Elections, public projects dominated the year in Scituate

Elections, public projects dominated the year in Scituate

First-grader Ava Clark reacts as her “Alka Rocket” goes flying high in the air at Old County Road School’s Science Festival for Smithfield Families at the school on March 27. The festival was designed to encourage families to engage in science experiences with fun hands-on projects. (Breeze photo by Charles Lawrence)

SCITUATE – With two special elections, a primary, and the general election, 2018 was a year for Scituate voices to be heard.

The January police department bond issues passed when sent to the ballot, with another special election following in June for the home rule charter. Then came the fall elections, which saw a huge upheaval in local government.

Here are our top stories for 2018, led by, you guessed it, elections:

Election results

Two years after defeating a 100-year hold of the Republican majority on the Town Council, the self-called Independent Men were not re-elected for a second term in office in the 2018 general election.

Instead, all seven endorsed Republican candidates will take a seat on the council following the Jan. 8 inauguration.

Republican Town Committee Chairman David Campbell said the win was due to the hard work and character of the candidates.

The Independent Men have indicated they’ll be back, saying their time in office was very successful.

Endorsed Republicans beat out three newcomers, Tammy Jean Pelletier, Stacy Vezina-Wortman, and Brian Venditelli, all long-time supporters of the Independent Men.

In the race for School Committee, incumbent Coleen Pendergast was re-elected to another four-year term, while Brian LaPlante and June Guglielmi decided against running for re-election and will serve out the remainder of the terms this year. Pendergast and Town Clerk Margaret “Peggy” Long were the only Democrats to beat Republican-endorsed candidates.

Republicans Erika McCormick and Mary Manning-Morse were elected to serve their first terms on the School Committee as well.

On the state level, House District 41 Rep. Robert Quattrocchi was re-elected, winning 64 percent of the vote. Three candidates competed for the District 21 Senate spot, and Gordon Rogers, Republican, beat opponents James Safford and Dr. Michael Fine for the seat.

Rogers began his campaign days after former Sen. Nicholas Kettle announced his resignation in February.

The Hope Mill

Long a controversial topic among the people of Hope are the plans to redevelop the Hope Mill. On Oct. 17, the Plan Commission voted 4-1 to give master plan approval to Paramount Development’s design for 175 residential units, including 70 low-to-moderate income units.

Renovations focus on the mill’s historic character, including converting the two main and saw-tooth buildings into apartments, and construction of two new four-story residential buildings in the back. Paramount originally proposed two five-story buildings, but conceded one floor each.

Concerned citizens said the development is too large for the 38-acre peninsula, and said they fear the on-site sewer system is a danger to the wetlands and Pawtuxet River.

The plan passed with multiple stipulations, including a revised traffic plan, the replacement of the mill cupola, and that the development provides it’s own trash hauling, snow plowing, roadway maintenance or similar services.

Next, Paramount will present a preliminary plan subject to public comment and commission vetting before going on to a final plan.

Days following the Planning Commission’s approval, the Town Council passed a resolution opposing the decision, calling the development “problematic” and hiring legal counsel to explore “any and all legal actions necessary” to ensure the interests of the town and its people regarding the Hope Mill project.

Developments such as Hope Mill and the Chopmist Hill Estates were approved due to the Low and Moderate Housing Act, requiring every municipality in the state to have at least 10 percent of such housing stock. Scituate has less than one percent, but residents argue the reservoir prevents development on much of the land.

Outgoing Council President John Mahoney’s Chopmist Hill Estates, a 6.7-acre development of 18 residential units in six buildings, including five LMI units, was approved for a preliminary plan on Nov. 8 despite public concern over the development affecting well water production.

Police station building

On Jan. 23, the people of Scituate approved a $1.7 million bond to build a new 7,500-square-foot police station on Chopmist Hill Road, replacing the condemned police station at 116 Main St.

The old police station, built in 1847, was condemned last November, but saved from demolition due to its place on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Hope Village Historic District. Hope-Jackson Fire Company Chief John Robinson plans to turn the old station back into a community house.

Police Chief Donald Delaere said a new station is long overdue, and said he was excited the department would get a station after 40 years of asking.

He and Scituate officers work out of trailers without cell blocks at the Potterville Fire Department, costing the town thousands of dollars in rental fees each month.

The town voted 1,269-917 to build the station, which will be hooked up to a new sewer system tied into the senior center.

Construction on the station began on June 15, and Town Council President John Mahoney said it was to be “functioning by the end of the year.”

A police station building committee is running construction on the station rather than paying for a project manager. The station remains about halfway done, with a crack in the foundation running diagonally across the floor.

Home rule charter

On a rainy day in June, 1,414 people came out to vote to approve creating a Home Rule Charter Commission to draft the town a charter.

The campaign, run by Ruth Strach and Mary Manning-Morse, asked people to help create a charter where the law is backed by the town instead of the state, as with a legislative charter.

Strach said she was motivated by democratic ideals, as well as the need to define roles of town officials. She said she intended to unite the community.

