Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Happy First Night
In spite of the blizzard, we caught some of the festivities at First Night in Northampton, Mass.*
Families gathered on the sidewalk to watch the early evening fireworks before setting out on a round of folk concerts, comedy shows, sing-alongs and performances by the local yo-yo troup.
In addition to the scheduled events, we got to try some steel drums with a local street musician. I think Middletown should have an event just like First Night, except I think we should do it in June, when it's warm!
Happy New Year!
*Northampton is a college town about one hour and a million years away from Middletown. Shops, culture, and lots of sidewalk atmosphere. It's one of our favorite places to go -- my six-year-old calls it "the other New York City."
We got some interesting responses, which were featured in the "comments" section of the original post, but we'd like to give them the attention of a full post, and provide some additional information from Middletown's department of planning and development.
From Vijay Pinch:
One question that's been bothering me lately is the current state of the DOT plan to transform Route 9 along the waterfront area (from the Route 17 - Route 9 "connector" [a.k.a. Acheson Way] to the Arrigoni Bridge). Given all the changes that have been (and presumably will be) occurring at the DOT, and the greater attention to mass transit at the state capitol, it seems likely that the DOT plan for Route 9 that evolved over the past ten years is badly out of date. Will the proposed reconstruction undermine the potential to create mass transit connections between Middletown and the major rail corridors both west (Amtrak and the proposed "Knowledge Corridor" line) and south (Shoreline East and Amtrak)? Certainly the development of mass transit options was not a high priority in that plan. Can someone provide an update on the current state of the plan? Maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board.
From an anonymous author:
Middletown should get the downtown parking plan settled and executed. The fedral funding has been in place for years and nothing has been done. So why should we expect a sudden burst of new projects when exsisting projects are stalled?
All of the traffic lights on Rt 9 should be eliminated. Energy is wasted and greenhouse gases are emitted from vehicles stuck in traffic.
As far as the state is concerned it is one big traffic jam and all roads that are over capacity need to be expanded. This will eliminate wasteful use of fossil fuels and provide efficent transportation.
From Councilman David Bauer:
I asked the Public Works Director what projects we had that could be offered for possible Federal funding and we do not seem to be on top of this. We need to be at the front of the line on this and I am not sure where we stand.
As far as plans for Rt. 9, we are right up to date by DOT standards. Our stalled "South Cove" development initiative is driving the plans for Rt. 9. I am embarrassed to admit that I do not want to get rid of the traffic lights on Rt. 9 until the DOT gives Middletown what we need for our riverfront development. The price tag for the upgrade is huge and DOT is guaranteed to walk away from this stretch of road after they make the next change - we had better insist that they get it completely right or Middletown is in deep trouble.
From Wesleying's Justin Selva:
- Implement the changes outlined in the Downtown Parking Study
- Bury Route 9 from exit 12 to the Arrigoni Bridge underground, so we can reconnect downtown to the riverfront
- Bring Amtrak service up from the coast and on into Hartford/Worcester/Boston
Wait! Don't wake me up just yet...
And most recently from Bill Warner, Director of the Department of Planning, Conservation and Development:
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Other Musical Treats from Wesleyan
For the purpose of this post, I'll concentrate on musicians who have worked closely with Professor Braxton. He came to Middletown with a reputation for making music that rejects labels (other than the ones he projects onto his pieces.) But the man is a walking encyclopedia of 20th Century music, equally at home with the blues, ragtime, classical and avant-garde. He's issued hundreds of CDs on dozens on labels, plays with the University "Pep" Band and has made a practice of recording with his students.
Now several of them are making big splashes on the international creative music scene. Cornettist-composer Taylor Ho Bynum has relased several CDs in the past 18 months that document both his small and large group music. His SpiderMonkey Strings ensemble recently played 2 powerful sets of original music (with one notable exception composed by Duke Ellington) at Firehouse 12 in New Haven. Bynum also serves as co-owner of the recording studio/performance space's record label (see below) and is now living in the Elm City. When he's not on the road, he is a Private Lessons instructor at his alma mater.
Guitarist-composer Mary Halvorson has performed in Professor Braxton's large ensemble as well as his Trio has worked with Bynum in several ensembles. She co-leads a duo with violist Jessica Pavone and is beginning to work with many different musicians. This October, Firehouse 12 Records released "Dragon's Head" featuring Halvorson with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith and it's unlike most modern guitar trio music one might hear. The blend of her striking single string phrasing, her chordal fills and challenging compositions along with the powerful rhythm section keeps one's interest throughout.
These are just 2 of the myriad musicians who have worked with Braxton. There are other fine players such as accordionists Ted Reichman and Will Holshouser, saxophonists Steve Lehman and Matt Bauder, bassist Carl Testa and percussionist Aaron Siegel. Believe me, there are many more. They may not create music that captures the ears of The GRAMMY Awards or makes one want to get up and dance but their efforts challenge the listener and makes one consider the possibilities of sound.
Mark your Shakespeare calendars
In an end-of-year greeting, ArtFarm announced it will stage The Taming of the Shrew as its annual Shakespeare in the Grove production for 2009, July 16-26 at Middlesex Community College.
Also, ArtFarm's itinerant production Woman's Will, a fast-paced stage compilation of major women's roles featuring the two-woman cast of Marcella Trowbridge and Jackie Coleman, has it's 2009 debut in at the First Church of Christ, Congregational, 1652 at 75 Main Street in Farmington on 4 pm, January 11. Ticket information is available by calling (860) 677-2601.
ArtFarm also announces a staff departure, and an opening for a part-time office manager. Veteran office manager Jean Wertz is leaving for a theatrical study excursion in Japan, and will pursue a writing career on her return. ArtFarm is seeking someone with bookeeping and office management skills to fill the part-time position.
