Published in the December 31, 2020 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — In one sense the second half of 2020 got of to a quiet start as the official July 4 celebration was canceled, like everything else, due to COVID concerns.
There were none of the traditional morning children’s activities on the Common, no parade and no fireworks – at least not the official kind. But by all accounts, the amateur pyrotechnics were louder and more abundant than ever this year, as lockdown weary Americans took celebrating Independence Day into their own hands.
Meanwhile, WCAT treated its viewers to a day-long marathon of parade videos from previous years.
When business returned to “normal” after the holiday weekend, we learned on Monday July 6 that the Public Safety Building renovation and rehab that had passed so overwhelmingly at Town Meeting a few weeks earlier was being challenged in court by Bob Mitchell of Spaulding Street, who filed a complaint and a preliminary injunction in Middlesex Superior Court in an effort to derail the project.
On Wednesday, July 8, the once grand Winship Mansion on the West Side was torn down to make way for two single family homes. Once the opulent residence of Charles Winship, who with Elizabeth Boit, founded the Harvard Knitting Mills at Albion and Foundry streets, the Mansion Road home later served as a convent for the Catholic nuns who taught at Our Lady of Nazareth Academy.
But in recent years the abandoned mansion had become an eyesore and a magnet for youthful shenanigans, resulting in almost daily calls to police. Few neighbors were sorry to see the wrecking ball arrive.
In mid-July Town Counsel Thomas Mullen filed his response to Bob Mitchell’s court challenge regarding the Public Safety Building renovation and expansion.
As of Tuesday, July 14, there had been 322 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wakefield and 31 deaths attributed to the virus.
In mid to late July, National Grid, the DPW and the Light Department began working at the Broadway railroad crossing, resulting in restrictions on through traffic on Broadway.
On July 22, the Daily Item reported that the town was seeking candidates to fill four vacancies on the Human Rights Commission that came as a result of resignations after disparaging comments about a Town Councilor were made by members at an HRC subcommittee meeting in May.
On July 23, Fire Chief Michael Sullivan announced that Captain Thomas M. Purcell III had been promoted to the new position of Deputy Fire Chief, Lieutenant David A. Shinney had been promoted to Fire Captain and Firefighter Gary F. Hill had been promoted to Fire Lieutenant.
On Friday, July 27 after a 25-minute hearing via Zoom, it took Middlesex Superior Court Judge Jackie Cowin less than an hour to shoot down Bob Mitchell’s attempt to derail the Public Safety Building upgrades that had been approved overwhelmingly at Town Meeting. Judge Cowin denied Mitchell’s motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed the underlying complaint.
In early August, the School Department unveiled its “hybrid” re-opening plan for the fall.
At their meeting of Monday, Aug. 10, members of the Town Council clashed over the process of filling the four vacancies on the Human Rights Commission. Councilor Ed Dombroski had asked for a “robust discussion” regarding the commission and its mission, but Chairman Ann Santos refused to put it on the meeting agenda.
In mid-August, the Zoning Board of Appeals got its first look at a proposed new, 19-unit residential building on Salem Street in Montrose.
Also in mid-August, Cabot Cabot & Forbes announced that it would scale back its proposed residential housing complex at 200 Quannapowitt Parkway from 600 units in three buildings to 485 units in two buildings.
On Monday, Aug. 24, the town took stock of the damage after a wild weekend storm blew through town taking down trees and wires.
In early September, School Committee member Tom Flynn announced that he was resigning his seat on the School Committee. Flynn has a daughter who teaches in the Wakefield School system and Flynn said that he had grown tired of fellow members questioning his presence when reports on union negotiations were provided to the full School Committee in executive session.
On Sept. 8, National Grid announced that it had completed 50 percent of the duct bank installation in Wakefield for its underground transmission line.
On Sept. 8, the School Department announced that masks would be required for all students and teachers when school resumed under a hybrid model later in the month.
In mid-September, a joint meeting of the Town Council and the Planning Board appointed Joanne Scouler and Megan Menesale to fill two vacancies on the Planning Board.
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, Sept. 22 police responded to the parking garage at the Everly Apartments at 14 Audubon Road after a woman was shot. The woman was taken to Lahey Hospital in Burlington. Two days later, two teens were charged in connection with the shooting, a 16-year-old male from Wakefield and a 17-year-old male from Lynn.
On Sept. 22, veteran School Committee member Chris Callanan announced that he was resigning as he planned to move out of town.
On Tuesday, Sept. 29. students were welcomed back for the first time since March as local schools re-opened under a hybrid model.
On Friday, Oct 2 firefighters from multiple communities battled a five-alarm fire at JG MacLellan Concrete Co. at 1 New Salem St.
On Oct. 6, the first virus case was reported in local schools.
On Oct. 12. The friends of lake Quannapowitt issued a statement opposing plans by Cabot Cabot & Forbes to build a large residential apartment complex at 200 Quannapowitt Parkway, the former site of American Mutual and Comverse.
