2019: The year in review, part I

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SHERIDAN ROY

STAFF WRITER

Another year has come and gone. As we look ahead to 2020, it’s important to take a step back and review the last twelve months: the highs and lows, and everything in between.

Some prominent figures and businesses retired and closed, while others breathed new life into the space left behind. A municipal election shook up the leadership in town. A new class of students graduated and made their way into the world. Talk of change surrounded places like the library and downtown Plantsville. One thing certainly stayed the same: Southington residents coming together to help others through various acts of community service.

Here is a look back at the first half of the year, from January to June.

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Schools

Students kept busy in 2019, both in the classroom and outside of it. At the high school, the number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams rose both nationally and locally. In Southington, 388 students took 678 AP exams. At the end of the school year, over 130 scholarships were distributed to graduating students at the 2019 scholarship night.

Southington schools are home of some seriously talented students. In early January, Southington’s robotics team, Team 195 CyberKnights, kicked off the season. Each year, there is a new game that the teams compete in worldwide. The team competed against 4,000 other high school teams this year, and ultimately placed third in the nation.

Students across all grade levels also participated in a number of theater productions. The high school in particular brought hundreds of students to stage in March with two back to back performances: the drama club performed the classic, “Grease,” and later that week, the school’s marching band performed a virtual three-ring circus: “Surround Sound IX: Under the Big Top.” Many students performed in both shows at the same time.

Southington students can always be counted upon to be there for their peers. In April, South End Elementary School rallied around an injured student, fourth grader Lucia Perez. The school hosted a pasta dinner, raising over $5,000 for the Perez family.

In June, the board of education honored the late Zaya A. Oshana, who served the BOE for 38 years, by naming Plantsville Elementary School after him.

At the end of the school year, 463 students made the walk down the aisle to receive their diplomas on the day of graduation. This year, five graduating seniors chose to enter the military: Ethan Samselski (U.S. Coast Guard), Michael McLaughlin (ROTC Branch U.S. Marine Corps), Sarah Mafale (U.S. Navy), Russel Hotchkiss (ROTC U.S. Air Force) and Kevin Coleman (U.S. Marine Corps).

School officials congratulated the top three grade point average earners: valedictorian Maxwell Heath, salutatorian Mia Langston and essayist Aliya Sarris. They also said farewell to SHS principal Brian Stranieri, who retired as the Class of 2019 left. Former DePaolo Middle School principal Frank Pepe was hired in his place.

The school system congratulated Derynoski Elementary School staff member Caroline Turek for being named the 2019-20 paraeducator of the year, and cheerleading coach and social studies teacher at SHS, Heather Allenback, for being named teacher of the year.

Government

The beginning of the year is a busy time for Southington’s politicians—budget season. This year, the grand list topped off at $4,068,514,513—a 1.49 percent increase from the previous year. That was good news for the budget.

The board of education first proposed their budget with a 4.28 percent increase, and it was unanimously approved. The town manager then presented a 3.45 percent increase from the 2017-18 budget, including an $850,000 contingency fund. Without the contingency, it was a 2.4 percent increase.

Following a public hearing, the BOF trimmed the BOE budget proposal by $1.2 million. Finally, in May, the town council adopted the budget of $152.9 million and a 0.19 mill rate increase. The new mill rate came out to 30.64.

Setting the budget is just one of the town government’s jobs throughout the year. Two major renovations have been discussed at length this year: the safety improvement project in downtown Plantsville, and the renovation to the Southington Public Library.

Plantsville renovation plans were revealed at a public works meeting in early January. It was the first time residents and business owners really had the opportunity to visualize the plans that had only been discussed for several years. It’s being designed largely based upon community feedback.

Officials began to discuss expanding and renovating the public library. The current building was built in the 1970s, and many of its utilities are at the end of their age or beyond. It is no longer up to current ADA and fire codes.

In March, the council discussed two major, highly debated topics and brought forth resolutions for both. One of those was implementation of a new age minimum for purchase of tobacco products and vaping products. That passed. The other was an anti-tolls resolution. That failed… at first. Later in the year, after the November election when the Republicans took majority of the council, the resolution was brought back to the table for discussion. This time, it passed.