Anyone interested in an end-of-year donation to the non-profit ArtFarm, can send donations to ArtFarm at 119 Highland Avenue , Middletown , CT 06457
Monday, December 29, 2008
A glance backwards
The year began with an old church rolling down Main Street, as what was formerly 9 Liberty Street, became a new address on Rapallo Avenue.
Shortly thereafter, the Army Corps of Engineers rolled into town announcing that they were going to build an Army Reserve Training Center in Maromas. That was not welcome news for that part of town, or to city leaders. As you know, if you're a regular reader, the Army has been back in town several times since, with a set of plans which included building on Boardman Lane (another choice which rankled neighbors and town leaders), and building on one of three sites, including Boardman Lane, Mile Lane and Cucia Park). In between, the Common Council met to provide it's input, and the mayor appointed a committee of residents to recommend sites (Cucia Park is the favored site), and the Army held a disastrous press conference.
The face of Main Street has changed over the course of the year, with O'Rourkes finally re-opening, with new dinner hours, no less. Not far away, It's Only Natural grocery left it's old location in Main Street Market (which now, unfortunately has no on-the-street tenants), for new digs in the Liberty Square development. On the other end of Main Street, a new building for Rite Aid went up, not without controversy. And while we lost some businesses on our Main drag, others opened, including Public, the Book Bower, Iguana Ranas Taqueria and Desa Vintage.
Wesleyan was at the center of news which brought attention to our town from the outside world. A "riot" of partying Wesleyan students on Fountain Avenue brought what some regarded as an unneccessary show of force by local police. On a happier note, Wesleyan's commencement speaker was none other than our current president-elect, Barack Obama.
Speaking of the election, it was an important topic all year long. The Obama effect created a huge surge of new voters who gave Democrats the advantage of very long coattails. Locally, the Middletown Eye offered the most complete, and the most rapid coverage of Voting Day, with Eye correspondents at many of the local polling places.
In early summer, it became clear that other news media was failing the citizenry, largely as a result of financial problems with their corporate parents. The Hartford Courant reduced its coverage, and the Middletown Press saw its parent company beginning to close dailies.
So, on June 16, The Middletown Eye debuted with its first post. While we haven't quite met our projected six-month goals, we have become a respected part of news in this community. In the upcoming months you'll see some changes and improvements as we work to provide more complete coverage, expand our readership, and be more of a service to our community.
One thing's for certain. When reviewing stories of a year gone by, Middletown is a great place to live. For a mid-sized town, there are an amazing assortment of cultural activities, from cutting edge rock, to Shakespeare in the Grove from Feet to the Fire to the Annual Oddfellows Youth Circus. And with the proximity of rivers and forests, one can kayak into backwaters, or scale a diminutive peak.
We hope you've enjoyed reading our reports, and encourage you to encourge your friends and neighbors to join you as Middletown Eye readers. And if you're doubly inspired, we invite you to write about anything you consider news in Middletown.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
(St)ring In The New
The Friends of the Long Hill Estate and the Long Hill Estate Authority invite everyone to the 10th Annual New Year's Day Open House from 1 - 4 p.m. Weather permitting, there will be guided nature walks and horse-drawn carriage rides while inside, tours of the building will be provided as well as a narrative history of the Wadsworth Mansion.
At 2 p.m., the Lost Acres String Band will perform old-time and contemporary fiddle tunes and more. Composed of brothers Gordon (violin) and Jon Swift (acoustic bass) along with Thom Sayer (guitar), the LASB has only been playing together a short while but is already making fans around the state.
This event is free and open to the public. For more information, call 347-1064.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Board of Education Budget
- Teaching salaries: $845,000 more, due to a 2.9% contracted increase in the salaries of 411 teaching positions (total teacher's salaries: $31M).
- Support salaries: $383,000 more, due to a 3% contracted increase in 112 clerical, custodial, maintenance, and nurses salaries (total support and paraprofessional salaries: $8M)
- Administrator salaries: $265,000 more, due to a 3% contracted increase (total admin salaries: $3M)
- Benefits: $1.3M more, due almost entirely to a 9.5% increase in health and dental insurance costs (total benefits: $13M).
- Pupil Transportation: $392,000 more, due to a 2.5% contracted increase (total transportation: $5M).
On January 13th, the Board will meet to discuss the Superintendent's recommendations (in last year's cycle, on January 17th they reduced the increase from 10.3% to 9.7%). The Mayor and the Common Council will then appropriate funds for Education from the City's budget (in last year's cycle, on June 3rd the BOE adopted a budget with a 4.9% increase).
It's expected that the meeting will offer a decision on how much (if any) of an increase the Board wants to support. This year, the word "increase" has a nuanced meaning -- it will take an increase of $6 million (8.5%) to continue the programs and staffing that our schools currently enjoy. Anything less than $6 mil, and it might still be an increase in taxes, but it will mean a decrease in service. That $6 million gap is due to the expected drop in state funding (about $2 million) and raises and cost increases that are already contracted (about $4 million).
In an ideal world, all of our citizens would be familiar with the workings of our schools. This is an important issue even if you don't have kids in the system. Education is the biggest single item (by far) in our city's budget, and you know that the quality of the schools -- and the tax rates -- affect both your property values and your quality of life.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Shake Your Booty
Just thought I'd give you a head start on the New-Year's-Resolution-To-Exercise-More thing.
Vinnie's Jump and Jive has announced their January calendar. If you've never been to Vinnie's, it's the storefront dance hall across Main Street from Amato's Toy & Hobby (in fact, Vinnie's is named for Vinnie Amato...but that's another story.)
Their slogan is "All kinds of dance. All kinds of people." Here's a quick breakdown for January:
On Sundays, you can bellydance.
