011. He shattered his spine and bone fragments went into his nerves. He lost feeling from the waist down and was unable to walk.

After months of rehabilitation, Shannon walked out of the Beacon Brook Health Center on April 3. When he was checked in, he made it his goal to leave the health center by walking out the front door.

When it came time for Shannon to leave, he was in a wheelchair until he reached the lobby where the staff had lined up. He is only able to walk 85 feet, but that would get him past the staff and through the front door.

Under his own power, Shannon walked out the front door of Beacon Brook Health Center.

“I’m looking forward to overcoming the next challenge,” Shannon said that day.

Prospect teen sings in Garden of Dreams

Prospect teenager Alyssa Casson performed at the Garden of Dreams Spring Talent Show April 5 at Radio City Music Hall. -AVI GERVER/MSG PHOTOS

Prospect teenager Alyssa Casson was one of 20 youths chosen to perform at the Garden of Dreams Spring Talent Show April 5 at Radio City Music Hall.

The talent show is put on by MSG Entertainment and the Phoenix Foundation. The show provides an opportunity for children, who have overcome obstacles in their life from illness to poverty, to set aside their troubles for a night and showcase their talents.

At the age of 9, Casson was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft muscle tissue cancer. Casson battled and beat the cancer. St. Patrick’s Day marked the third year Casson has had a clean bill of health.

Casson would sing throughout her treatment and she sung Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” at the talent show.

“It was completely full, and it was really awesome,” said Casson, about singing at Radio City Music Hall.

Flags fly high over Prospect

The Prospect Flag Fund, an initiative spearheaded by resident Robert Hiscox to buy American flags to mount on poles along downtown streets, has raised over $10,000 in just under two months

The bought 150 flags, 100 of which were mounted on poles downtown were up throughout the summer.

The town is still accepting donations with the hopes of making the fund self-sufficient

To donate, checks can be made out to: Town of Prospect — Flag Fund, and mailed to Prospect Flag Fund, Prospect Town Hall, 36 Center St., Prospect, CT 06712.

Anyone or organization interested in helping out can call Hiscox at (203) 758-4687.

Board of Education approves closing schools

The Naugatuck Board of Education voted to close Central Avenue Elementary School and Prospect Street School in April to help close a budget gap.

“I think we have to make a decision to close these schools, and Central is the plan that’s on the table right now, so we can have the types of programs that are really going to effect and impact student learning,” said Mayor Robert Mezzo, who also sits on the school board.

The preschool programs that were run at Prospect Street School were moved to Central Avenue at the start of the current school year. The Prospect Street School building was returned to the town.

Yaks and quacks

Michael Duda of Beacon Falls kayaks down the Naugatuck River in Beacon Falls in May during the annual Naugatuck Valley Canoe and Kayak River Race. -FILE PHOTO

Beacon Falls’ two largest town events came together for the first time.

The annual Naugatuck Valley Canoe and Kayak Race and the annual Beacon Falls Duck Race were both held May 5 as a way to attract a larger crowd to enjoy a festive day on the Naugatuck River. The combination of yaks and quacks didn’t disappoint.

“There’s at least five times as many people as I’m used to seeing here,” said Bob Bradley, president of the Beacon Falls Merchant Association, during the event.

The merchant association co-sponsored the festival along with the Beacon Falls Lions and Lioness clubs, which host the duck race every year.

Sun sets on Renaissance Place contract 

An exclusive five-year contract between Naugatuck and developer Alexius Conroy to revitalize the borough’s downtown expired on May 8.

The project sought to bring a mixed-use development, including offices, retail, a medical facility, and residential units, to downtown Naugatuck.

Mayor Robert Mezzo and Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation Chair Jay Carlson said in a joint statement it was in the best interest of the town to allow the contract to expire and move forward from there.

“As a community we need to move forward and explore what other options exist in the marketplace to revitalize downtown Naugatuck. The exclusivity of the development agreement has prevented us from soliciting and/or entertaining any other proposals not brought forth by Renaissance Place, LLC,” Mezzo and Carlson said.

The borough severed all ties with Renaissance Place in September and is moving forward with the vision of redeveloping downtown in a mixed-use fashion.

Prospect Land Trust receives donation

Boardman ‘Barney’ Kathan, a Prospect resident and treasurer of the Prospect Land Trust, cuts the ribbon to usher in 64.8 acres of new open space in Kathan Woods as land trust board member Lisa SanSoucie looks on during a ceremony in June. -FILE PHOTO

The Prospect Land Trust received a donation of nearly 65 acres of open space in May from

Boardman “Barney” Kathan to expand Kathan Woods located Matthews Street, Plank Road, and Route 68.

