This concludes our review of the local news in 2015.
Published in the December 31, 2015 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The second half of 2015 brought more changes to the town – some good, some not so great. In some cases, it depended on your perspective.
With the warm weather of June came the news on June 2 that School Superintendent Dr. Stephen Zrike was departing to become receiver of the embattled Holyoke public school system and would not complete the third year of his contract with Wakefield.
Zrike’s departure opened the door for the popular Dr. Kim Smith, whom many felt had been unfairly bypassed in favor of Zrike. Smith’s appointment as Superintendent on June 9 became another milestone in her 29-year career with the Wakefield Schools during which time she had served as Assistant Superintendent and Principal of Wakefield Memorial High School. Prior to that, as system-wide music director, she had built a regionally renowned, award-winning music program.
Between Zrike’s departure and Smith’s appointment, 264 members of the Wakefield Memorial High School Class of 2015 reached milestones of their own, receiving their diplomas at graduation ceremonies on Saturday, June 6.
The summer brought news that the $74 million Galvin Middle School project was substantially completed as of July 16 and came in under budget. Before the summer ended, the field closest to Main Street was officially named for the late Dr. Paula Mullen, the former principal of the Galvin and one of the most beloved educators the town has known.
News of a major promotion in another town department came on June 9, when Police Chief Rick Smith announced that Lt. Craig Calabrese had been name Deputy Chief of Police. A Wakefield native, Calabrese joined the Wakefield Police Department as a patrolman in 1999, was promoted to sergeant in 2005 and to lieutenant in 2009.
The summer also brought news of the retirement of two of the most respected veteran members of Wakefield’s police force. On July 11, Detective Michael O’Connell retired after a 21-year career during which he served as Wakefield’s School Resource Officer. In August, Sgt. George Thistle announced his retirement after 32 years in law enforcement, during which time he was Wakefield PD’s lead firearms instructor and a member of a highly regarded regional SWAT team.
With summer came some unsavory developments, as concerns were raised over the growing number of massage operations in town that appeared to be little more than fronts for prostitution and human trafficking. The selectmen announced that they would be sending stern letters to any landlords renting to such operations and the Board of Health set about looking at regulations that could give the town a way to inspect such businesses. Meanwhile, police made a number of arrests at several of the spas on charges of “sex for a fee.” In the wake of this multi-pronged approach by the town, a number of the spas closed.
July also brought the much anticipated return of Wakefield’s Independence Day Parade. After two years with no parade, a new Wakefield Independence Day Committee led by Patrick Sullivan brought the July Fourth Parade back in all of its grandeur, with marching bands featured from around the country. The afternoon parade was bookended by the West Side Social Club’s morning children’s activities on the Common and a rock concert and fireworks display at night.
On July 29, after 10 months of contentious public hearings, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved Special Permit Applications that will allow Shelter Development to build a new 130-unit combined assisted living, independent living and memory care facility on Crescent Street. The facility will be built on properties formerly owned by the Fraen Corporation, including 338 Main St. and 11, 15, 17, 19, 21 and 25 Crescent St.
August came in like a lion as severe storms battered the town on Aug. 4, knocking down trees that in turn took down wires and blocked streets. More than half of the West Side lost power.
On Aug. 18 internationally renowned playwright and screenwriter Israel Horovitz, a 1956 graduate of Wakefield Memorial High School, returned to his hometown to read at Beebe Library from his newly published book of poetry, “Heaven and other poems.”
Thousands flocked to the downtown on Aug. 22 for the annual “Festival Italia” put on by the Event Planning Committee. A highlight of this year’s Festival was a “dunk tank” co-sponsored by the Wakefield Democratic and Republican Town Committees. For a donation to the Wakefield Interfaith Food Pantry, festival attendees had an opportunity to “dunk” their favorite state and local officials.
In early September, Wakefield was one of several towns hit by a rash of home larcenies blamed on out-of-state door-to-door solicitors employed by a Texas company.
The town learned in September that two new restaurants will be coming to the downtown: a sports bar in the current location of the Duck Walk and a Chinese restaurant in the former Ski & Sport Shack location.
Wednesday, Sept. 16 was a day that no current Wakefield Memorial High School student would soon forget. Landing on Walsh Field, a Massachusetts National Guard Blackhawk Helicopter brought Congressional Medal of Honor winners Colonel Harvey C. Barnam of the U.S. Marine Corps and Petty Officer Robert R. Ingram of the U.S. Navy to speak to the entire high school student body assembled in the Field House. The heroes shared their experiences and advice with the students.
But September also brought sad news to Wakefield as the town mourned one of its favorite sons, General John Rogers Galvin, who died on Sept. 25 at age 86 in Jonesboro, Ga. Galvin grew up on Pleasant Street and attended the West Ward and Lincoln schools. He graduated from West Point in 1954 and served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War.
Gen. Galvin’s career included the rare opportunity to command two different Department of Defense Unified Commands. He served as Commander in Chief, United States Southern Command in Panama from 1985 to 1987 and Commander in Chief, United States European Command from June 26, 1987 to June 23, 1992. During his tenure as Commander U.S. European Command he also served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). His decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, The Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
On Oct. 8, a robber armed with a rifle robbed the S&M Liquor Store on Water Street just after 9 p.m. Stephen M. Wentworth was arrested in Hingham two weeks later and charged with the crime.
On Saturday, Oct. 10, a major water main break on Green Street near Dillaway Street caused big headaches as well as property damage. A portion of the street collapsed and residential basements were flooded.
Also in October, Police Chief Rick Smith was honored to be elected Vice President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
October also brought an Open Meeting Law complaint against the School Committee. Elm Street’s Daniel Lieber alleged that the School Committee had improperly discussed in executive session appointing Dr. Kim Smith to the position of Superintendent.
In November, Regular Town Meeting rejected a return to the winter-long parking ban. It also defeated an effort to legalize Airbnb-type operations under a Special Permit process.
An application was filed in mid-November to build a 24-unit garden-style apartment building on North Avenue, across from the Lakeside Office Park.
Local taxpayers learned in November that the average residential property tax bill would go up this year by $333.
After an outcry from local commuters, the MBTA announced on Nov. 25 that it would delay until at least the spring planned schedule changes that would have eliminated the 5:15 p.m. express train from North Station to Wakefield.
The Wakefield Warrior football team lost the Thanksgiving Day game to the Red Raiders of Melrose by a score of 27-8.
On Dec. 5, another highly successful “Holiday Stroll” drew thousands to the downtown for food, entertainment and fun.
On Dec. 11, the Doyle School Early Childhood Center was closed for the day as a precaution against an illness that had hit the school.
On Dec. 22, it was reported that Boston University Hockey Player and Wakefield resident Nick Roberto had been suspended from the team amid gambling allegations.