On Mondays, you can do tap or jazz, or bring your toddler to morning dance class.
On Tuesdays, you can tap dance early (if you're a senior) or swing dance late (there's a swing class before the dance if you don't know how)
On Wednesdays, you can do NIA (you'll have to google that one) or Tap, and teenagers have their own ballroom class.
On Thursdays, it's breakdance or waltzing.
On Fridays, it's New York Salsa. Except you're still in Middletown.
On Saturdays, it's NIA in the morning and a rotating schedule of other stuff, like the "First Saturday of the Month" swing dance which draws dancers from surrounding states.
You don't need a partner and most classes are about $12, with discounts for students (and Tuesday night swing dances are just $5). Learn more about Vinnie's at their website: www.vinniesjumpandjive.com.
See you on the dance floor!
Thursday, December 25, 2008
People, Special People
2009 probably will be a difficult year; tax revenues in the state are dwindling meaning that the city's budget will be heavily impacted. Services will be affected; The Board of Education, the Middletown Commission on the Arts, the Board of Health and The Russell Library will all feel the pinch. Many people have pinned their hopes on the Obama administration to help right the ship of state and his administration will have much to do. One aspect of this economic meltdown and its consequences that has been encouraging is that a good number of people in our city are willing to work together.
2008 was also notable for the loss of 2 very special people. You may not have been aware of Sybil Paton but chances are very good she impacted upon your life in a positive way. She was involved in the creation of Wesleyan Potters and the Middletown Commission of the Arts while working tirelessly for other organizations. One of her long-term relationships was with The Russell Library. She served on the Board of Directors for many years, helped hire the present director Arthur Meyers and boosted the work of the Library Friends Committee. Much of what Sybil Paton did was behind the scenes, the way she liked it; bringing people together was a strong point. Once she started a project, you can be sure it got done. As most of you know, the Library is a focal point of Middletown, a gathering place, a venue for free programs that range from readings to concerts to writers groups and gallery space.
Paula Lawson came to Middletown in the late 1990s to work as the Associate Provost at Wesleyan University. Slowly but steadily, she made herself indispensable to the staff and faculty. With her husband Richard and son Jack, she joined Congregation Adath Israel and within several years began serving on the Board of Directors. In her position as Recording Secretary, Paula Lawson became a member of the Executive Board and started to make a positive impact on the lives and welfare of the congregation. Much of what she did was low-key but all of it was positive. Her death at the age of 49 was a harsh blow to her family and a huge loss to both the Wesleyan and Synagogue community.
Both Sybil Paton and Paula Lawson "got things done" with little regard or need for praise. They set a strong example for their families and for the community in which they lived and worked. The year (and, possibly, years ahead) will be difficult but our main priorities should be continuing to work together, helping each other, listening without rancor or judgment, and making sure our voices are heard.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Those were the opening words at tonight's Christmas Eve pageant at South Church.
"No Room at the Inn" says Jennifer Barbour as Joseph and Mary look for a bed in Bethlehem while Bob Englehardt narrates.
Being one of the "Twinkling Stars" in the pageant is a rite of passage for South Church children.
After the pageant, we went to no-less-than-three local parties, ending at Clover Nook and the annual gathering of local artists and friends who've been sharing holidays for more than two decades in Middletown. Lisa and Kathleen ask only that you bring something delicious to share, and anything chocolate is especially prized. I caught up with old friends around the dessert table while the next generation of Middletown creative types (not yet waist-height) ran through the crowd, stopping only to check the progress of Santa on the kitchen laptop. "He's done the Taj Mahal!" "He's headed to Ireland" "He's in Paraguay!"
If Christmas is your bag, I hope your "preparations are complete" and that you enjoy a peaceful and joyful day with your loved ones!
Only 3 more shopping hours at Amato's
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
White Out Night 2008
Each day in the
In past years, similar presentations have been made during Middletown High School Boys Basketball games and during the school day at
Between 5:30 and 6:00 the group will meet in the board room on the basement level of the Chamber of Commerce at
Come join these Middletown Youth in raising awareness of an important issue.
Participating members of the MSAPC represent the following organizations:
More Middletown (okay, Wesleyan) hipness
A few weeks ago we had a little get-together at the house, and we actually convinced a few adults to dance.
A song came on and someone said, "Who's this?"
"Santogold," I said. "She graduated from Wesleyan."
And while there were a few Wes students at the party, I was left to expound on the spate of very hip bands, some Wes grads, some still attending Wes, who are making their names in the music world.
(Floyd the barber.)
Now, I'm a 56 year old white guy, and though I know a lot about music, I'm about as hip as Floyd the barber, but just like Floyd the barber, I can spot a trend.
Yesterday, the uberhip music magazine Fader, hosted an online interview about the music scene at Wesleyan with Anna Weiner (Wesleyan 2009) who edits Aural Wes.
She talks about the bands Amazing Baby, Bear Hands, Boy Crisis, Francis and the Lights and Das Racist, who have all played shows at the college down the street. Seems there's something very special in the air, musically speaking, at Wesleyan these days.
The Fly - Bear Hands `Long Lean Queen` FlyTV In The Courtyard on MUZU.
Impress your teenagers and college kids home on break by walking around the house singing, "Jungle Fever."
All I can ask is, "Wes film students, where's the documentary?"
H/T Sheek at Wesleying.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Free Community Christmas Day Dinner
First Church of Christ, Congregational, at 190 Court Street in Middletown, will host the Free Community Christmas Day Dinner in the church’s Parish Hall from to 2 p.m. on December 25 in cooperation with St. Vincent DePaul Place and Amazing Grace Food Pantry. The dinner includes turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, beans, various condiments, coffee, tea, and many varieties of dessert. Carol singing will be also a part of this festive celebration.