A ceremony was held in early June to recognize the donation at the land’s access point at the end of the Boardman Drive cul-de-sac.

“This is incredible. This is beautiful, everything has gone so well,” said Kathan, as he mingled with the crowd prior to the ceremony.

The donation represents the single largest gift of land to the trust, and the second time Kathan has donated his family’s land to the trust.

New principals take helm at local schools

When school started this year, new principals greeted students at three local schools.

In Region 16, Rima McGeehan started her first year as principal at Algonquin School in Prospect.

McGeehan replaced former Principal Lynn Patterson who was placed on leave in February pending the outcome of a personnel investigation. The investigation concluded in March and Patterson remained on leave until her retirement June 30.

McGeehan was chosen out of 35 candidates for the principal position at the pre-kindergarten through third grade school.

“I was so excited,” McGeehan said after she was chosen. “I was not looking for a job anywhere else than Prospect. It’s very exciting.”

In Naugatuck, Brian Hendrickson replaced Christine Blanchard, who retired, as principal at City Hill Middle School.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity,” said Hendrickson, who was principal at Hop Brook Elementary School for two years. “I believe in the direction the district is headed.”

Evelyn Gobstein, who was principal at Central Avenue School before it was closed as an elementary school, replaced Hendrickson at Hop Brook.

“I’m excited,” Gobstein said about the transfer. “We’re all at a new point, a new chapter.”

Invasive beetle comes to Connecticut

In July, state officials made a disturbing discovery — the emerald ash borer was found in Prospect and Naugatuck.

The emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle, bores into and kills ash trees.

The infestations in Prospect and Naugatuck marked the first time the beetle has been seen in the state. Connecticut became the 16th state to report an infestation.

“This is not very good news for Connecticut. We have an invasive species,” said DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty during a July 20 press conference at Prospect Town Hall.

The infestation could be especially devastating to Connecticut since ash trees make up about 15 percent of the trees found in the forests and are used commonly in urban settings.

The discovery led to the Agricultural Experiment Station imposing a quarantine on the movement of ash and firewood from New Haven County to hinder the spread of the beetle.

Flood waters rise

Water rushes down a hill behind the Mobil gas station on South Main Street in Naugatuck Aug. 1. -FILE PHOTO

On Aug. 1, a localized rain storm hung over Naugatuck dropping roughly 6 inches of rain on the borough and causing flash floods.

The onslaught of rain caused major flooding and damage in areas and the evacuation of two apartment buildings — Prospect Manor at 83 Prospect St. and a building at 55 Trowbridge Place. Retaining walls across the borough were washed away in the deluge.

Pat Tomanik, of 195 Andrew Ave., watched her retaining wall wash away as water flowed down Andrew Mountain into her yard on the corner of Melbourne Street. Since she moved in 19 years ago, she said, she has never been flooded.
“It was just too much to handle,” Tomanik said. “It was like being in a river.”

As drains overflowed downtown, the water backed up into the basement of St. Francis of Assisi Church at 318 Church St. The drainage system was so overloaded that it spit at least 7 feet of water back into the parish hall in the basement.

The gush of water coming down Meadow Street also flooded Tender Years Preschool in the basement of the Congregational Church on the Town Green.

Plasky resigns amid investigation

Former Naugatuck head football coach Rob Plasky resigned right before the season amid an investigation involving unauthorized contact with and aid to Sacred Heart High players looking to transfer to Naugatuck.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Board of Control fined the high school $7,500 and put the football program on probation for two years for the violations.

The football team went on to win six games under interim coach Shawn Kuczenski.

New CEO for NVSL

Naugatuck Valley Financial Corp., the parent of Naugatuck Valley Savings and Loan, named William Calderara its new CEO in September.

Calderara replaced John Roman, the president and chief executive officer of the holding company since 2004 and the president and CEO of the bank since 1999.

“I’m thrilled to be joining Naugatuck Valley, and excited about the opportunities it presents,” Calderara said in a statement at the time. “The bank operates in great communities, has strong capital and dedicated employees, and a committed and supportive board.”

United Way kicks off 50th year

The United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls turned 50 this year.

The United Way, which serves 14 organizations and four youth sports leagues around the area, celebrated the milestone during its yearly Campaign Kickoff Dinner at the end of September. The annual campaign is currently ongoing.

Beacon Falls streetscape officially opens

Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith, center, uses a large pair of scissors to cut the ribbon held by selectmen Chris Bielik, left, and David D’Amico officially opening the new streetscape Sept. 23. -FILE PHOTO

On a late weekend in September, Beacon Falls celebrated the grand opening of the streetscape downtown with a ribbon cutting. The ceremony coincided with the Explore the Naugatuck! Event, which the Waterbury’s YMCA Triathlon team rode over 50 miles, from Torrington to Derby, to promote the Naugatuck River Greenway, a 44-mile, multi-use greenway that will run along the Naugatuck River.

