By JEN CARDINES
Southington had an extra day in 2016, and the town needed it. Over the past 366 days, Southington saw a remarkable number of changes, news stories, and personal achievements covering a whole range of headlines from education, religion, and community to the environment, business, and politics.
A new multipurpose building was constructed for Bread for Life, the downtown area was recognized for continual growth, plans for the Greenway Commons and Cranberry Cove sites were approved, and the Gura Building officially opened its new doors to host Southington Community Cultural Arts (SoCCA).
Southington Public Schools (SPS) had a busy year. Students from the high school DECA program received a handful of awards at a state conference in March, while students from Kennedy and DePaolo middle schools took home three top STEM awards at the state level in May for tackling issues of pollution, road safety, and substance abuse.
The Southington Transitional Education in Life Learning and Adult Responsibilities (STELLAR) program found a new home at Lincoln College this fall, which proved to be a great fit for the students and staff.
After long days in the classroom, many students took part in music and theater productions in various schools across the district. The SHS marching band had a record breaking season this fall with their “Rise of the Machine” routine, finishing in third place at the national competition.
History was made in Southington’s religious communities on multiple occasions this year. The Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation dedicated a Holocaust Torah in September that they obtained and restored over the last four years. The sacred scroll from World War II is now used during services and studies.
With a proclamation from the town in late November, Southington became the first community on the east coast to recognize a series of attacks against Sikh people in India in 1984. The Sikh genocide was a holocaust, which was recognized by officials in the proclamation statement.
Southington UNICO named their first female president, Rev. Victoria Triano.
The American Legion Kiltonic Post 72 got a visit from Southington Ohio’s American Legion Post 751 in September and the similarities among the two towns came by the dozen. The Ohio town is the only other Southington in America.
On Thursday, Oct. 13, Southington’s municipal building was officially renamed the John Weichsel Municipal Center to commemorate the late Town Manager.
Entertainment was alive and well in Southington throughout 2016. The summer was filled with another successful season at the drive-in and with Music on the Green. Annual events such as the Italian-American and Apple Harvest Festivals drew crowds to the downtown area for food, rides, live music, and more. This year, the town even saw White Christmas in the Community for the first time, a combination of celebrations in downtown Plantsville and Southington.
The Southington Community Cultural Arts center was unveiled in the Gura Building during a soft opening in late July. Renovations were completed this summer with a hard opening during the Apple Harvest Festival.
In 2016, local and national celebrities paid a visit to the Southington community. Critically acclaimed best-selling author Anita Diamant came to the Aqua Turf to discuss her books with local fans. Marissa Perry, who played the lead role in Hairspray on Broadway, came to town to teach an authentic dance routine. Radio sensation alternative band The X-Ambassadors went bowling with fans at the Crystal Bees. To add the grand list, Southington resident Kimberly Beaudoin became Mrs. USA Universal, the top honor in the national pageant.
Mark Wahlberg sighting were reported at Nardelli’s Grinder Shoppe on Queen Street, causing a buzz in local chatrooms.
A new ordinance became effective in November regarding trash pick-up times after the Town Council received complaints about the nuisance of 3 a.m. collection times. Trash can no longer be picked up at Southington residences before 5 a.m. unless there’s an impending storm or other crisis.
The town boards and commissions worked tirelessly to maintain structure in Southington
throughout the year. No matter the circumstances, the town as a whole managed each situation with the best interest of the residents in mind. The summer drought brought on water restrictions for several months as members of the Water Department closely monitored the Quinnipiac River and wells across town. The Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) motioned to dismantle the Quinnipiac River dam behind the old Clark Brothers factory in order to preserve aquatic life and bring hope for canoe and kayaking passages.
It wasn’t without difficulties. Right as summer was coming to a close, breaking news hit Southington at Light Metals Coloring on Spring Street. On Wednesday, Aug. 24, hexavalent chromium spilled down the Light Metals drain pipes into the driveway until it reached the Quinnipiac River. With numerous departments and officials on scene, the town handled the crisis and got everything back to normal. Town Manager Garry Brumback said that state and local parties involved in the clean-up acted with great efficiency to ensure the town’s safety.
Southington’s government launched an informational campaign throughout the year that culminated with a successful referendum in November to update the local water pollution control facility.
Town officials created videos, offered tours, and opened discussion about a proposal to appropriate $57,100,000—reduced by national and state grants, and helped by low-interest green loans—for much needed improvements to the facility.
Construction will begin to update the facility, add measures to control phosphorus, and move the ultraviolet treatment center out of the flood plain.
Just as downtown Southington and Plantsville were championed for their booming business scenes, every corner of this town saw development. Queen Street has minimal vacancies, a new multi-sport complex was approved for construction, the Calendar House senior center plans were approved, and the Economic Development Strike Committee has their hands full with many other projects in store.
Capital projects were in full swing. As the fall kicked into high gear, state representatives swept into town with a $5 million grant from the state to relieve the tax burden for the Calendar House building project. Plans were approved in the early fall, and construction is expected to begin in the spring.
Bread for Life announced a new facility on Vermont Avenue, aided by state grants. Construction blossomed in the summer and fall. Officials were hoping to schedule the grand opening before the holidays. They did manage to secure the certificate of occupancy from local officials but have scheduled the grand opening of the new soup kitchen facility in early January.
The November election dominated the summer and fall headlines.
Southington even got visits from state officials on various occasions. Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman, U.S. Representative John Larson, and Senator Richard Blumenthal were all here to champion different programs and businesses throughout this election year. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were in our radius when they came to Hartford on their campaign trails.
The election season turned out to be a real head-turner in town. Southington voters scored their biggest turnout on Nov. 8 with Republicans coming out in droves. Republicans dominated the local polls, regaining local seats and winning elections locally even if Democrats took the state or regional race.
Voters appointed State Rep. John Fusco (R-Southington) to the 81st district of the General Assembly. Rep. Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin-Southington) regained his seat and became the first Southington representative in over 100 years to be named as Connecticut’s Speaker of the House.
Looking forward, 2017 promises more to come in Southington as more projects break down and the town turns its attention toward the local elections next fall.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.