Community Service

Southington knows how to give back, and it’s obvious in every food and toy drive, fundraiser, and donation.

In early January, the Knights of Columbus Council 15 donated six dozen winter coats to Southington Community Service. Later that month, government employees were going weeks without pay during a partial government shutdown. SCS, Bread for Life, and the local YMCA banned together to offer assistance to those employees.

At a February town council meeting, the Southington Rotary Club pledged to invest $100,000 to rebuild the playscape at Memorial park.

The Calvanese Foundation was honored that the United Way of Southington annual dinner for donating over $2 million to Southington charities and nonprofits since its foundation. At the Unico annual dinner, leading philanthropist Curtis Robinson was named the 2018 Unico Gold Medal recipient for his giving back to his community.

Early in the year, the Bradley Henry Barnes & Leila Upson Barnes memorial trust provided almost $400K in grants to several local organizations. The Community Foundation of Greater New Britain announced it authorized more than $214 grants in its previous year.

One of the local YMCA’s biggest fundraisers of the year is the Sloper Plunge. The 2019 event rose over $72,000 for scholarships to send kid to summer camp at YMCA Camp Sloper. More than 200 jumpers “took the plunge” into the icy waters of Sloper Pond—each person raising at least $100.

In early March, Tops Marketplace suffered a tragic fire that burned down the whole building. The owners had always given back to their community in a variety of ways. The loss of the business brought Southington to its feet—people came together to raise money to rebuild the grocery store, and after almost a year of fundraising, officials report that the store will reopen in the coming months.

Service counts on every level, whether it be a large organization like MSCF or an individual impact. Brothers Sal Dominello Jr. and John Dominello, owners of Modern Formals, were recognized by the Walter Camp Football Foundation for their community service.

On earth day, dozens of locals teamed up together to clean up the town for an hour or two.

Community Events

There’s always something happening in the town of Southington. It’s impossible to cover every single event, but we try.

In early January, HQ Dumpsters & Recycling, the Southington Townwide Effort to Promote Success, and the Southington Police Department teamed up to reveal the “Don’t Trash Your Stash” campaign. They placed campaign stickers on HQ trucks letting people know about the SPD’s medication dropbox.

The annual Southington Reads event that the library plans each year featured Julia Glass. The house was packed as fans gathered to hear her book discussion.

In February, the SCCYMCA honored locals at its annual meeting: Veterans Committee member John DeMello; two students Sarah McAuliffe and Caitlin Mulligan; the organizers of the Best Buddies Unified Theater and Unified ports; the organizers of the Common Good Garden; and Fancy Bagels.

The Southington library became a monthly destination this year for Dementia Friendly “memory cafes,” a comfortable environment for people living with dementia along with their caregivers to come together to chat, work on a craft, play a game and more. Dementia Friendly Southington, an initiative led by LiveWell, began to ramp up this year. The initiative seeks to guide individuals, families, businesses and the community overall in ways to better accommodate people living with dementia.

In the spring, a new Special Olympics fundraiser was revealed and ran its first course in Southington. “Run the Course,” a 5K race was held at Hawks Landing Country Club took place on April 27.

In April, the SHS Wall of Honor recognized several SHS graduates and WWII casualties in 2019. Living honorees included: Craig Bodanski, Barry DePaolo, Dawn Donofrio and Matt Galka. WWII casualties included: John Calvanese, Paul Flynn, Stanley or Anthony Folcik (there was some confusion on the first name and limited data to research), Francis Gura, Anthony Pasquale, Stanley Putala and John Ziemba.

The town’s annual Memorial Day parade brought hundreds of people downtown for a bright and sunny ceremony in May.

Several people were honored at the Southington Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner this year. The Ann Hauver employee of the year was Missy Cipriano. The Riccio Brothers business person of the year was James Garstang. The Gail DePaolo community spirit award went to Dave Pestillo, and the woman of the year was Anneliese Dadras.

In June, the Southington Relay for Life raised $85K for the American Cancer Society in May and honored the late Rosemary Champagne, one of the founding members of the Southington relay who passed away in 2018.

To be continued. Next week, we’ll take a look at what went down between July and December…

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.