Published in the December 29, 2016 edition


Among other things, it was a year for elections, as 2016 presented Wakefield voters with four occasions to go to the polls. An incumbent selectman lost her seat in the April Town Election, only to win it back three months later in a rare midsummer Special Election. The town also re-elected its state legislative delegation through a Primary Election in September leading to a Presidential Election on Nov. 8.

The year opened with complaints aired by local merchants at a Jan. 11 selectmen’s meeting over an alleged lack of communication about construction work in the downtown area. The work was being done in connection with the Brightview Senior Living facility to be built on Crescent Street by Shelter Development. In response, Shelter’s contractor, PROCON, met with downtown merchants on Jan. 28 at the Wakefield Cooperative Bank in an effort to facilitate better communications between PROCON, Town Hall and the business owners regarding the impact of the work.

On Jan. 21, about 50 local residents attended an informational forum on the options for addressing the deficiencies at Wakefield Memorial High School. Architectural firm Dore & Whittier outlined several options, one of which was a new High School at a cost of about $120 million, approximately half of which could come in state funding if such a project were approved by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

On Jan. 18, PROCON began the process of demolishing five homes on Crescent Street in preparation for the coming Brightview Senior Living facility.

A long and distinguished public service career came to an end on Jan. 27, when Captain Richard Smith officially retired after 43 years with the Wakefield Fire Department.

February opened with the evacuation of Wakefield Memorial High School after an automated phone threat was received at about 11 a.m. on Feb. 2. WMHS was one of a dozen schools in the region to receive the automated threats on that day. Students returned to classes after public safety personnel did a sweep of the school.

In other educational news, it was reported on Feb. 5 that all-girls high school Nazareth Academy on Cordis Street would be closing its doors and joining with the new Academy at Penguin Hall in Wenham, another private school in the Catholic tradition. Nazareth Academy was formed by a group of parents after Our Lady of Nazareth Academy on Winship Drive closed its doors in 2009. The school had been renting the Hurd School from the town.

On Feb. 11, the Zoning Board of Appeals got its first look at a planned five-story, mixed-use residential/retail project at 175 North Ave., between Armory and West Water streets. “The Residences and Shops at Wakefield Station” was proposed by the Maggiore Companies of Woburn. The proposed project would include 60 luxury condominiums along with restaurants and/or retail on the ground floor.

Also in February, the School Department announced that it would seek a 4 percent increase in its FY 2017 budget.

On Feb. 23, the Board of Selectmen agreed to support the submission of a Statement of Interest to the MSBA seeking state assistance with the construction of a new High School.

March came in like a lion with 51 percent of Wakefield voters going to the polls in the Presidential Primary Election on March 1. Businessman Donald J. Trump won the Republican contest both in Wakefield and statewide, with former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton the Democrat winner.

In local politics, one-term School Committee member Evan Kenney decided not to run for re-election on March 8 – the last day to return nomination papers to get on the April Town Election ballot. The move effectively put three candidates on the ballot for three positions on School Committee: incumbents Thomas Markham and Greg Liakos along with newcomer RJ Masse.

The Ides of March brought Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash to Wakefield. He toured the business district on March 15 with Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio and a host of local and state officials with an eye toward securing state funding for reinvigorating the downtown.

On March 21, the town announced that it had secured a $40,000 for a Metropolitan Area Planning Council study aimed at identifying ways to turn Albion Street into a cultural district.

Anthony Amore, author and Director of Security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum drew one of the largest crowds in recent memory to the March 29 opener of the 2016 Sweetser Lecture Series at The Savings Bank Theater. Amore discussed art theft in general and the 1990 Gardner heist in particular.

The evening of April 1 saw two televised debates on WCAT. One featured Town Clerk hopefuls Kristen Henshaw and Selectman Betsy Sheeran. The second forum was for Board of Selectman candidates, including incumbents Phyllis Hull and Ann Santos along with challengers Peter May, Tony Longo and Dan Benjamin.

