LINCOLN – To say 2021 was a year of great change for the town of Lincoln might be an understatement.

The community elected a new town administrator, opened a redone high school, celebrated its 150th anniversary, and hosted filming of a Disney movie, all as residents and business owners adjusted as well as they could to life during a global pandemic.

It’s hard to recap the year without mentioning the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, which upended the community in March 2020 and has left everyone grappling with the impact since.

Seventy-six Lincoln residents have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and the community has experienced just under 4,000 cases.

Rollout of vaccinations brought more face-to-face interaction and a little less Zoom. While business owners celebrated the relaxation of certain restrictions, students began to return to school in-person after months of online learning, beginning with the seniors at Lincoln High School in March.

During some of the year’s darkest times, members of the Lincoln community found light, rallying to each other’s aid.

After a fire displaced 11 Manville families early New Year’s Day, a fundraiser organized by local Lincoln residents and employees brought in thousands of dollars and donated items to help the families get back on their feet.

A few months later, Lincoln firefighters Todd Brown and Carlton Dexter Jr. created the nonprofit After Fire Victims Outreach to help those displaced by fires in the Blackstone Valley area.

The community also raised more than $30,000 to restore the iconic silos at Butterfly Farm to their former glory this year. The work is finished, and there are plans to replace the flag that once waved between the twin silos.

Here are some of Lincoln’s top storylines for 2021:

• Town elects a new administrator

A trickle-up movement of local politicians made for an unexpected opening in the town administrator position this year.

Technically, it started with the election of President Joe Biden, which led to the promotion of Gov. Gina Raimondo to U.S. secretary of commerce. When Lt. Gov. Dan McKee moved up to the governor’s office, he hired longtime Lincoln Town Administrator Joseph Almond as his deputy chief of staff.

The news of Almond’s departure from the town administrator position after 15 years resulted in an unexpected election in 2021. In the interim, Police Chief Brian Sullivan served as administrator.

His second in command, Administrative Capt. Phil Gould, was one of six candidates to declare their intent to run for town administrator, including Thomas Paolino, John Picozzi, John Barr II, John Cullen and James Spooner.

Since the race was split between a Democrat, a Republican and four independent candidates, there was no primary, leaving plenty of time for the opponents to exchange barbs.

Gould came out victorious on primary day in September, earning more than 63.4 percent of the votes. His 2,712 total votes in preliminary totals exceeded the total combined votes of all five of his opponents by 1,145 votes.

While the town administrator transition was the most significant personnel change in Lincoln, it wasn’t the only one.

In the midst of rising discontent between Lincoln Water Superintendent Romeo Mendes and Lincoln’s Board of Water Commissioners, Mendes was placed on administrative leave before offering his resignation.

A month later, Town Clerk Monique Clauson quietly vacated her position in Lincoln following her December 2020 arrest on charges of misappropriating approximately $69,000 in town funds for her personal use between 2011 and 2020.

• LHS project wraps, but major issues persist

After several years of construction (and multiple headaches resulting), the Lincoln High School project technically came to an end in the summer, and officials celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the updated high school campus in October.

Months later, the LHS Building Committee is still struggling to ensure that Gilbane sees the project through to the end. There’s a list of outstanding items that have yet to be addressed, including damage to the gymnasium floor, water seepage, temperature control problems and improper draining in the automotive classroom.

The committee recently agreed to stop paying Gilbane until they address the punch list of items. In return, Gilbane threatened to walk off the job. The matter might be moving to court.

In the meantime, the committee has been trying to get a new project off the ground. Town and school officials are looking to build a physical education center at LHS, and the committee has been meeting on that proposal. The goal is a two-court (minimum) field house with associated storage and offices, to be used for physical education classes and after-school athletic programs.

Since the entire $60 million bond for LHS has not been spent, they’re looking to use the remaining $2.3 million on the physical education center, bringing the total budget for that project up to $8.3 million.

• Disney films at Chase Farm

The unusual year that was 2021 also brought witches to Lincoln.

