In the same space and in the same spirit of FunSpace, a playground at Dickinson Memorial Park that was falling into disrepair and which the town tore down in October 2013, is the new FunSpace II. During that same month, ground was broken for a new playscape, and the new construction was completed and opened to children by August 2014. The nearly $800,000 park was made possible though Capital Improvement Plan funds from the town, bonding, and donations, many of which were received in the wake of 12/14.
The lineup of Newtown’s administrative team changed in 2014. At the start of the year, the Board of Education was conducting a search for a new superintendent of schools. On January 10, five members of the school board were ready to head to Southington to conduct a site visit with that district’s then-superintendent, Joseph V. Erardi, Jr. The visit was part of the interview process, as BOE Vice Chair Laura Roche told The Bee. The district had been engaged in a nationwide superintendent search since the departure of former superintendent of schools Janet Robinson, who took up the superintendent position in Stratford in the spring of 2013. Former Newtown superintendent John Reed returned to serve as interim superintendent following Dr Robinson’s departure in June 2013.
People and places moving Newtown forward through 2014 included a number of local organizations that presented special collaborations and celebrated milestone anniversaries this year. The Newtown chapter of Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut celebrated its 25th anniversary in June, Newtown Youth & Family Services reached its 30th anniversary, Newtown Meals On Wheels reached the 40-year mark in November, and Newtown Congregational Church celebrated its tercentennial with a number of special events for the congregation and the community at large. Newtown Bee Features Reporter Nancy K. Crevier offers a look at these and other events that took place in Newtown during the past 12 months in this year in review offering.
Newtown welcomed a new ambulance facility to Fairfield Hills in 2014. The building, with its classic design, matches the 1930s-era architecture at the campus, and sits close to duplexes that once served the former state hospital. After a groundbreaking in 2013, the early months of 2014 saw its new construction steadily materialize into a six-bay garage and new working space for the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps. And by the close of 2014, the new building was in service for all Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps activity. The build was steady and incremental, and followed through each step by Newtown Bee Reporter Kendra Bobowick.
Gone from the horizon is one of Newtown’s highly visible, but long empty relics at Fairfield Hills. Danbury Hall, once home to psychiatric hospital staff, is gone. By late September, heavy machinery was waiting to chew and dismantled the old brick structure located near the corner of the campus’s main entrance off Wasserman Way. Danbury Hall’s time was dwindling.
A new addition to Newtown’s outdoor recreation has dogs and owners filling the new Park and Bark dog park. The off-leash facility celebrated its grand opening in May. Following many months of planning and fundraising, the park on May 3 held its ribbon cutting at the recently constructed facility on Old Farm Road. Since then, dogs and owners have enjoyed exercising, agility equipment, and water features at the site. Based on feedback she had heard from the community prior to the opening, Assistant Director of Recreation RoseAnn Reggiano said, “People can’t wait. Cannot wait.”
The Newtown government beat was a busy one throughout 2014, with developments like the new community center competing with continued recovery and resiliency efforts as the community moved through its second year post-12/14. It was a year that also saw several parents and survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, as well as government officials, step into the public eye, offering informative, courageous, candid, and often heart-wrenching testimony to Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s Sandy Hook Commission. The year also brought the planned departure of three critical General Electric loaned executives who had been supporting the community, the first selectman’s office, and the Board of Education since shortly after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A new Charter Revision Commission was also seated in 2014, charged with one of the most comprehensive overhauls of Newtown’s constitutional document since it was first framed. And the year saw a couple of new faces elected to represent Newtown in Hartford, along with the reelection of a couple of familiar incumbents.
In early 2014, the updated Town Plan of Conservation and Development, as well as the updated Fairfield Hills Master Plan, took effect, providing the town with a set of planning guidelines for the coming years on local growth and resource conservation, both in the town at large and at the town-owned 185-acre Fairfield Hills core campus. The town plan is updated decennially. The Fairfield Hills plan is updated as needed. These projects were two of a number of land use related stories that were covered during the past year by The Newtown Bee.
2014 was a positive planning year for the new Sandy Hook Elementary School. Consigli Construction oversaw the demolition of the old Sandy Hook School in the fall of 2013, and by 2014 plans for the new building were taking shape, following community input and work between the town and design team, led by Svigals + Partners. By autumn, ground had been broken. Education Reporter Eliza Hallabeck offers a look at the past 12 months of this major project.