In past years, the event has served approximately 300 dinners to people from all walks of life. At least 100 of the meals are delivered to homes and to the Eddy Shelter.
To order home deliveries or to volunteer to help with preparation, serving, or cleanup, please call First Church at
Most residents of Middletown are fortunate enough to live near open space, and a winter snowstorm offers a great opportunity to explore. In Sunday's snowstorm, my family strapped on snowshoes and skis and headed down a wonderfully quiet street in Westfield. We turned onto city-owned land and climbed around the base of one of the hills in our area. For awhile, we were on a Blue Trail, and it was a very peaceful, gentle climb around the side of the Mountain. Twice we flushed deer who had been nestled into small excavations in the snow.
We wandered off of the blue trail and traversed across a large hayfield at the edge of the city-owned land. Farmers typically do not mind snow shoers and skiiers on their fields, which lie dormant in the wintertime. In the far distance was a farm with its tall silo only occasionally visible through the swirling snowflakes, it was a scene of bucolic farmland in winter. A stream flows gently through the field, draining water off of the mountain. Two ducks flew off, no doubt startled to see humans in their private paradise. The scene could have been in Northern Vermont, or even in Wyoming, but it was right here, within 3 miles of downtown.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
A winter weekend to remember
When, on Friday afternoon, with snow falling at a massive rate, a peal of thunder rolled through town accompanied by a few flashes of brilliant blue lightning, it reminded me of a memorable Christmastime snowstorm when I was about 5. On a walk to midnight mass with my family, because the roads were too snowy for car travel, we experienced a thunder snowstorm.
This weekend was the same kind of snowy winter weekend of which memories are made. The snow began falling Friday, and never really ended until late Sunday afternoon. Holidays converged around the solstice today with Hanukkah beginning, and Christmas just days away.
For my family it meant an early arrival home from work, sledding on Foss Hill, hot chocolate with a neighbor, a quiet meal at a Main Street restaurant, hours of shoveling, a trip to Hartford for "A Christmas Carol," a walk through deserted downtown streets, more shoveling and sledding on Sunday, and some live Christmas tunes with Dave Downs at Brewbakers.
We spent a few hours at a Hanukkah party today where Sally Bachner prepared latkes from scratch (shredded potatoes, onions, salt, eggs, matzoh flour and hot olive oil), and we gathered for the lighting of the first menorah candles.
Then we walked to another neighbors for a post-shopping soup dinner where the parents noshed and ate, and the kids waited impatiently for desert.
Snow scenes from McCarthy Park
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Snowy Saturday on Main Street
Main Street was quiet and beautiful on Saturday morning, with snow still gently falling. Shopkeepers were shoveling their entrances in preparation for shoppers, hopeful that the blanket of snow would add to the festive lights and wreaths. Now if only we could have left the snow in the streets and travelled by sleigh ....
Did we compromise downtown zoning for a company that will be out of business next year?
Last October (2007), the Planning and Zoning Commission, at the urging of Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, voted to allow the construction of a Rite Aid on the corners of Main and Union Streets with an exception to town regulations against Drive-Thru windows on Main Street.
Here's what I wrote at the time:
After a lengthy presentation and public hearing, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to allow the construction of a new Rite Aid on the corner of Main and Union Streets. There was some public support, and support from the business community, but several individual residents stood up and argued against the drive-thru window in the rear of the building which requires changing the grade level of the back parking lot. Construction of that window then requires a tall retaining wall running nearly the entire length of Union Street. Residents also noted that allowing the exception for the drive-thru downtown opens the door for other businesses to request the same kind of accommodations.
Now Wall Street experts (and to be honest, who can trust them these days), are predicting that Rite Aid will not survive 2009. Here's what 247wallstreet.com has to say:
Rite Aid (RAD) trades at $.35 down from at 52-week high of $4.16. The pharmacy company has over 5,000 stores and Wall St. does not expect it to be profitable in the foreseeable future. The chain is a roll-up of the original company and Brooks and Eckerd stores which it acquired. With a debt load of over $6 billion, the firm is likely to falter. Competitors CVS Caremark (CVS) and Walgreen (WAG) would be happy to pick up the pieces. Rite Aid recently announced poor quarterly numbers and cut forecasts.
If that happens, what's to become of the big beautiful building on Main Street, with the ugly drive through and retaining wall?
Friday, December 19, 2008
First snow in Middletown
Lucy and I have a tradition of flaunting our downtown address during snowstorms and walking downtown to have dinner at a Main Street restaurant.
It allows us to prove to ourselves the advantage of living two blocks from Main Street, and to support a local eatery on a difficult night.
Tonight, with six to eight inches of snow already on the ground, we chose Public, for burgers and wings and were suprised when our server, Dawn, volunteered a snow show outside our window, making a snow angel to the delight of our sons.
As we left, a group of Middletown village district teens was walking down Main Street enjoying the quiet, and the beauty of a pre-holiday snowfall.
Weather Wins, Audiences Lose
The Middlesex Chamber of Commerce has also canceled Saturday's "Holiday on Main Street", a wise move considering what Main Street looks like after a major snowstorm (with the snow piled in the middle waiting to be carted away.) I'm not sure what that means for the programs at The Buttonwood Tree from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. or the book signing at Broad Street Books. Call 347-4957 for the former and 685-7323 for the latter.
Middletown at Sundance
It can't be the first time a film with a Middletown connection will be screened at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival (consider the Wesleyan mafia).
But Once More With Feeling, which spent a long day filming on Main Street in Middletown this summer has been accepted to be shown in the Spectrum series of premieres at the 2009 festival.
No word yet on the disposition of Sasquatch Assault.
Here's the press release from the Connecticut Film Commission office.