When Disney announced its plans to reunite the star cast of the beloved 1993 film “Hocus Pocus” for a sequel, Chase Farm Park in Lincoln was selected as a filming location.

This fall, crews from the Disney company Fairy Dust Productions built a detailed set at the park, transforming an empty field into a 1600s village filled with clapboard houses, each with smoke billowing from its chimney.

In “Hocus Pocus 2,” “three young women accidentally bring the Sanderson Sisters back to present-day and must figure out how to stop the child-hungry witches from wreaking a new kind of havoc on the world.” Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are reprising their roles as the Sanderson Sisters.

The filming brought an influx of people to the park and area, including hundreds of crew, extras, and curious fans hoping to catch a glimpse of movie magic in action.

Lincoln earned more than $43,000 for agreeing to allow Disney to film. The money has been placed in a restricted fund, to be used for future improvements at the park.

The film is set to be released on Disney+ in 2022.

• Improvements made to public spaces, infrastructure

Though revenues were down, a number of improvements were made this year across town, as the focus turned to outdoor spaces during the pandemic. The following improvements were made:

Work began in January on a new soccer complex at Manville Park. The smaller of the park’s two baseball fields has been transformed into a U16 soccer field that can accommodate other sports such as field hockey and lacrosse, depending on demand.

After more than a year of construction, the improved Manville Bridge reopened to vehicular traffic in July.

The town also repaved a significant portion of Cobble Hill Road, along with parts of Angell and Whipple roads, and several crumbling streets in Saylesville.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management partnered with The Nature Conservancy to bring a new boat ramp and handicapped-accessible kayak launch to Lincoln Woods State Park.

The Nature Conservancy also opened its 25th nature preserve in Lincoln, offering three miles of freshly-blazed trails at the new Moshassuck River Preserve. The trailhead can be found near the first tee of the Fairlawn Golf Course.

There were also grassroots efforts by local volunteers to improve outdoor spaces. Lincoln’s Conservation Commission and the Lincoln Cleanup Crew organized multiple community cleanups in 2021, tackling littered areas such as Breakneck Hill Road and Walker Street. In the spring, the commission established a new pocket park at the corner of New River Road and Shady Brook Circle.

Volunteers also joined the Blackstone Valley Historical Society to restore some of the town’s long-forgotten historical cemeteries.

An effort to preserve open space in Lincoln brought opposition to several proposed developments across town. Residents advocated against projects such as the Breakneck Hollow housing development and a proposed Cumberland Farms and Arby’s on George Washington Highway. Both projects were ultimately denied by the Planning Board.

The keys to Lincoln’s oldest existing home, the Valentine Whitman Jr. House, were passed to new owners in 2021. The nonprofit Preserve Rhode Island has taken over stewardship from the town, launching a roughly $500,000 renovation project in July.

• Businesses persevere, new ones open

Despite the hardships of the pandemic, multiple new businesses opened up shop in Lincoln this year. Here are some of them:

Harry’s Burger Bar is now Oz Tacos & Tequila, owned by Chow Fun Food Group.

We Roast Coffee is now serving up specialty coffee and roasting supplies next to Lincoln Creamery.

Azorian Kitchen, offering Portuguese take-out, opened on School Street.

Another restaurateur announced plans to open School Street Tavern at the former Twisted Hop.

Lincoln Tire & Auto, a full-service auto shop opened on Smithfield Avenue this year.

Up the road, R1 Indoor Karting expanded with TimeZone, an escape room-like experience, and Dart City.

Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort, the town’s largest commercial business, kicked off construction on a 40,000-square-foot addition to its gaming floor, plus a 10,000-square-foot spa and an enhanced food hall.

As the town turns the page to 2022, Burlington is preparing to open a store at the Lincoln Mall.

Pat Ryan announced her retirement plans in September, bringing an end to the iconic Ryco’s Sewing Center after 32 years in business, but when one door closes, another opens. Blackstone Quilting Co. will take up part of the former Ryco’s Sewing Center, with plans to open in January.

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