As the calendar turns to 2014, we want to take a moment to look back at the year that was 2013. The following is a synopsis of the some of the events and people that made news in 2013. The Citizen’s News would like to wish our readers a happy New Year.
Alternative paths laid out
The Naugatuck and Region 16 school districts took steps this year to help students who are struggling in the traditional classroom setting.
In January, the first ever alternative program was started at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. Woodland never had an onsite alternative education program prior to this year. In the past, Woodland would send students to alternative programs in nearby school districts. However, those districts stopped accepting out-of-district students into their programs, which left home tutoring as the only other option for struggling students.
Right around the time Woodland’s program was starting, City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck began its Alternative Path Program.
The program, which was modeled after the Second Chance Program at Naugatuck High School with the help of NHS Principal Janice Saam, allows students to be taught in a smaller setting, with more chance for one-on-one time with the teachers, rather than attending regular classes.
Following the freedom trail
The Connecticut Freedom Trail Planning Committee in January voted unanimously to include Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve in Naugatuck as part of the trail.
The trial includes more than 130 sites that symbolize the struggle for freedom and African-American accomplishments.
The land’s history includes the tale of the kidnapping of 16-year-old Chauncey Judd in the spring of 1780. Judd’s life was threatened numerous times by British agents during the ordeal, only to be saved by a Tory and a slave named Tobiah.
“This is a story of human freedom and human dignity,” said Len Yannielli, community outreach director for the volunteer committee that maintains the 39-acre park. “It has a lot of features of the Hollywood chase scene, except it’s in the Revolutionary period.”
In the nearly 80-year history of the Naugatuck Portuguese Club, no woman had ever presided over the club.
That changed in January when Mariana Branco-Barnes was installed as the club’s the first woman president.
“It shows to me that the members have respected the work I’ve been doing,” Branco-Barnes said after being sworn in.
Overcoming the odds
When Naugatuck police Officer Danielle Parady collapsed next to her patrol car in August 2011 in the Walmart parking lot the odds weren’t in her favor that she’d ever return to the department.
However, Parady, who was diagnosed with cancer in her lungs and brain, overcame the odds and after 18 months returned to the police department in February — police escort and all on her first day back Feb. 4.
Parady, who is still undergoing treatment, took a six-month sick leave in September. Her goal is to get her job back as a patrol officer when her leave ends.
The memory of the historic blizzard in February won’t fade anytime soon — particularly for Lauri and James Wood of Naugatuck.
As snow pelted the state that Friday night in February, Lauri went into labor. With the snow still piled up two days later and no plow in sight, James and some friends took matters into their own hands to get Lauri to the hospital.
They crafted a makeshift sled out of luggage carrier and pulled Lauri from their home on Tudar lane to the corner of Carriage Drive and Harvest Lane where a truck was waiting to take them to a friend’s house, who then took her to the hospital. Shortly after 2 p.m. Feb. 10 James Anthony Wood Jr. was born.
The show must go on
The Phoenix Stage Company, Naugatuck’s nonprofit community theater, was on the brink of collapse in February. That was until a call for help on Facebook was answered in a big way.
On Feb. 11 a message on the theater’s Facebook page read, “We are in real danger of having to close our doors for good unless we get some help from our friends and donors. While we are planning our annual fund campaign, we simply can’t wait to send out forms and cards — we need your help now — we need to raise in excess of $2,000 to meet our current obligations, or we will have to close our doors.”
Hundreds of people shared the post, and within two days the money was raised through small donations from volunteers, performers and patrons.
“It’s never an easy thing to do, to ask for help, but we did, and the response was overwhelming and extremely positive,” Managing Director Ed Bassett said.
From school projects to an indoor arena, a few major projects got underway this year.
On April 1, borough officials broke ground on the 30-month, $81-million renovation project at Naugatuck High School.
Among the first, newest additions to the school was a synthetic field, which the football and soccer teams christened this fall. When it’s all said and done, the borough’s flagship school will be a state-of-the-art facility.
The day before officials lined up in front of Naugatuck High School, shovels in hand, Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center broke ground on a new indoor riding arena.