The feature film “Once More With Feeling,” with scenes shot at Quassy Amusement Park here last July, has been accepted to be shown at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in January. Sundance Institute recently announced the lineup of films screening at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in the out-of-competition sections of Premieres, Spectrum, New Frontier, and Park City at Midnight. “Once More With Feeling” will be shown in the Spectrum series. Celebrating its 25th year, the 2009 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 15-25 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Sundance, Utah. “We are very excited as this is the best possible thing that could have happened for our film,” said producer Nick Huston, of New York’s Rosetta Films. “We are currently working on putting the final touches on the film to have it ready.” The cast and crew from “Once More With Feeling” spent an entire day at the park to capture a specific comedy segment for the production, which stars Chazz Palminteri, Drea de Matteo, Linda Fiorentino and Susan Misner. Dozens of crew members arrived early in the day along with trucks loaded with equipment to transform the amusement park into a bustling movie set for the summer shoot. “The scene we filmed at Quassy Amusement Park is among the funniest, and certainly best, scenes in our film” Huston noted. Six Hours To Capture Scene The scene took place at the park’s Playport, which is a children’s play area with a ball crawl, netted walkway and tube-shaped slide. Nearly six hours were spent on capturing that particular segment at the lakeside facility. Other shots were filmed on the park’s Grand Carousel and along the walkways at the lakeside property. Quassy was selected as the location of the shoot after months of scouting and negotiations between the park’s owners and the filmmakers. “We found the people to be warm, welcoming and helpful,” Huston said of filming in Connecticut. “We would definitely do it again.” Other scenes were shot in Middletown, Conn., about 20 miles from Quassy. “We wrapped up the film in late August and after a quick trip to Seattle we began editing,” the producer added. “We finished our cut two months later and were recently accepted to premier at Sundance.” Following the premier, Huston expressed excitement about future prospects for “Once More With Feeling.” “We are not sure what will happen with the film next, but there may be a theatrical release and there will almost certainly be a DVD release.” Sundance Film Festival The Sundance Film Festival is the premier showcase for U.S. and international independent film, held each January in and around Park City, Utah. Presenting approximately 120 dramatic and documentary feature-length films in seven distinct categories and between 60 and 80 short films each year, the Sundance Film Festival has introduced American audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past two decades, including “sex lies and videotape,” “Maria Full of Grace,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Trouble the Water” and “Central Station.” Founded by actor/director Robert Redford in 1981, Sundance Institute is a not-for-profit organization that fosters the development of original storytelling in film and theatre, and presents the annual Sundance Film Festival. Internationally recognized for its artistic development programs for directors, screenwriters, producers, film composers, playwrights and theatre artists, Sundance Institute has nurtured such projects as “Angels in America,” “Spring Awakening,” “Boys Don't Cry” and “Born into Brothels.” For more information visit www.sundance.org. Film Synopsis Sixty is the new 40, and Frank Gregorio (Palminteri) and his daughter, Lana (de Matteo), are having simultaneous mid-life crises. Frank is a first-generation Italian-American who became a psychiatrist nearly 40 years ago. He’s a faithful husband to Angelina, dedicated father to Lana and Susan and a doting grandfather. Frank once dreamed of a singing career, but let is slip away, listening instead to his immigrant parents who insisted he become a doctor. Ironically, a patientintroduces him to karaoke, which not only awakens his dream, but it becomes his obsession. His passion for singing is led by a femme fatale named Lydia (Fiorentino), whom he meets at a bowling alley karaoke lounge. “One More With Feeling” is both nostalgic and contemporary. It pokes fun a modern-day situations in the lives of several generations of the Gregorio family, who are living longer, happier and fuller lives, despite themselves. About The Cast Palminteri is an Academy Award nominee with six films released over the past several years, including Ron Underwood’s “In The Mix.” He starred in “Analyze This,” with Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal; “The Perez Family,” opposite Marisa Tomei and Angelica Houston; “The Usual Suspects,” co-starring Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey and Stephen Baldwin; and “Jade,” opposite David Caruso and Linda Fiorentino. Palminteri received the Academy Award nomination for his performance in Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway.” De Matteo is best known for her roles in “Sopranos,” “Swordfish” and “Broken English.” Her performance in “Sopranos” earned her an Emmy Award in 2004 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. In 2005 she received a nomination for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. Fiorentino is best known for her roles in “Men In Black,” “Dogma,” “The Last Seduction” and “Jade.” She was nominated for Best Actress by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for her role in 1994’s “The Last Seduction.” Misner has appeared in numerous television shows and played Liz in the film version of the popular musical “Chicago.” Director of “Once More With Feeling” is Jeff Lipsky, a highly acclaimed filmmaker and 30-year veteran in the independent film industry. The screenplay is by journalist Gina O’Brien. Executive producer of the film is Ed Carroll, with Huston and Paul Jarrett serving as producers.
No school today!
Nehemiah's Michael Taylor spoke about the progress of the North End Homeownership project. At this point, Nehemiah and Broad Park are still trying to assemble the funding to build 15 home-ownership units on Ferry, Green & Rapallo (another 2 will be built by Habitat for Humanity). They have pursued a number of funding possibilities, which I have detailed ad nauseum in other EYE posts, here and here, which are contingent on receiving a construction loan from Liberty Bank. In October, Nehemiah notified us that Liberty will not loan the money for the construction unless they believe that there is still a market for these homes, so they are requiring an "after-rehab" appraisal, and a study to estimate how long it will take the homes to sell (we all know how much that ballgame has changed since this project began a few years ago, when real estate was selling like hotcakes.)
