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Year In Review: Notable Moments Of 2014



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Waterworks heralded the arrival of 2014 at C.H. Booth Library, when sprinkler pipes above the second floor froze and burst on Saturday, January 4, causing the ceiling to collapse in the director’s office and tech services area of the second floor, as well as in the first floor Children’s Department. The building was occupied at the time of the emergency, but all were safely evacuated.

The dedication of library staff, the Board of Trustees, and remediation specialists led to reconstruction, improved technology, a new traffic flow pattern, and the implementation of previously planned updates, all within two months. The library reopened to the public as of March 8, and welcomed the public at a special Reopening Celebration, March 22.

Even as the Board of Trustees worked to reopen the library, it continued its progress toward defining what kind of new library director would head the town’s library, and who that person might be. The board spent several months examining a contentious period in late summer and fall of 2013, when the hiring of a library director to replace retired director Janet Woycik met with disapproval from the public and staff, and led to an abrupt departure of that hire.

By April of this year, consultants from the Connecticut State Library were invited to host several staff and public focus groups by the seven-member Director Search Committee charged with identifying and presenting qualified candidates to the board for the position of library director. Through formulating interview questions, advertising for and promoting the position, reviewing resumes, and conducting the initial interviews, the top qualified candidates were presented for further interviews and consideration.

In June, the position of library director of C.H. Booth Library was offered to and accepted by Brenda McKinley, a Booth Library employee and Newtown resident.

The Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission, appointed by First Selectman Pat Llodra the fall of 2013, began defining its purpose in 2014. Chairman Kyle Lyddy called it a daunting task for the 12 commission members, some of whom lost loved ones on 12/14, as it began to determine what that memorial might be. The committee is also charged with determining where in the community a permanent memorial might be located, as well as how to fund and maintain any memorial.

Along with Mr Lyddy, JoAnn Bacon, Joanne Brunetti, Steffan Burns, Brian Engel, Daniel Krauss, Agni Pavlidou Kyprianou, Scarlett Lewis, Alan Martin, Sarah Middeleer, Tricia Pinto, and Donna Van Waalwijk serve on the commission.

The committee agreed in January that a permanent memorial is fitting. In July, the commission published a Q&A document at the town website to provide residents with accurate information about the memorial process. Surveys went out in late summer to first responders and emergency workers, staff and parents of students at SHS in December 2012, and the families of the 26 children and educators who died 12/14, collecting information on details of the memorial and preferred location.

In-person community forums are expected to be conducted in early 2015 to gather more information. The commission has stressed it is not ready to endorse any project.

In February, a little girl named Genesis, from Belize City, Belize, received life-saving open heart surgery funded by the Gift of Life program of Rotary Club International, and sponsored locally by The Rotary Club of Newtown. The local Rotary Club members were delighted to have the opportunity to meet with Genesis and her aunt, hosted by local member Mike Toll and his wife Monica.

In August, Newtown Rotarians met two more children receiving heart surgery, thanks to their efforts. Thirteen-year-old Arben Lajqi of Peja, Kosova, and 2-year-old Leona Hoti of Rahovec, Kosova, visited Newtown prior to surgery at St Francis Hospital on Long Island. The Newtown Rotary Challenge provided life-saving heart surgery to 26 children worldwide in 2014.

In February, Venture Crew 70 from Newtown scooped up first place honors for the Scatacook District 2014 Klondike Derby. The Klondike Derby is a winter scouting skills and leadership competition that has been sponsored annually by Boy Scout units since 1949. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Venture Crews gather for the daylong event, working in teams and vying for points earned at several skills stations set up along a course.

You cannot keep a good house down. Newtown United Methodist Church (NUMC) Senior Pastor Mel Kawakami and many of his congregation had no idea that an ongoing sinkhole problem in the parking lot was a piece of history buried under their feet. When a test hole was opened last year, it was a surprise to find laths, plaster, tiles, and pipes lay strewn inside what was once the basement of the Fredericka House, torn down in 1967 when the Methodist Church moved from Dayton Street to its present location on Church Hill Road, in 1972.

Congregants stepped up to Rev Kawakami’s challenge and by summer, funding for the removal of the old house and new fill was in place. By July 25, all that remained of the historic Fredericka House was a pile of concrete and bent pipes heaped next to a giant industrial screener in the parking lot. With the completion of the project, the final chapter of Fredericka House was written... or not.

When lifelong Newtown resident Ed Forbell read that story in The Newtown Bee, he knew that a relic still remained of the historic Church Hill Road home. The gazebo that had graced the property at 92 Church Hill Road still existed. His neighbor, the late Harriet Schultz, had had the Fredericka House gazebo moved to the grounds of her Walnut Tree Hill Road home, “in the 1940s or 1950s, or maybe later,” recalled Mr Forbell. He was pleased to see in recent years that the current owners, Jim Freeman and Kathy Haverty, had restored the gazebo.

The month of March was a busy one for legislators concerned about e-cigarette use among youth, the lack of regulation for sales of e-cigarettes to minors at state and federal levels, and advertising directed at young people that glamorizes “vaping.” On March 12, Governor Dannel P. Malloy introduced legislation to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes, electronic delivery systems, and other vapor products to those under the age of 18. Area health experts noted that there is not yet enough research to determine the safety of e-cigarettes for youth or adults.