The arena, which will cost anywhere from $65,000 to $75,000 and have a 60-foot diameter, is being built next to the barn and to the right of the front gate of the center. The arena will provide Hidden Acres, a nonprofit organization that helps children and adults with physical, developmental and emotional disabilities through therapeutic horseback riding lessons, a place to continue their work in all seasons and weather.
Some seven months or so later, officials from Region 16, which covers schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, marked the start of construction for the new Prospect Elementary School with their own ground-breaking ceremony. The new school, which will be built at 75 New Haven Road in Prospect, is the largest part of a three-part building project. The new school is scheduled to be completed in February or March of 2015.
United Way turns 50
The United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls celebrated its 50th anniversary in April.
There was more to celebrate than the milestone at the annual meeting, as the United Way exceeded its 2012 campaign goal by $15,000 and raised a total of $440,000.
“This campaign would not have been the success it was without you, our contributors,” said Laurie Yelding, who was the campaign chairwoman, at the meeting. “The United Way is working each and every day to enrich the lives in our community and advance the common good but each United Way can not do it alone.”
The Whittemore Memorial Library in Naugatuck is shiny and new.
In April, the library celebrated the completion of the rotunda restoration project with a reception. The reception culminated about four and half years of fundraising for the project and roughly a year’s worth of work to restore it. The restoration cost about $382,000. The work, which was paid for through grants and donations, was done by Crocker Architectural, of North Oxford, Mass.
The library received about $161,000 from the Connecticut Community Foundation’s Salem Foundation, which was founded by a son of John Howard Whittemore, the philanthropist who commissioned the library in the late 1800s.
The library also received a $130,000 grant from the Connecticut State Library for the project. The remaining funds were donated by local banks and companies and about $4,000 was raised from anonymous donations from library patrons.
Raising the bar
Naugatuck High School students have to work harder this school to pass their classes.
In June, the Board of Education approved raising the minimum passing grade at the high school from a 60 to a 70.
“We’ve changed to common core and with the push for college readiness I don’t feel, and neither does the staff, … that a grade of 60 accurately prepares students for life beyond high school,” Naugatuck High School Principal Janice Saam told the board at the time.
Beacon Falls’ inaugural Cardboard Boat Regatta pushed off from being a dream to a reality in July.
The inaugural race, which took place on Carrington Pond at Matthies Park, featured two boats. Joyce Krenesky and her granddaughter, Micaela Guerra won the race in the S.S. M-Gram, a catamaran-style boat.
The town is hoping to make the race an annual event.
In August, consultants unveiled a long-term strategic plan on the operations of Naugatuck’s government.
The study includes a slew of recommendations, but the ones that have garnered the most attention is privatizing borough services such as the Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association, Youth and Family Services and trash collection.
“Municipalities need to create their new normal,” said Jeffrey Ziplow, a partner with the West Hartford-based consulting firm Blum Shapiro. “We can’t continue to do the same thing and provide necessarily the same services.”
Borough officials are currently reviewing its options, and no decisions have been made yet in regards to moving forward with any recommendations.
Lantern Ridge debuts
Beacon Falls unveiled Lantern Ridge Park on Skokorat Road as the town’s newest passive recreation park in October.
The 97-acre parcel was given to the town in 1990 when the Planning and Zoning Commission requested that a developer, looking to build houses on a larger parcel including Lantern Ridge, turn over the space.
In 2010, the Conservation Commission commissioned an environmental review study which did a natural resource inventory of what was on the property. After the study was complete the commission decided the property would best serve the town as an open space passive recreation park.
“People can enjoy this park with hiking, horseback riding, and going out to explore nature,” Conservation Commission Chairwoman Diane Betkoski said.
Naugatuck High School senior Alex Hernandez won the Connecticut Icon competition during Southington’s annual Apple Harvest Festival.
Hernandez won the top prize of $1,000 and the chance to record a song at a professional studio.
Changing of the guard
November’s election didn’t change much in Naugatuck and Prospect as far as the top political seats are concerned. In Beacon Falls, however, voters put challenger Democrat Chris Bielik into the first selectman’s office.
Bielik defeated incumbent Republican Gerard Smith at the polls to earn his first term as first selectman.
Bielik’s running mate Peter Betkoski and Smith’s partner Dominick Sorrentino, a Democrat who run on the Republican ticket, were elected to fill out the Board of Selectmen.
