By LINDSAY CAREY
For Southington, 2014 proved to be a year of transformation as town boards have moved forward with some large scale projects to improve the town–many of which were welcomed and others that were faced with opposition.
BOE welcomes new superintendent, new members
The Board of Education added a few new members to the team in 2014 including a new Superintendent. Timothy Connellan was named the new superintendent of Southington Public Schools in May.
As the former superintendent of both Oxford schools and Bethany Public Schools, Connellan came to Southington with nine years of experience in an administrative role. Connellan was preceded by longtime superintendent Joe Erardi.
Former director of operations Fred Cox was another Southington Public School veteran who stepped down. The coveted position, which brought in droves of applications and led to rounds of interviews, was filled by Peter Romano.
Romano’s experience as a project manager for a construction group successfully completing over 20 large construction projects and working knowledge of the BOE’s goals for school facilities caused him to stand out among the other candidates. Romano also had worked with Cox on projects in the past.
At the convocation ceremony for the Southington Public Schools in late August, Assistant Superintendent Karen Smith announced there were over 50 new staff members for the 2014-2015 year and there was even more hiring to be done.
Since convocation, Southington Public Schools was able to snag administrators from two larger school districts. In September, the BOE wel comed new director of pupil services Margaret Walsh; and in December, they added new director of technology Jamie Olander to the staff.
Walsh previously served as the coordinator of special education and pupil services for New Britain Public Schools, Olander was previously the director of institutional date for Hartford Public Schools.
Bradley in turmoil
Changes in town took a different turn during the summer as several members of the community united together to oppose Hartford Healthcare’s desire to file a Certificate of Need to make some changes at the Hospital of Central Connecticut Bradley campus.
The Municipal Center Assembly Room was filled with concerned Southington residents at a Town Council meeting in August. Dozens of residents took the microphone to share their experiences at Bradley, frustration with several units closing at the hospital, and their concerns about having to use other hospitals like Midstate and New Britain General.
The Town Council listened and decided to write a letter to Hartford Healthcare in support of the Southington residents hope to keep the community hospital open.
After the eruption at the Town Council meeting, Hartford Healthcare assembled the Bradley Community Advisory Committee to discuss the future of the hospital. The committee was made up of Hartford Healthcare staff, town politicians and leaders of community organization.
In addition, Hartford Healthcare held its own public forum to hear out Southington residents.
The “Community Conversation” was held in the Derynoski Elementary School auditorium and was led by vice president of Hartford HealthCare’s Central Connecticut Senior Care Services Tricia Walden, president of the central region of Hartford Healthcare Lucille Janatka, and senior vice president and chief of strategy for Hartford Healthcare Jim Blazar.
Walden apologized on behalf of Hartford Healthcare for not keeping the lines of communication open as they planned for Bradley’s future. The representatives sat on stage in front of an auditorium filled with Southington residents and politicians to listen to anyone who wanted to share their grievances.
In response to the “Community Conversation,” Hartford Healthcare decided to “pause” the process of submitting a Certificate of Need and is keeping the emergency room open.
Southington residents responded by petitioning and forming the “Community Committee to Save Bradley.” The group is led by Southington residents Bonnie Sica and Rosemary Champagne, who also serves on Hartford Healthcare’s committee.
This committee is devoted to opposing anything that stands in the way of the Bradley campus’s success. A major undertaking of the group has been to fight the building and opening of the Hartford Healthcare owned Urgent Care on Queen Street.
The building proposal was recently approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Gura building embraces the arts
In other news, the Southington Community Cultural Arts was able to reach a major milestone in 2014. In July, the Town Council vote unanimously in favor of leasing the old Gura Building to SCCA for $1 a year.
SCCA was able to raise over $1 million in 18 months to fund the renovation of the old building to become a community arts Center. Florian Properties was hired to renovate the building.
SCCA President Mary DeCroce led a walking tour through the building shortly after the demolition process began in early December. The arts center will include a few studios for rent, a music room, a classroom, a retail store for art work created there, a performance space, an exhibit room, and a catering area.
The SCCA board is hoping the Arts Center will be open in time for the Apple Harvest Festival this year.
Town referendums at mid-term elections
November’s election proved fruitful for incumbents all around in Southington. Democrat U.S. Rep. John Larson, Republican state Senator Joe Markley, Democrat state Rep. Dave Zoni, Republican state Rep. Rob Sampson, Republican state Rep. Alfred Adinolfi, and Democrat state Rep. Joe Aresimowicz all secured their positions.
Aresimowicz also maintained his spot as house majority leader.
Another decision to appear on the November ballot was four referendum questions. Southington residents voted to authorize the Town of Southington to spend $5,200,000 on sludge thickening and odor control at the Southington water pollution control facility.
One weekend in October proved to be a trying time for residents living near the wastewater treatment plant. With hardly any issues all summer regarding the smell of sewage compared to the summer of 2013, plant staff and town staff thought the issue had been resolved.
However, the smell returned less than a month before the question of whether or not to spend millions to upgrade the plant hit the ballot.
Sewer staff worked all weekend to balance the chemicals and reduce the smell.
At a November Town Council meeting, council vice chairman, and a member of the Sewer Committee, Cheryl Lounsbury explained the issues at the plant were due to past councils overlooking the problems and not spending the money necessary to get the issues under control.
Lounsbury said councils in the past had put a bandage on the issues at the wastewater treatment plant rather than buying new equipment. She explained the plant has needed new digesters since 2009 and 2010. However, the sewer budget was continually cut. Lounsbury said the Sewer Committee believes spending the money necessary to upgrade the sewage system will stabilize cost for the town in the future.
Library seeks expansion project
In May, Southington Public Library Director Sue Smayda began working on an application for a state grant to fund the library’s expansion. The 21,000 square foot library is one of the smallest in the state and is also in need of undergoing renovations to become more handicapped friendly.
Town Councilor and chairman of the state library Board John Barry announced that the Southington Public Library had received the competitive $1 million grant.
The expansion is expected to improve the infrastructure, energy efficiency, aesthetics and technology at the library.
The entire project could cost between $10 million and $13 million to accomplish. The library board has to begin planning and budgeting the project as soon as possible in order to pitch the project to the town and get the towns support before the time-sensitive grant runs out. Smayda said she is hoping the plan will be complete and ready for a referendum by August 2016.