In other legislation of interest to many Newtown residents, Gov Malloy on June 6 signed a bill authorizing the State Library to “create and maintain an e-book platform for the distribution of electronic books (e-books) to public library patrons.” The bill followed up on legislation passed in 2013 commissioning the Department of Consumer Protection to study how Connecticut’s public libraries could gain fair access to e-books.

The e-book distribution platform would be the first statewide e-book purchasing program in the nation, and hopes to ease the access and pricing of e-books to libraries, as well as broaden the selection of e-books.

An Easier Walk

In September, Jen and Mike Guman of 38 Main Street welcomed town officials and residents onto their property for the official dedication of The Memorial Sidewalk Project connecting Main Street to, ultimately, Sandy Hook Village. The start of construction will be a portion of sidewalk running from the corner of Main Street as far as 3 Church Hill Road, where a section of sidewalk already exists. Newtown Director of Planning and Land Use George Benson had hoped to see construction begin in October, but that work was delayed until December 12.

A call went out this fall for information as to the whereabouts of The Comfort Quilt, one of 250 quilts received by the Town of Newtown following 12/14. Created in 2001 by the children of St Hilary Catholic School in Fairlawn, Ohio, the 35-block quilt was first presented to the students of St James Catholic Grammar School in Red Bank, N.J., after 9/11.

Town officials believe that the quilt may have been taken from its display in the municipal center hallway in February 2013, when the public was invited in to tag letters and memorabilia. The quilt is approximately 4 feet by 4 feet square, with a church appliqué stitched in each of the lower two corners, and heart appliqués stitched into the upper two corners. The words “We Are Blessed” are written across the top, and “We Are Thankful” across the bottom of the quilt.

Meanwhile, under the direction of residents Suzanne Davenport and Jan Brookes, children contributed handmade squares to create a new Comfort Quilt on Saturday, December 6, during the annual Breakfast With Santa event at Newtown Middle School. The new quilt will be used to pay forward condolences, if and when it is needed. The original quilt remains missing. Information about it can be conveyed to Ms Ross at 203-270-4246, or the quilt can be returned to the first selectman’s office in the municipal center at Fairfield Hills.

United Way of Connecticut released, on November 16, a 121-page, statewide report, documenting Connecticut households struggling to afford living expenses that exceed the official federal poverty level of $11,670 for an individual or $23,850 for a family of four. United Way calls this population ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. In Newtown, it was revealed, one in five people meet these criteria and live with these daily economic challenges.

The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) of the State of Connecticut released a report Friday, November 21, focusing on Adam Lanza, the 12/14 mass murderer.

The report defines lapses in integration of education and health care, and how untreated mental illness contributed to the shooter’s overall decline. Key findings of the report include that he presented with significant developmental challenges from earliest childhood, an indication of early preoccupation with violence, and points to recommendations and interventions not followed, although it stops short of placing blame on any one individual or any institution.

The Within Our Reach concert at Newtown Congregational Church on November 23 featured folk singer Peter Yarrow, poet Martin Espada, and Newtown Youth Voices, under the direction of Jim Allyn. The concert raised awareness of the ongoing healing process in Newtown as the second anniversary of 12/14 approached, as well as the need for continuing support for prevention of gun violence in this country.

A day before Thanksgiving, Newtown and much of the Northeast found itself blanketed under inches of heavy snow, creating havoc for travelers by planes, trains, and automobiles. The early storm left residents wondering what other winter weather 2015 has in store.

As the end of the year drew closer, members of the Ram Pasture Christmas Tree Committee announced a change to the tradition of candle-lit luminarias that light up the annual Ram Pasture Christmas Tree event. But the glow sticks’ feeble glimmer from within the packages lining nearby streets, Ram Pasture, and Hawley Pond on December 5 proved disappointing. Look for candles to return in 2015.

We give thanks for the organizations and businesses, the people and places that have carried Newtown successfully through 2014, and for the resilience that leads to another new year.

David and Darin Renihan of Site Services in Roxbury stand next to a pile of concrete dug out of the parking lot at Newtown United Methodist Church. The debris is the last of the historic Fredericka House that once stood at 92 Church Hill Road.
Placing ceremonial shovels in the ground on property at the corner of Main Street and Church Hill Road, Wednesday morning, September 10, are Dr Thomas Draper, left, and son, Joseph Draper. Standing by at the dedication of the first section of the Memorial Sidewalk Project are, from left, Deputy Director of Planning and Land Use Rob Sibley, Rob Manna of LRM Landscaping Contractors, First Selectman Pat Llodra, and Director of Planning and Land Use George Benson.
The Comfort Quilt, created by children in Ohio in 2001 and forwarded to various places in need of comfort since, most recently Newtown, is missing from the collection of items saved after 12/14. Whether taken by mistake or purposely, it is hoped that the quilt will one day be returned to the Office of the First Selectman, so that it can be properly stored.
Emergency measures were underway immediately to prevent further damage in the Children’s Department of C.H. Booth Library in January, following a pipe break above the second floor offices that flooded much of the central main floor and lower areas of the library. A refurbished and upgraded library reopened to the public in March.
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