On April 11, Wakefield Memorial High School and 22 other schools in eastern Massachusetts were again the victims of automated phone bomb threats. Once again, WMHS students were evacuated until public safety personnel could do a complete safety sweep of the building.

Site work continued in preparation for the construction of the Brightview Senior Living facility on Crescent Street. On April 12, the Former Fraen Co. building was demolished on the site. The building had been used as an office building in recent years.

School administrators announced on April 12 that the class of 2016 would wear gender-neutral gowns at its June graduation ceremony.

On April 13, the Zoning Board of Appeals got its first look at the planned Hallmark Health medical building at 888 Main Street, in Greenwood, the former location of the Subaru of Wakefield car dealership.

Among all candidates for all offices in the April Town Election, Betsy Sheeran emerged as the top fundraiser, taking in $4,225 in her bid to be elected Town Clerk.

Just 15 percent of the town’s registered voters managed to get to the polls to vote in the April 26 Town Election. Veteran selectman and former School Committee member Betsy Sheeran was elected Town Clerk, but in a surprisingly strong showing, political newcomer Kristen Henshaw came within 348 votes of Sheeran in the town-wide vote, despite doing little in the way of campaigning.

In the race for the Board of Selectman incumbent Selectman Phyllis Hull was defeated in her reelection bid. The other incumbent, Ann Santos won re-election. Also elected were newcomers Peter May and Tony Longo.

The 219 voters who showed up for the May 2 Annual Town Meeting completed work on the 20 warrant articles in a one-night, 3 1/2-hour session.

On May 5 former selectman Phyllis Hull announced that she had collected the necessary 200 signatures to force the Board of Selectmen to call a Special Election to fill the one-year vacancy created on the board by the resignation of Betsy Sheeran who had been elected Town Clerk. Hull rebuffed pleas that she consider waiting to combine the Special Election with the State Primary Election in September. The selectmen ultimately called for a Special Election on July 19 to fill the year remaining on Sheeran’s term.

By May 11, four citizens had pulled nomination papers for the July 19 Special Election for Board of Selectmen: Phyllis Hull, School Committeeman Chris Callanan, Dan Benjamin, Nate Gayman.

On May 17 Wakefield Memorial High School pitcher Corey Imbriano hurled a no-hitter to clinch the Warriors second straight Middlesex League Freedom Division title.

Between May 20 and May 23, three more candidates pulled papers for the open selectman seat: Allyson Houghton, Mehreen Butt and Shaun Margerison. Kristen Henshaw took out papers on May 25, bringing the total potential field to eight.

Vietnam era US Army veteran and former selectman John Carney was the keynote speaker at the town’s Memorial Day ceremonies.

By the May 31 filing deadline, two of the prospective selectmen candidates, Shaun Margerison and Kristen Henshaw did not file their nomination papers, leaving a field of six candidates for the July 19 Special Election: Dan Benjamin, Mehreen Butt, Chris Callanan, Nate Gayman, Allyson Houghton and Phyllis Hull.

On Sunday, June 5, Wakefield Memorial High School graduated 252 students in ceremonies at the High School Field House. Also receiving his diploma was 90-year-old World War II veteran John Cerretani, who upon returning from the war entered the supermarket business with his brothers.

The six candidates for Board of Selectmen participated in a live television debate on June 8 at the WCAT studios.

The June 17-18 Wakefield Relay for Life, held at the Northeast Metro Tech athletic field, raised over $100,000 for the American Cancer Society.

On Saturday, June 25, a spectacular fire destroyed a home on Highland Street, bringing mutual aid firefighters and apparatus from Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, North Reading, Saugus, Woburn and Lynnfield. Careless disposal of smoking materials igniting outside mulch was believed to be the cause of the blaze.

In late June, Lowell Street resident Karen Faler was presented with the Unsung Heroine Award by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women for her work with the Friends of Lake Quannapowitt and the improvement of areas around the Lake.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of 2016: the Year in Review.