As the natural world leans into another equinox and launches all its spectacular protocols for shutting things down for another winter, we find ourselves taking another tack. We staged an exuberant celebration in the middle of the streets in the middle of town on Monday just as our academic, social, and political calendars started coming back to life after a long languorous summer. It was a de facto New Year’s Eve Party.
The Labor Day Parade intends to honor Newtown’s artists on Monday, marching this year to the theme of “Celebrating the Fine Art of Newtown — Honoring SCAN.” SCAN, of course, is the Society of Creative Arts of Newtown, which has applied a rich palette of artistry to the community canvas since it was founded in 1971, thanks to its engaged and motivated membership. Ruth Newquist, one of the society’s most notable talents, is serving as parade marshal this year. We learn about ourselves at the parade, and we learn a bit about the world around us as well.
The convocation on Monday of educators and school district staff at Newtown High School was true to its name, which according to its Latin root (convocare) is a great calling together. The Board of Education, Legislative Council, selectmen, finance board members, school administrators, teachers, and professional and skilled staff members gathered to acknowledge the start of a new school year and to appreciate the portents in this moment of their togetherness. It was a group familiar with contention and negotiation, often with each other, in the cause of the district and its nearly 7,000 students. There was no disagreeing with First Selectman Pat Llodra’s observation, however, that “excellence in education stands paramount with all the core values in Newtown that we hold so dear.”
We fear that the sadness we felt this week when we first heard of the death of Julia Wasserman will be more than a match for our ability to cheer ourselves up with memories of her for a long time to come. To have her move into history from being such a vital presence in town, even after her recent retirement from politics, seems too sudden a shift. It will take us a period of adjustment to get our bearings and move on without her.
Twenty years ago, Newtown’s Planning and Zoning Commission implemented an innovative zoning concept to address its goal at the time of encouraging diverse yet compatible uses in Sandy Hook Center while preserving its essential character as a mixed-use hamlet with deep roots in the community’s commercial history. The Sandy Hook Design District (SHDD), as it was called, was an “overlay” zoning district that would introduce flexibility in development and design to the more rigid restrictions of the underlying zoning as a means to encourage economic growth while preserving the character of the place.
It is hot. It is humid. It is summer, and half of Newtown is without a pool.
It has been nine years since the pool at Dickinson Park was drained for the final time, with health officials and Parks and Recreation administrators advising that the 50-year-old swimming hole was no longer cost-effective nor a safe place to swim due to insufficient fresh water flow through the cement pond. The decision not to spend the money for replacement and renovation of the pool off of Brushy Hill and Point O’ Rocks Roads, estimated by a Boston architect in late 2005 to be upward of $4 million, left residents in the western portion of town without a nearby public facility in which to cool down on the hottest days of summer.
As we have advanced through the industrial and technological ages with their attendant innovations and accomplishments, a human conceit has arisen that our modern impulse to “go big or go home” has somehow made us masters of our environment. While we have proven quite adept at shaping the environment to accommodate our preferences for convenience and commerce, our mastery, however, insofar as it applies to natural ecosystems, seems to lean mostly toward their degradation and destruction. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is preparing its 2015 Wildlife Action Plan, which is fat with data supporting this discouraging fact but leavened with a little hopeful determination. The DEEP Wildlife Division chief puts it this way: “This is a vision for the future of fish and wildlife conservation in our state; to keep common species common.”
It looks like the setting for a post-apocalyptic summer thriller, though Newtown has been less than thrilled about having this blighted property sitting unused for decades in the heart of Botsford. The 30-acre former Batchelder site at 44 and 46a Swamp Road is a scary place, and not just because of its aspect of desolation and abandonment. It is environmentally scary.
Commissioner Dianna Wentzell has been on the job just over a month at the helm of Connecticut’s Department of Education. She has been welcomed with a debate over the future of education in the state that is thick with challenges and fraught with political controversy. Pick an agenda item: Common Core Standards implementation; teacher evaluations; narrowing the achievement gap between rich and poor districts; meeting and funding the growing demand for special education; and the perennial conundrum of how to fund education in the state. Any one would be in itself a full-time job. Fortunately, the new commissioner knows her stuff. With a 25-year career in the state’s public school system — 12 years in the classroom — she served most recently as the chief academic officer for the state education department. Experience counts for something — except, apparently, for Governor Dannel P. Malloy.
The Fairfield Hills Authority’s latest flirtation with economic development at the spacious campus home of Newtown’s seat of government hit a snag, as have so many of the other potential liaisons with commercial suitors that have come calling. US HealthVest, a developer of behavioral health facilities, had expressed interest in creating a 100-bed psychiatric hospital at Fairfield Hills. After three months of exploring that idea, however, the FHA chairman and HealthVest CEO announced late last month that the developer would be looking instead at other sites in Newtown for the facility. The sudden diversion, they said, was “in the interest of avoiding potential challenges the project might face” — a casual reference to emerging questions about the wisdom of having a mental health facility with its special security needs in an area that aspires to be a hub for public life and commerce.