This is one in a series of articles looking back at the top stories of 2018.
By Erica Drzewiecki
As the sun sets on the year 2018, a new era is dawning on Newington’s horizon. A few long-lived town leaders and landmarks reached the end of their ropes over the last twelve months, ushering in change.
January 2018 began on the heels of a disaster, after a diesel fuel breach was discovered Dec. 27, 2017 at the school bus garage on Garfield Street. It was determined that 15,000 gallons of fuel had leaked from a broken pipe underground, contaminating the building and the site. Cleanup costs exceeded $2 million, leaving the Board of Education in a critical bind. State Rep. Tony Guerrera led a charge to the State Capitol, securing a $1.5 million grant to assist the town.
The bus garage has since been demolished, the site cleaned up. An investigation revealed that school staff had not completed routine inspections or maintenance of the fuel tank system, ultimately leading to the huge, costly mess. Fingers pointed to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bill Collins, blame that would come to a head later on in the year.
Meanwhile, Newington youth rose to the spotlight after the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida school shooting that left 17 dead. NHS students held a memorial for the victims and joined almost 3,000 other high schools across America in hosting a walkout. It was a milestone effort for local teens. They worked closely with school faculty, who gave them the freedom to express their feelings about the tragedy and raise awareness about school violence and bullying. Letters were written to local legislators, urging them to reconsider laws governing mental health and guns.
Dr. Collins announced his resignation the last week of June, ending an 18-year career with Newington Public Schools. The BOE put him on paid leave with unused sick time until the start of the new school year.
“I thought it was time to turn the reins over to somebody else,” Collins told the Town Crier in July.
The district recently announced it had started the hiring process for a new school chief, with plans to gather input from residents at several soon-to-be-scheduled workshops. The anticipated start date for the new hire is July 1, 2019.
Newington’s legislative contingent went through a shakeup as well, as several longtime leaders bid goodbye to their seats. Both Guerrera and Sen. Paul Doyle will not be at the State Capitol when the new session begins Jan. 9. Newcomer Gary Turco is excited to begin his first term as state Rep. of the 27th Assembly District, joining fellow Democrats Kerry Szeps-Wood, Rep.-elect of the 29th District; incumbent state Rep. Rick Lopes, of the 24th District; and state Sen.-elect Matt Lesser, of the 9th District.
As the 11th month came to an end, Newington Town Manager Tanya Lane shared a vision.
The Department of Transportation is eyeing Cedar Street for a new Hartford Line train station, Lane told elected officials, and she can imagine something else there, too. “Development that can be transformative – building a Newington village district that becomes a destination for everyone in the greater Newington area,” Lane said, describing shops, restaurants, housing, entertainment and a brewery beside the proposed train station.
The Town Council is still mulling over the idea, but may soon ask zoning officials to begin by creating a transit village development zone.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.