Astute readers of the EYE will notice that this is exactly where we stood a few months ago. Unfortunately, the appraisal has not begun because of some sort of internal snafu (it's not entirely clear where) that will require Nehemiah to pony up $4,000 before the appraisal will be done. Hopefully by this writing, Nehemiah has mustered up the funds to take this next step. It is, after all, an expected cost that a developer will face, and one which could be covered by the CDBG* funds that the City has already allocated for this project. But, as I believe is common with CDBG funding, the developer is expected to pay the cost up front and then get reimbursed after the paperwork is all signed, sealed and delivered.
Speaking of cash flow, David Bauer raised the question of how much it is costing Nehemiah for each month that the project delays. Although Michael will bring firmer figures to our next meeting, he estimated that it takes $5,000 to $6,000 monthly to keep this project on hold, including interest payments on the properties they bought, and utilities. He reassured the agency that these costs and his administrative time do not add to the cost of the project -- they are covered through the "Developer's Fee", which is recouped at the end of the project, when the properties are sold and the loan is paid off.
Other Redevelopment Agency members pushed for more of a timeline from Nehemiah. After the appraisal, it looks like the next hurdle is February, by which time they should learn whether they will be moved up from the waitlist for the Federal Home Loan Bank funds or whether they should make a March application for a June award from those same funds. Nehemiah has named next June as a critical juncture -- if funding is not in place by then, they will look at phasing the project, although that would create a large amount of extra paperwork with DECD.
Hopefully, they will receive good news over this winter. Also, Michiel Wackers dangled the hope that this project might be eligible in case the new administration in Washington, DC releases any "New Deal" type grants for local projects. This one is all approved and "shovel-ready" as they say.
But there's no question that the Redevelopment Agency is getting antsy as the months go by.
* CDBG is short for "Community Development Block Grant" funds, which is federal money from HUD (Housing and Urban Development) which goes to cities and towns with "urban" problems. Middletown gets a pot around a half-a-million each year, some of which goes to the operating budget of social service programs in town, and most of which helps with various bricks and mortar projects. Decisions about where to spend CDBG funds are made at the local level by the CAC (Citizen's Advisory Council) and the Common Council. Put that in your alphabet soup!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Beware suspicious salespeople
Here's what a few people have observed:
Yesterday at about 5:30-6ish my roommate was home alone when a man and
woman came to the door asking if they could clean our home for free.
They claimed to be opening a new business in the area and were giving
away 50 home cleanings and wanted to look at our wood floors and
carpets. They had a clipboard, offered no ID. My roommate of course
said "No thanks" and closed the door. Just a really frightening
experience, I was not sure who to report this too- wasn't sure if it
was legit or not- just creepy-
A young woman came to my house also yesterday, around 5:30-6:00, and
there was a guy lurking at the end of our driveway who appeared to be
with her. It just didn't feel right, especially after I told her no
and she demanded, "Why not?'" And then "Why won't you help us out?"
She practically pushed past me trying to peer into our house. She,
too, asked for the bookmark/advertisement back.
I too had a creepy visitor last night at about 8:00pm. This guy
appeared to be alone and claimed he was from Kirby (the vacuum
cleaner people) and wanted to offer me an amazing opportunity to have
three rooms of carpets cleaned. No ID, no Kirby uniform, no Kirby
truck in the background, one battered bookmark (which he probably
printed on his computer) listing their "services." I looked at it,
said no thanks, and was about to shut the door when he asked me to
give him the bookmark thing back! Apparently he had only one. Then
he went to my next-door neighbor; same thing. Both of us felt uneasy
about the guy. They could be casing the joints, for all I know. Be
Door-to-door sales are very unusual these days, and most salespeople coming to your home do so only by appointment.
Do not allow door-to-door peddlers into your house, and report any suspicious activity to the Middletown Police Department.
Apparently, our shovels are not ready yet
Obama has already indicated that they will be looking for "shovel-ready" projects which will create jobs, move the country toward alternative-energy and transportation, foster sustainability, and help repair a crumbling infrastructure.
We've already had a few suggestions, which we will highlight in a future post, but one response, from Common Council member David Bauer, suggests that Middletown may be left out in the cold.
A report published this month The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities suggests that the state already has just more than 1300 such projects reported by 94 municipalities, with project costs at just $2.6 billion. These are projects which are all ready to go, except for funding.
Unfortunately, Middletown has not listed any projects with the CT Conference of Municipalities, yet.
We urge our town leaders to consider how Middletown can take advantage of the public works dollars that will become available in the early days of the Obama administration.
Local Girl Makes Good!
Annika is a product of local schools, and not incidentally, the theatrical productions of Oddfellows Playhouse. After graduating from MHS, she went to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Annika's interest in urban planning began right here in the Village District of Middletown, where she was born. Her family bought and renovated an old downtown Fire House, and I can remember Annika as a preschooler, as she pointed out the circle on the floor where firefighters used to slide down the pole. Now she's in charge of helping Urbandale create new opportunities for business, and I'm sure she's finding creative ways to mix the transit and residential ingredients in as well.
We're so proud!
It's called "The Middler", and its the newsletter for the SMFSD. That would be the Society of Middletown First Settlers Descendants. It lists a "Newburyport, MA" address, though it's also connected with the local Godfrey Memorial Library, and their Fall 2008 edition can be read online. In spite of the generation gap, you might recognize some names. (I noticed that the editor is a "Bacon", and members of that family lived in my house for the better part of a century.)
It turns out that this far-flung group of genealogists takes an interest in current-day Middletown as well, in the areas of historic preservation and open space, and they even have an article that gives a few examples of "growth and development" issues that came up here in the late 17th century, just to show that everything old is new again.
Sadly, their upcoming triennial conference is scheduled to take place next August at the Rocky Hill Marriott instead of our own Inn at Middletown. Maybe someday we can host them here, where they can wake up to a walk down Main Street, as their ancestors undoubtedly did.