Scituate remains the only town in the state that does not have a charter. To create the governing document, the Town Council appointed a Charter Commission in June 2017, led by former Rep. Rep. Michael Marcello. He says the legislative charter push is dead since the forming of the Home Rule Charter Commission. A legislative charter was completed weeks before the home rule charter vote, with members from the legislative charter campaigning to be voted onto the Home Rule Charter Commission.

The Home Rule Charter Commission has a year to draft a document, relying on the legislative charter and those from other towns, to be voted on by Scituate residents.

Fire communication upgrades

Fire Chief John Robinson of the Hope Jackson Fire Company said communication “dead zones” that have long plagued the department will be fixed by the end of December. Due to multiple issues, messages often do not make it over Scituate’s hills, the size of the town and its diverse geography leading to communication issues and dead zones and a safety hazard for all four fire departments in Scituate, according to the chief.

The Town Council approved spending $118,310 for 14 mobile vehicle repeaters, as well as updated digital radio box receivers. Each truck has an onboard repeater capable of picking up portable radio signals at the scene and boosting the signal.

Senior center rehabbed; membership climbs

The Scituate Senior Center, at 1315 Chopmist Hill Road, went from a building with a sagging exterior and rotting paneling to a beautiful, thriving community center this year.

According to Director Dina Elhelw, membership at the center has doubled twice since renovations, and continues to grow. New programs for people of all ages are being added to established programming seniors have enjoyed for years.

“It’s not just for 90-year-olds who want to play bingo. We’re so much more than that and we want to get people in the doors to show them,” Elhelw said.

Recently renamed Generations at Chopmist Hill, the center is expanding to serve all Scituate residents young and old.

Community programs, such as yoga, women’s night out at the shooting range, and “adopt a grandparent” have been immensely successful, according to Elhelw.

New leadership in school

Supt. Carol Blanchette joined Scituate in August, bringing years of experience working with the Rhode Island Department of Education on curriculum.

Blanchette replaced Lawrence Filippelli in the top role. Filippelli left the district after 19 years in Scituate schools for the same position in Lincoln. Assistant Supt. Michael Sollitto retired from the district days after Filippelli, moving to Burrillville for a superintendent position.

Because of her experience, Blanchette decided against hiring an assistant superintendent in favor of adding a new director of finance and administration. The School Committee appointed Matt Bobola to the position on Aug. 7, the same night Kaitlin Soccio was selected as the new principal of North Scituate Elementary School.

Blanchette said Bobola will focus on school spending to find areas where funds can be cut and what areas need attention. His role will be to maximize the impact of taxpayer dollars, she said.

Blanchette also added a new director of technology, Thomas Rambacher, to ensure Scituate schools are functioning at their best.

Colleen Hart started the new school year as the joint middle and high school assistant principal.

School upgrades

Scituate schools saw improvements this year, including new CTE programs and construction of a turf field at Caito field.

Thanks to School Resource Officer Richard Parenti, the “High-Five Friday,” program, where high school athletes and students visit elementary schools to hand out high-fives on their way into school, was also a major hit in 2018.

Construction on Caito field began in September, costing $2.9 million using funds from the $4.9 million school improvement bond approved a year ago. Renovations include resurfacing the black asphalt track with a rubberized surface, providing a regulation track to the school

According to SHS Athletic Director Sal Gelsomino, the football and lacrosse teams have not played a home game in more than three years, instead playing at North Smithfield High School and Smithfield High.

Completion of the field should be done by spring.

School and field repairs are part of the $7.2 million five-year capital improvements plan that will use an additional $2.3 million in capital reserve funds to upgrade the schools, of which 79 percent of the upgrades are eligible for 35 percent reimbursement from RIDE. All of the schools will see some upgrades over the coming months.

Frozen funds

Two town agencies saw their funds frozen by the Town Council when spending was called into question.

Funds paid to the Scituate Prevention Partnership, run by Erika McCormick, were frozen in late September after Scituate Housing Authority member Richard Finnegan called her spending and vacation time into question.

The issue arose when he found McCormick, program manager and coordinator for the SPP and a Republican who eventually won a School Committee seat, was paid at least 54.5 hours of vacation time from July 2016 to January 2018. No other part-time town employee is paid vacation time.

McCormick said her spending was careful, and she made sure each expense was allowable under the grant.

Though McCormick offered to pay the money back, the funds remain frozen. At a Nov. 19 council meeting, Town Treasurer Ted Przybyla said he paid vendors, adding that he will not jeopardize grant money.

“You can hold me accountable. As far as I’m concerned, the vendors provided the services. I released the checks,” he said.

Funds for the Scituate Land Trust and Conservation Commission were frozen following a misunderstanding regarding member term limits and appointments.

Linda Amore, of Scituate, makes her way through the buffet line at the Proper Tea, hosted by the North Scituate Public Library on Feb. 4. A variety of teas and treats were served along with a raffle. The event was held at the North Scituate Community House. (Breeze photo by Bill Murphy)