After being closed for nearly 18 months, Cold Spring Road in Beacon Falls was officially reopened in November.
The road, which is the only access road to High Rock State Park in the Naugatuck State Forest in Beacon Falls, was originally closed in May 2012 by the Department of Transportation for repairs that were being done on the Metro-North Railroad. The railroad runs adjacent to the road, coming within a few feet of the road at times.
After the work had been completed the DOT determined the road to be unsafe and decided to keep it closed. Town leaders fought the decision and, after some safety improvements were made, the road was reopened.
Flags theft sparks community outpouring
Two days before Veterans Day, borough veterans were dismayed to discover that flags they planned to place on the graves of their brethren had been stolen.
Four boxes of American flags were stolen from St. James Cemetery. When the story broke, it made national news and moved the community.
In the days following the theft, the Naugatuck Veterans Council received donations of money and flags from businesses and residents. The council received enough donations to replace the flags many times over.
“The Naugatuck community is absolutely fantastic,” said John DeBisschop, chairman of the Naugatuck Veterans Council.
A number of familiar faces in Naugatuck, Beacon Falls and Prospect moved on this year, and new faces stepped forward to take their place.
Up until this year, Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls had only had one principal in its 12-year history — Arnold Frank.
Frank, who helped build the school from the ground up, retired at the end of the 2012-13 school year. Kurt Ogren, a former provost at West Haven High School, was named principal in August.
Frank wasn’t the only Region 16 administrator to retire this year. Joseph Nuzzo, who had been principal of Community School in Prospect, called it a career in October.
Jeffrey Haddad, who came from Region 15, was hired as the assistant principal for Algonquin and Community schools in October to replace Nuzzo. He was hired has an assistant because the district is preparing for the new elementary school to open in 2015.
The education front in Naugatuck wasn’t without its own change this year.
Former Hop Brook Elementary School Principal Evelyn Gobstein retired in July after 24 years in Naugatuck and 36 years overall in education. Kathryn Taylor, who was an administrative intern in the borough school system, took over as principal of Hop Brook School.
Laura Main, a former math specialist at East School in New Canaan, became principal of Western Elementary School in Naugatuck when the school year started. Main replaced Melissa Cooney, who moved over the Cross Street Elementary School to take over as principal for Christopher Montini, who was promoted to assistant superintendent of schools.
The biggest change came atop the administrative hierarchy in Naugatuck.
Former Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson, who was set to retire at the end of this school year, unexpectedly retired in September. Interim Superintendent of Schools James Connelly is leading the district as the search for a new superintendent is underway.
Around the towns, Naugatuck financial guru Wayne McAllister, the man widely credited with resolving the financial woes of the borough and its schools a few years ago, retired in June. Robert Butler is filling his shoes.
David Prendergast, the first CEO of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation, announced retired as well this summer. Former burgess Ronald Pugliese, who now lives in Southbury, was chosen as his successor.
After 24 years at the helm of the Naugatuck YMCA, William Kane called it career this year. Susan Talbot, the former director of finance at the Waterbury YMCA, was chosen as the Naugatuck YMCA’s new CEO.
Beacon Falls Library Director Marsha Durley retired after more than 14 years of service this year. Susan Dowdell, who was the assistant director, now leads the library.
Reading for Brianna
In the true spirit of the holiday season, Region 16 students helped out one of their own in a big way.
Region 16’s Read-A-Thon for Brianna raised $22,533.44 in December with 95 percent, $21,406.77, going to the family of Community School fourth-grader Brianna Pereira.
Brianna was diagnosed with anaplastic ependymoma, a rare brain tumor, in June. Doctors removed the tumor and she’s going through cycles of treatment.
The remaining 5 percent, $1,126.67, will be donated to the Boston Children’s Hospital.
The read-a-thon was organized by Community School psychologist Laura Naylor, and University of New Haven student Britany Sweet, an intern at the school.
“This is really what this time of year is all about. And, coming together as a school to help one of our own was really the goal we drove home,” Naylor said.
Ambitious plan suggested
The long-term school facility planning committee unveiled its recommendations of changes to borough facilities in December.
The ambitious plan for the borough calls for a new $86 million middle school; spending $90 million to renovate and expand elementary schools and the relocation of Town Hall.