They do invite new members who happen to be related to any of the "first settlers", who are listed in the newsletter. If you aren't sure whether you qualify, you might want to use the services of the Godfrey Memorial Library out on Newfield Street, which specializes in genealogical research. Personally, I'll be looking a little deeper into that "James Wright" who was here in 1650, since my family did have some "Wright" connections in Durham, CT in those years, before the family moved West and then South, then eventually back North over the past 300 years or so. Perhaps he's a distant cousin! If so, the SMFSD will be hearing from me.
As of Thursday 8 a.m.,Connecticut residents were being warned of a possible large snowstorm, 6 - 12 inches of heavy, wet, snow scheduled to commence Friday mid-morning. The heaviest snow will, presumably, fall between 12 noon and 6 p.m., disrupting traffic, business, and arts events.
Which is too bad, especially for the Teen Repertory Company of Oddfellows Playhouse. It's the 3rd and final weekend for their production of "The Threepenny Opera" and all reports are that the actors have hit their stride and the show is a knock-out! Performances are scheduled for Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. If you were thinking of going or already have tickets, best call 347-6143 to see if the show will go on. A number of the actors and stage crew come from outside Middletown and, if the roads are as bad as the forecast says they might be, Oddfellows may have to call off Friday's production.
Guitarist Daniel Salazar is the featured performer in The Green Street Arts Center "In The Limelight: Latino Voices" series scheduled to take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Currently living in Hartford, Salazar has performed in venues around the world and his repertoire ranges from popular Latin music to classical masterpieces from Spain and Mexico. For ticket information, call 685-7871.
The final "Holiday on Main Street" celebration is scheduled for Saturday from 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Hay Rides on Main Street to "Corduroy Bear"making an 11:30 a.m.appearance at Broad Street Books is on tap. There will be food and plenty of other activities. For more information, go to www.middlesexchamber.com.
The Buttonwood Tree has 3 events planned but both are set to take place on Saturday. At 10 a.m., the Middletown Park & Recreation Department is using the North End space for its annual Ornament-making Workshop, an opportunity for children and parents to get creative with their holiday decorations. At 12 noon, there will be a book-reading & puppet show in the performance space. Robert Edward Perron's "The Adventures of Bum & Carey Bear" is the featured book and children ages 8 and older should enjoy the event. The author will be on-hand (literally and figuratively) to read and present the puppet show. Both events are free and open to the public.
At 6:30 p.m., the Central Valley Poetry Series, hosted by Colin Haskins, presents Greg Scott. This event is also free and open to the public. The Buttonwood will accept non-perishable food items for its neighbor, St. Vincent De Paul Place. For more information about these and all events at The Buttonwood Tree, go to www.buttonwood.org or call 347-4957.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Holiday Concert exposes serious problems at Moody School
Yesterday, Moody PTA President Susan Courchesne authored a devastating letter to the editor of the Middletown Press, calling for help for a desperate situation: “It’s time every one knows what the daily struggles are like. We need help…we can no longer survive on duct tape and paper clips; we can no longer “MacGyver” this situation…”
What help does Moody School need? Yes, these are tough budget times, but let us consider the facts (in case you didn’t see the letter to the editor – thanks, Susan, for these statistics):
Moody’s enrollment in July was in the 380s, consistent with the previous year’s numbers. Since July, more than 70 students have enrolled, bringing the school’s total enrollment to 463 as of today. The school’s cafeteria has a seating capacity of 222, and you already know what the gym can hold. A little math here…when there is rainy/foul weather, 222 can be in the cafeteria with 241 stuck in the gym. Since the school splits lunch and recess time into a rotational schedule (since everyone can’t eat at the same time), that means that the lunchroom is used for lunch AND indoor recess at the same time.
You think about what that scene looks like…think also about what we’re asking our children to endure, and what the school must accommodate.
Not convinced there’s a problem? How about this: the computer room was turned into a classroom, so the “new” computer room is one-half of the library. Teachers also have to use the library as a work space because the faculty lounge is partially a work room, so there isn’t space for everyone during their lunch periods. There are two classrooms in the entire school with 18 students: all others have between 19 and 26. The first grade classes have 22 children each, the second grade classes have 22 each or more, the third grade classes have 24 each or more, and fourth grade has 20 or 21 in each class. There are only two full-time special educators, one part-time speech therapist, one part-time social worker and one part-time psychologist, and they have to be “creative” with their time to meet student needs.
There are only two multi-stall student bathrooms and just three custodians. There are 12 buses to load each afternoon: school gets out at 3:20, the buses don’t finish loading until about 3:50, and thanks to the BOE’s canceling of 300+ bus stops, kids have anywhere from 5-45 minutes to ride the bus home. That’s a productive use of time and gas money for sure…(heavy sarcasm here in case you didn’t pick up on it).
The PTA can’t invite everyone to the annual spaghetti supper (remember the whole seating capacity dilemma), and the science fair will have to be limited to the upper grades just to be sure there’s room to put everything. Oh, and not everyone will be invited to attend, either, since we can’t all fit in the building at the same time.
So, at tonight’s PTA meeting, you can guess the atmosphere and topic of discussion. There were two quick items on the agenda before things got intense. First, Donna Marino, the District’s Parent Resource Coordinator, spoke about the Welcoming Environment study that will be conducted at Moody on the morning of January 15th. According to her handout, “Research has shown when schools create a welcoming environment, they become inviting places where students want to learn, school employees want to work and every citizen feels respected and valued. The schools belong to our customers, and we are dependent on public support for our ultimate success.” The action team will walk through Moody School, evaluating its Physical Environment (parking areas, classrooms, lobby, hallways, etc.), School-wide practices and policies, the Public Relations/Welcoming School Staff, and Written Materials provided. Apparently, the new Middletown High School was designed according to the results of a similar walk-thru conducted at the old building, with the suggested changes getting factored into the design of the new building.