In mid-October, the Board of Health announced that Wakefield had moved into the “red” higher risk category on the state’s COVID-19 map due to a cluster of 16 cases in one location.
In mid-October, the Town Council held its annual Tax classification hearing via Zoom where they set the new tax rate. The new rate would result in the average property tax bill going up by 5.5 percent. No residents spoke at the Zoom hearing.
After several public hearings, in mid-October the Zoning Board of Appeals approved a 19-unit, mid-rise apartment building at 581-583 Salem St. in Montrose.
In mid-October, the annual “Tri-Board” meeting of the Town Council, the School Committee and Finance Committee met to discuss the financial impact of COVID-19.
In mid to late October, Wakefield remained in the “red” category for COVID as cases continued to rise.
In late October, a 30-unit, four story apartment building was proposed at 610 Salem Street in Montrose, on the former site of Taylor Rental.
Much to the chagrin of neighborhood businesses and residents, the Broadway commuter rail crossing remained closed on Oct. 28 after it was expected to re-open the previous week.
In late October, attorney Brian McGrail, representing several commercial property owners near the head of the Lake, took legal action to stop an attempt by the Friends of Lake Quannapowitt to change zoning and derail CC&F’s plan to develop 200 Quannapowitt Parkway. McGrail filed Approval Not Required (ANR) plans and preliminary subdivision plans with the Planning Board on behalf of all his clients. The action effectively froze the current zoning for a period of years.
On Oct. 26 members of the Youth Council appeared at a meeting of the Town Council to recommend eliminating the Wakefield Warrior logo, claiming that it is offensive to Native Americans.
In late October, Erin Kokinda was hired as to fill the newly created position of Economic Development Director.
In early November, Rev. Matthew Cadwell, Rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and former member of the Wakefield Human Rights Commission delivered his last sermon in Wakefield and announced that he was leaving Wakefield to become Vicar in charge of the Old North Church in Boston.
On Nov. 3, Wakefield voters cast their ballots in the presidential election.
On Saturday, Nov. 7, 214 voters attended the regular Town Meeting at the high school field house and voted to fund a $2 million feasibility study of the high school. They also agreed to ban more kinds of plastic bags and restrict access to plastic utensils and straws.
In mid-November, Wakefield went from the red back to green on the state’s COVID map after the state changed its metrics for measuring risk. To date, Wakefield had recorded a total of 470 total cases including 34 in the previous 14 days.
ON Nov. 11, a small, solemn Veterans Day observance was held in front of the World War II Memorial on Veterans Memorial Common. Due to COVID, attendance was limited to members of the Veterans Advisory Committee and a few veterans. WCAT recorded the brief ceremony and replayed the video throughout the day.
In mid-November, the Broadway railroad crossing remained closed as the town awaited Federal Railroad Administration clearance to re-open the crossing. It was noted that the closure is tied to Wakefield’s status as a “quiet zone” where trains do not sound horns when approaching street crossings.
Also in mid-November, the School Department announced that Wakefield High School would go all remote until after Thanksgiving after a spike in COVID cases.
On Nov. 23, National Grid announced that it would halt work on its underground transmission line for the winter in accordance with Wakefield’s winter moratorium on road work to facilitate plowing.
In late November, local leaders decried proposed cuts in MBTA service that would impact Wakefield and wrote to the MBTA Control Board to voice their opposition to the cuts.
In early December, the School Department announced that it would quarantine one classroom at the Doyle Early Childhood Center due to COVID.
On Monday, Dec. 7, the town announced that it would offer free COVID testing for residents over two weekends in December.
On Dec. 7 Town Engineer Bill Renault told the Town Council that it would be at least another 45 days before the Broadway crossing can open. He said that he was working with the Federal Railroad Administration to get the crossing open as soon as possible while preserving Wakefield’s quiet zone.
At the same Town Council meeting, Montrose residents spoke about their concerns related to three new apartment buildings proposed on Salem Street.
By mid-December, Wakefield was back in the “red,” higher risk category for COVID-19.
On Friday, Dec. 11, local businessman Bob Sardella of Sardella Sign & Display rescued a bulldog from a burning car on Yale Avenue.
During the week of Dec 11, School Superintendent Doug Lyons announced another generous donation of $120,750 to the local schools from the Trachtenberg family, bringing their total gifts to the schools this year alone to $250,000.
On Dec. 16 and 17 the town was hit by the first major snow storm of the winter, which dumped about 15 inches of the white stuff.
On Saturday, Dec. 19, the Veterans Advisory Board and a small contingent of volunteers placed 441 donated wreaths at veterans’ graves at Forest Glade Cemetery as part of the Wreaths Across America program.
In late December, the Permanent Building Committee chose engineering firm Weston & Sampson to conduct a feasibility study of the Public Works Facility on North Avenue.