WWI monument restoration complete

After five years of work, restoration of the World War I monument in downtown Naugatuck was completed this fall.

The monument stands at the base of the stairs leading to Hillside Intermediate School. It was erected to commemorate those who fought in WW1, and is inscribed with the names of the 30 Naugatuck citizens who died during the war.

The project cost about $40,000 and was paid with through donations and $25,000 from the town.

“You figure, World War I, there’s nobody left to defend it,” Ron Fischer, chairman of the WW1 monument fund and an officer at both the Grange and American Legion Post 17, said. “There’s nobody left to see that the monument is upkept. So we take it upon ourselves to do that. It’s the least we can do.”

Alternative ed program moves ahead

After months of discussion and planning, the Region 16 Board of Education gave its approval to an afterschool alternative education program for Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls.

The program is the first one ever at the school in its 10 year history.

“I’m absolutely thrilled because anytime we can help kids, especially before you lose them or they drop out, it’s very important,” school board Chair Priscilla Cretella said.

The program will start in January. The afterschool program is the first phase of the program. The board is also looking to place the students in a job or internship during the day before going to the program beginning with the 2013 school year.

Political shakeup

When the dust settled on Election Day voters in state House Districts 89 and 105 cast their ballots for change.

Republican Lezlye Zupkus beat longtime Democrat incumbent Vickie Nardello for the 89th seat. Nardello has represented the district, which covers Prospect, Bethany, and Cheshire, since 1994.

“People are hurting and they want a voice to represent them in Hartford,” Zupkus said on Election night.

Two years after Republican Len Greene defeated Democrat Theresa Conroy in a tight race, Conroy returned the favor. The rematch proved to be closer the first round between the two has Conroy won by 58 votes. The difference fell four votes shy of an automatic recount.

“I look at it not as a win for myself, but as a win for the 105th district overall,” Conroy said on Election night.

Voters approve borough election change

Along with a host of political races to vote on, Naugatuck voters decided on six proposed revisions to the town Charter on Election Day.

The only proposed revision of significance to be approved was a change to the date of Naugatuck’s municipal elections. Beginning next year, municipal elections will be held in November rather than May. The terms of currently elected officials will be extended for six months.

Superintendent gets extension

John Tindall-Gibson

In November, the Naugatuck Board of Education extended the contract of Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson for another year by a vote of 6-3.

Tindall-Gibson’s contract was due to expire June 30, but he will now serve until the same date in 2014.

“The board’s been pleased with the way things are progressing,” board Chairman David Heller said at the time.

Hidden Acres reaches goal for indoor arena

Following a fundraiser and being awarded a grant, Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center in Naugatuck raised the $75,000 it needs to build a covered arena so lessons can go on in the rain, snow, and ice.

The facility on Gabriel Drive gives therapeutic riding lessons to people with physical, emotional, or developmental disabilities.

“It is an amazing blessing that we have so much support, that people feel so strongly to continue what we provide,” said Mary Simons, who owns the 45-acre farm with her husband Theron, in November. “Definitely a dream come true.”

The covered arena will be at least 60 feet around, made of steel and wood, with heat and electricity. Construction should be complete within a couple of months.

Reval leads to drop in property values

Real estate values in the borough dropped by 26 percent following the completion of a revaluation.

The value of all commercial, industrial, residential and utility properties, not including exempt properties, dropped from $1.8 billion to $1.3 billion. Residential property values dropped 29.1 percent, commercial values are down 3.8 percent, industrial is down by 17.6 percent, and utilities are down by 19.5 percent.

Even though most of the property values are going down, there are some commercial properties that saw an increase. The property values of funeral homes increased an average of 11 percent, car washes an average of 24 percent, and gas stations an average of 72 percent.

Naugatuck loses one of its own

Dawn (Lafferty) Hochsprung

The world mourned the death of 26 people, including 20 first graders, who were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting Dec. 14.

Amongst the victims was the school’s principal and Naugatuck native Dawn (Lafferty) Hochsprung.

“One of these educators holds a special place in the heart of so many here in the borough,” Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo said at a vigil to remember the victims, last Tuesday night. “Dawn (Lafferty) Hochsprung was one of us.”

According to reports, Hochsprung rushed to the sound of gunfire and broken glass to help her students. Hochsprung, a member of Naugatuck High School’s Class of 1983, was married with two daughters and three stepdaughters.