Hmmm…be on the lookout for those results. I’m guessing, though, that we won’t be surprised by what this great new process will tell us.
Next, Principal Yolande Eldridge reported on the work of two committees. The School Family Partnership Committee wants to have created a school brochure and a welcoming packet by May, as well as hosting additional literacy nights. The STARS Committee is working on a new state initiative on school climate. Specifically, the STARS Committee is revising the old STARS program into a positive behavioral program. Mrs. Eldridge promised to send home an update at the beginning of January on what this will eventually look like.
Now for the good stuff:
According to the “history” attending the PTA meeting (parents who’ve been connected to Moody for 10+ years), the Board of Education has known for at least that amount of time that overcrowding was going to be a problem at Moody. Back then, parents who complained were apparently told that there was a building cap in this part of Middletown, so the problem would never actually happen.
(I guess someone forgot to tell P&Z about this cap, because I live in a home that was built just six years ago, and I’m not the youngest house on the block. Nor, for that matter, am I the youngest house within a mile of where I live. I can think of a whole subdivision that was built in the last 6 years, and that’s just in one direction from where I live.)
Mrs. Eldridge did announce that Superintendent Michael Frechette told her directly that the BOE has hired some kind of research group to study the district’s enrollment plan, and that the group’s #1 priority in January would be Moody’s enrollment issues. She also said that the BOE wanted to redistrict in two years.
Well, great for the BOE, but here’s a news flash: Moody is out of time for fancy studies. It is but for the grace of God that there wasn’t a serious problem on Tuesday because of the overcrowding. As one parent put it, Moody’s “been really lucky – Tuesday’s meeting was scary.” Do we have to wait for someone to get hurt for the BOE to take action? I know several good lawyers: should I put them on standby?
I’m also really annoyed that we can hire someone to study our enrollment problems, but we can’t pay for gas for our buses so kindergarteners don’t have to walk a mile to a bus stop. Wait! That’s supposed to be another issue, you say, but I say it isn’t. If the BOE wasn’t trying to send 460+ students to one school, it wouldn’t have the busing issues it does, and our children wouldn’t have to ride the bus for 30-45 minutes to go 2.3 miles to school. The price of gas would be much less relevant (and that has fallen, by the way, so do we get our bus stops back?)
So what can be done? Well, the first steps have been and are being taken. It’s about awareness. Bless their heart; the staff at Moody has done an incredible job of “staying under the radar” as one teacher put it. Yes, they have problems, but they’ve made do, and they haven’t complained. Oh, there was that issue about the mold in the mobile classrooms, but hey, that only took how many years to resolve? (again, the heavy sarcasm if you didn’t catch it)
But, the cat’s out of the bag now, and not one Middletown resident can afford to wait to do something about it. Everyone needs to know, and they need to know now. Why should you care if you don’t have kids at Moody? Here are a couple of reasons:
1. If it’s OK for Moody, it will be OK for your school too.
2. On the third day of indoor recess because of last week’s rain, the PTA President invited the Superintendent to visit to see what conditions were like. He declined because he was too busy. If he’s too busy to worry about the factors underlying a school overcrowding that lead to Tuesday’s nightmare, then what exactly are we paying him for, and how do you know he’ll care about your school’s problem when you have one? (Apparently a BOE member did show up sometime last week, but who works for whom here?)
3. If you don’t have any kids in school in Middletown, you should be even more afraid. If our BOE tolerates such conditions, and now the word’s out, what young family will pick this town to move to when they could go to Glastonbury or another community where education IS a priority? No young families means no new tax revenue and it also means falling home prices. All of that translates into less money for the town and you can fill in the rest…
What can be done? The Superintendent can cap the enrollment on Moody School, effective immediately. This doesn’t solve the overcrowding issues, but it prevents them from getting worse. Just this month, Moody received 10 new students, so the cap MUST be put into place as soon as possible. Importantly, this cap would also have to mean that even if Moody lost a student, a new one couldn’t be sent in as a replacement.
Secondly, the BOE needs to fast-forward its redistricting plans. I don’t mean think about commissioning a study, and then get around to doing the study, and then maybe thinking about the results…I mean get it done. The Board has had 10+ years to think, and now it’s time for action. Need I remind everyone that ½ the BOE is up for re-election next year? I’m thinking it doesn’t look good for the incumbents, given the bus fiasco this past fall and Moody’s issues now.
Finally, you, the taxpayer and ultimate consumer of Middletown’s school district: are you getting your money’s worth out of our school system? I don’t mean are the teachers doing a good job, I mean do you know what the BOE is doing and how our schools are faring at the most basic levels? If you don’t, then perhaps you should. Change will only come in the bright light of public scrutiny, and I challenge you to turn that light on as soon as you can.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Christmas Eve in the Stable
First Church of Christ, Congregational, in Middletown, will hold its 5 p.m. Christmas Eve service in a barn to capture the rustic atmosphere of the story of Jesus’ birth. The public is warmly invited to celebrate Christ’s Nativity at Daniels Farm at 874 Millbrook Road. Familiar carols will be sung, accompanied by guitar. The congregation will be seated on bales of hay, surrounded by horses, and under the warm glow of Christmas lights hung from the ceiling. The sacrament of Holy Communion will be shared.
To reach Daniels Farm, take Rte 9 north or south to exit 11 and go west on Randolph Road. Turn left on Millbrook Road and go 1.2 miles south. There will be a sign on the left side of the road where you will turn left. There is ample parking near the barn. A flashlight is recommended since the area outside the barn will be dark.
First Church of Christ will hold its traditional Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion service in the church sanctuary at 190 Court Street, Middletown, beginning at 10 p.m. For more information about these Christmas Eve services, call