Published in the December 31, 2018 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD – The second half of 2018 started off with a bang as the town celebrated Independence Day with another huge July Fourth parade and fireworks display. There were also children’s events in the morning and music on the Common, all thanks to the Wakefield Independence Day Committee and the West Side Social Club.
On July 6 came the news that former Lynnfield Special Services Director Kara Mauro had been named Assistant Superintendent of the Wakefield Public Schools, replacing Doug Lyons, who had earlier been elevated to superintendent.
The July 16 Town Council meeting became a little unruly after several dozen residents showed up for a discussion of the four “wayfinding” kiosks that had been approved at the board’s June 25 meeting. The primary bone of contention was the kiosk planned for the corner of Church Street and Lake Avenue, which would have a digital component.
On Aug. 6, former selectman and Board of Public Works member Wayne Tarr was chosen to fill a vacancy on the Municipal Gas & Light Commission by a 6-5 vote during a joint meeting of the Town Council and the Light Commissioners. The position became vacant after Commissioner Bill Boodry resigned in May. The meeting was contentious as a majority of the Light Commissioners favored retired National Grid engineer Phil Courcy, while a majority of the Town Council wanted Tarr to complete the year remaining on Boodry’s term.
At their Aug. 6 meeting, the Town Council announced that after cooler heads had prevailed, the four kiosks proposed by Wakefield Main Streets and approved in June by the Town Council would be installed as originally planned.
On Aug. 15, members of the town’s state legislative delegation announced that they had secured $500,000 in an environmental bond bill to be used for a feasibility study of the Wakefield-Lynnfield rail trail.
In mid-August, School Department administrators offered assurances that the renovation and expansion of the Walton School would be completed in time for the first day of school on Sept. 6.
Despite gray skies and occasional rain, a large number of people made their way to the downtown area on Saturday, Aug. 18 to enjoy music, food and entertainment at Festival Italia.
On Monday, Aug. 20 came the news that Bank of America planned to close its Wakefield office on Smith Street.
Late August brought an alert from the town that blue-green algae levels in Lake Quannapowitt had once again exceeded levels deemed safe by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
In late August, the MBTA announced across-the-board rate adjustments at its parking facilities in the Boston area. Those parking in the MBTA spaces on North Avenue near the commuter rail station would see a 50 percent increase in the weekday rate, from $4 to $6 per day.
Sept. 4 brought the announcement that the Walton School opening would be delayed two days — to Monday, Sept. 10, while all other schools resumed classes on Thursday, Sept. 6. The delay was to allow work crews to finish up and ensure a safe school opening.
Sept. 4 also brought out 22 percent of the town’s voters to cast ballots in the State Primary Election, the first regularly scheduled election where all precincts voted at the Galvin Middle School.
In mid-September, a number of parents appeared at a School Committee meeting to voice concern and dismay over renovations completed at the Doyle School during the summer. Their complaints included the lack of windows and ventilation in a newly created classroom and the reduction of gym space as well as lack of communication with parents.
Also in mid-September, residents noticed that a mainstay of the downtown business district had closed and a sign had appeared in the front window of Stylecraft indicating that the property had been seized by the state for back taxes.
On Sept. 21, the town learned that another iconic local business, Crystal Lumber, would be closing its doors after owner Paul Gargano announced that he was “ready for retirement.” The property has been purchased by a developer who plans to construct an apartment building on the site.
On Oct. 1, the Town Council approved an article for the Nov. 5 Town Meeting requesting $331,500 for Phase 1 of an engineering and design process for the downtown corridor that was expected to result in $10 million in state-funded improvements.
On Oct. 15, the Town Council voted to set the new tax rate, once again opting to forego the full 2.5 percent increase in the tax levy allowed by law in favor of a 2.1 percent increase.
In the early evening of Oct. 23, a sense of dark foreboding filled the air as an unusually intense thunderstorm rolled through the area. At about 7 p.m. a bolt of lightning hit the base of the steeple of the First Baptist Church. Firefighters quickly arrived on scene but before they could act the blaze roared up the length of the steeple. The fire ultimately went to seven alarms. Despite the heroic efforts of more than 100 firefighters from around the region who dumped millions of gallons of water on the fire, the 1872 church was completely destroyed. Church members lost their house of worship, the Tall Spire Nursery School lost its classroom and the town lost an icon of its skyline.
