Year in Review: Westport welcomes new leaders, says goodbye to friends
WESTPORT — Ranging from a heartbreaking suicide that devastated the Staples High School community to Saugatuck residents coming together to advocate for the preservation of the 132-year-old William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge, 2016 was a unique year in town.
Here are some of the top stories from the year:
Five days before the state where they met as Yale Law students held its presidential primaries, the 42nd president raised cash for the Democratic front runner.
FBI investigates bomb scare
Traffic built up on the winding back roads near Bridgewater Associates’ Westport headquarters on an afternoon in October. Squad cars blocked surrounding streets after a reports of a bomb threat at the Glendinning Place facility on the afternoon of Oct. 12.
Police evacuated the headquarters of the world’s largest hedge fund safely, and local and state bomb squads found no evidence of an explosive device. The FBI and Westport detectives continued to investigate the threat.
Fire Department shake-ups
A study to examine the Westport Fire Department’s services has made progress in 2016, with a survey asking for community and firefighter input open for several weeks in the fall.
Town officials lamented not having results of the study in hand, but the Board of Finance still approved the purchase of a new fire truck.
New police chief named
After Westport Police Department Chief Dale Call informally expressed his intention to retire after 32 years at a Feb. 8 town meeting, the official announcement of Call’s retirement date and successor was made at police headquarters Tuesday morning.
Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe announced that he has “regretfully” accepted Call’s retirement letter effective April 1, 2016.
“Dale’s retirement announcement is bittersweet, but I am very confident that the command of the Westport Police Department will remain in capable hands,” Marpe said. “To that end, I am pleased to announce today that Deputy Chief Fotios Koskinas will be promoted to chief effective April 1. From the time he was promoted to deputy chief in 2011, Foti has been training for this position.”
Koskinas began his career as a Westport Police officer in 1996. He was promoted to sergeant in 2006 and captain in 2009. He was with the Patrol Division and Detective Bureau commander from 2009 to 2011. He was promoted to deputy chief in 2011. As deputy chief he supervised the Operations and Support Captains, and was responsible for patrol, crime investigation and EMS.
Mold found at Coleytown Middle School
Despite mold being found in several classrooms, officials have said students will remain in Coleytown Middle School.
Five Coleytown Middle School classrooms have been remediated for mold, according to Director of School Business Operations Elio Longo and 13 other classrooms, currently in use, have been flagged as possibly having mold.
Brooks Environmental Consulting, the company that completed the mold remediation project, said in its report mold was discovered in September after a teacher’s complaint regarding visible mold on the interior surface of the drywall in classroom 133. Classrooms 125, 128, 130, 131 and 133 are the five classrooms where mold was discovered, abated and cleared for occupancy.
Staples grad is officer that shot unarmed black man
The North Miami police officer identified by the department as the cop who shot an unarmed behavioral therapist in July following a 911 call graduated from Staples High School with the Class of 2004.
The head of a police union representing the former Westport resident, Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association president John Rivera, read a statement that he identified as from Aledda during a press conference.
Police get treatment to counter drug overdoses
Fit for the force
Police launched a wellness program in January, offering twice-weekly CrossFit workouts for officers on the department’s dime. The program aims to improve physical, mental and emotional wellness for officers while building team unity.
“We’ve taken a completely different approach to a wellness program,” the police chief said. “This job has a lot of stressors.”
Nine weeks in the police academy
Fisher talks of patriotic theme in his work
Leonard Everett Fisher sat down in his home studio, nestled in a woodsy Westport neighborhood, to discuss his career as a painter, children’s book author and illustrator and mapmaker during World War II.
Looking at his work over time, the 93-year-old has noticed a theme of red, white and blue weaving through his paintings. He recently began to consciously incorporate the trio of colors.
“America, that’s what it’s about. It’s about us. It’s about freedom,” he said.
Sen. Murphy passes through
Sen. Chris Murphy ate at Elvira’s Market, crossed the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge and played bags with some kids in Saugatuck when he trekked through town on his six-day, 126.5-mile walking excursion through Connecticut.
His legs throbbed in pain and were in a constant state of “true revolt” throughout the walk. It was nothing that couldn’t be remedied by an extra strength Tylenol, he said.
Through the perpetual motion of his gray Nikes pounding the pavement, grass and sand, he was consistently exposed to a number of working-class voices, from people who work full-time jobs and still can’t pay their bills — what Murphy, considers part of “the working poor.”
The trip culminated in Greenwich.
Westport’s bridges crumble
After the Kings Highway North Bridge over Willow Brook, which was deemed deficient by the state Department of Transportation, it was uncovered that the Public Works Department, headed by Steve Edwards, did not regularly inspect the bridge, along with other town bridges, and had no recollection of the last time it was inspected.
This revelation served as a microcosm of how the threat from crumbling infrastructure reaches far beyond Westport and that the bridge is just one symptom of a larger problem of deteriorating roads, bridges and rail lines that pervades every state in the nation and will cost billions of dollars and decades to fix.
News that teacher Cody Thomas, a 27-year-old English instructor and adviser to the student newspaper, Inklings, committed suicide in January hit the Staples community like a thunderclap, coming one month to the day after 14-year-old freshman Christopher Lanni had taken his life.
The deaths marked the third loss for Staples students and staff so far in the academic year that is only half over. Chris Lemone, the 49-year-old town Human Services Department’s youth outreach counselor at the high school, died last October.
Town photographer graces National Geographic
Westport-based photographer Stephen Wilkes work graced the cover of January’s National Geographic with his Day to Night project. As long as photography has existed it has been defined as a single moment in time, Wilkes’ Day to Night collection, expanded that definition to narrative storytelling and compressed time into one image.
Saugatuck Swing Bridge debate
Droves of residents and elected officials urged representatives from the state DOT to repair the Saugatuck Swing Bridge instead of replace it. The meeting was to garner the public’s reaction to the DOT’s Rehabilitation Studies Report of the 132-year old bridge, officially known as the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge. The DOT has not yet made rendered a decision on what they plan to do with the Saugatuck landmark.
Oscar’s Deli closes after 42 years
Oscar’s Delicatessen, one of the last small businesses in downtown Westport and a cornerstone of Main Street, shut down in August after 42 years of service. Owner Lee Papageorge is battling lung cancer in a New Haven hospital and was forced to close.
The closure marks the loss of a community hub — a place where Westport residents could get a quality pastrami sandwich and gather in a friendly environment.
Sunday, hundreds of loyal customers, friends and members of the community came out to show support for their beloved deli on its last day of operation. In a Facebook post following the farewell event, Oscar’s said, “Our family would like to thank all of our supportive customers. You held us up today, and we want to thank you for that.”
Monica Lewinsky speaks at WAC
Monica Lewinsky an anti-bullying advocate 20 years after she endured worldwide ridicule when her affair with President Bill Clinton was revealed, spoke at the Westport Arts Center in October.
Affordable housing Oked
A sixty-foot-high affordable housing complex proposed for 1177 Post Road East was passed by the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2016.
The four-story, 94-unit housing development, which was applied for under the state general statute 8-30g, will have 29 affordable units, or 30.8 percent of the total dwellings.
The plan for the 1.96-acre property includes an exposed parking lot and an additional concealed parking lot underneath the four-story building —152 parking spaces.
Hate comes out post-election
Derogatory remarks were the norm, some Westport teenagers took to social media to air similar thoughts.
A private Staples High School Facebook group of about 200 students, circulating offensive and defamatory memes pertaining to gender, race and religion, was called to the attention of the administration on Nov. 7.
Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said a group of concerned students alerted the administration about the group because it “violated the core beliefs of our district.”