During the week of Nov. 5, the town mourned the loss of another prominent local citizen after Bill Chetwynd passed away at age 75. The 1961 Wakefield High School graduate served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and had served as chairman of the Wakefield School Committee. He was a founding member of the Boys & Girls Club of Wakefield, a director of the Citizens Scholarship Foundation and a founding member and chairman of the Wakefield Human Rights Commission.
The Nov. 5 Regular Town Meeting session approved $331,500 for Phase 1 of an engineering and design process for the downtown corridor that is expected to result in $10 million worth of state-funded infrastructure improvements. Town Meeting also tackled 20 more articles that night, some of which included changes to the town’s General Bylaws as recommended by the Bylaw Review Committee.
Sixty-eight percent of the town’s voters cast ballots on Nov. 6 for governor, U.S. Senate and other elected offices in the state and federal government.
At the Nov. 8 session of Regular Town Meeting, voters engaged in a lengthy and spirited debate over Article 28. The article proposed a Charter change that would have raised the threshold of signatures required to call for a special election on an article that had passed at Town Meeting from 200 to a number equal to 5 percent of the total number of registered voters in the town. Town Meeting eventually approved a compromise proposed by Town Councilor Ed Dombroski that raised the threshold to 2.5 percent of the total number of voters.
Town Meeting voters also rejected a Charter change that would have changed the Board of Assessors from an elected to an appointed board. After voters completed action on the warrant, Town Council chairman Peter May moved to dissolve the 2018 Regular Town Meeting at 11 p.m.
On Sunday, Nov. 11, the largest crowd in recent memory turned out to honor veterans at the Veterans Day ceremonies at the Galvin Middle School.
On Nov. 13, the School Committee let it be known that they would be seeking a Town Meeting article in the spring asking for $650,000 for a new roof for the Greenwood School.
Old Man Winter paid an early visit to the region on Nov. 15 and 16, dropping nearly six inches of snow on Wakefield and delaying school openings on the 16th.
In mid-November, the Zoning Board of Appeals got its first chance to weigh in on the 190-unit 40B rental project proposed for Tarrant Lane.
The traditional Thanksgiving football contest between Wakefield and Melrose was moved to Wednesday, Nov. 21 due to expected near zero wind chills on Thanksgiving Day. The Melrose Red Raiders defeated the Warriors 34-13 at Landrigan Field for their seventh consecutive Turkey Day win.
On Nov. 27, the town Christmas tree was installed at The Rockery by DPW workers. The tree was a gift of Barbara Paris of Forrester Road.
Saturday, Dec. 1 brought the very successful 10th annual Holiday Stroll to the downtown. The event started with the traditional hat parade and featured numerous musical and dance performances at both indoor and outdoor locations.
On Sunday evening a crowd gathered at the menorah on the Common to mark the first night of Chanukah.
On Wednesday, Dec. 5, the Town Council and the School Committee meeting in joint session at the newly renovated Walton School adopted “A Proclamation of Acceptance and Openness Among All Our Citizens.”
On Saturday, Dec. 8, Santa Claus rode his sleigh into town and set up shop at his headquarters on the Common provided by the Lions Club.
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, the town got the disappointing news that the Massachusetts School Building Authority would not be considering the town’s request for state assistance in addressing the deficiencies at Wakefield Memorial High School.
In mid-December, the School Committee approved the naming of a space in the Wakefield Memorial High School Library for Meghan Burnett, the young woman who passed away just days after graduating from WMHS with the Class of 2018.
On Dec.19, a passerby discovered the body of a 52-year-old Florida man in Lake Quannapowitt. Police did not suspect foul play.
Dec. 24 brought the sad news that another towering figure in town affairs had passed on. Wakefield native Mario Simeola served his country as an Army Lieutenant in Korea. His public service to the town began when he was appointed to the Finance Committee. He served as Town Counsel from 1970 to 1995. He also served as Town Moderator for several years. He was a long time Trustee of The Savings Bank and a former member of the Board of Governors at Bear Hill Golf Club. He was inducted into the Wakefield High School Hall of Fame in 2010. Mr. Simeola was 86.
On Dec. 26, crews began the laborious process of removing the rubble of the First Baptist Church fire. The work produced one silver lining when the 19th century church bell was discovered among the ashes and timbers.