Monday, August 31, 2009

School buses ready to roll

With the start of school only 2 days away, the schools and the buses are getting ready for a new year. School bus routes have been set, based on criteria determined by the Board of Education. I spoke with Michael Milardo, Transportation Manager for the Middletown Public Schools, about bus transportation in the coming year.

Milardo said that the only change to the Board's policy this year is that what is considered the "Walking Range" for High School students has been reduced from 2.0 miles to 1.5 miles. The walking range for middle school remains at 1.5 miles, and the walking range for elementary school remains 1.0 miles. This reduction in walking range makes Middletown more generous in busing than the state-wide average.

Some streets are considered too dangerous for students to walk on, and thus each house will have its own bus stop. Milardo said that he and the District business manager make the initial determination of which streets are too dangerous for children to walk on. Parents can appeal their decision to the Transportation subcommittee of the Board of Education, and then to the State if they feel that the Board is not following their own guidelines.

In the middle of August, all households with children taking the bus to school should have received in the mail a postcard with school bus information. Households within walking distance, and households whose children were not registered with a school at that time, would not have received a postcard. Milardo said that if parents have any questions about their child's bus, they should phone his office (638-1417). The Board of Education has a link to an interactive map for bus information here (this didn't work for me, I think because my connection was too slow).

Milardo emphasized that all children should be at their bus stop 10 minutes prior to their scheduled pickup time, according to the DATTCO contract, buses can operate as much as 10 minutes early or 10 minutes late.

Two major construction projects are likely to impact school bus arrival times this fall. The first is the Buckeye Pipeline project, which is putting a fuel pipe from the Miller and Bridge district, down DeKoven Drive and River Road, and out Bow Lane. Milardo said all buses going along these streets may experience delays. The other is the repaving of Washington Street, Milardo said, "that debacle will be a mess." This project will cause extensive delays in the morning along Washington Street, and on cross streets such as Mill and Boston.

The following safety suggestions relevant to getting on and off the bus are culled from an email sent by Edward Badamo, Fire Chief, South Fire District.

Walking to the Bus Stop
  • Always walk on the sidewalk to the bus stop, never run. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the left facing traffic.
  • Go to the bus stop about ten minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. While at the bus stop, wait quietly in a safe place well away from the road. Do not run and play while waiting.
Getting On and Off the Bus
  • Enter the bus in line with younger students in front. Hold the handrail while going up and down the stairs
  • When entering the bus, go directly to a seat. Remain seated and face forward during the entire ride.
Exiting the Bus
  • If you leave something on the bus, never return to the bus to get it. The driver may not see you come back and she may begin moving the bus. Make sure that drawstrings and other loose objects are secure before getting off the bus so that the do not get caught on the handrail or the door.
  • Respect the "Danger Zone" which surrounds all sides of the bus. The "Danger Zone" is ten feet wide on all sides of the bus.
  • Always remain 10 steps away from the bus to be out of the "Danger Zone" and where the driver can see you.
  • Always cross the street in from of the bus. Never go behind the bus. If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver before you attempt to pick it up, so they will know where you are.

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 7

Xavier High School
Cross Country Alumni Meet


The last Monday of August marks an annual event held at Xavier High School. At 6pm, the Xavier High School Cross Country team will run a 3 mile race against many of the alumni of the program. It is a very competitive team event, as many of the alumni are still very athletic, very competitive and very fast and traditionally give the team a good, close race. Most importantly, the race maintains a wonderful sense of tradition for the program.

Being that cross country is not a highly visible sport, many don't realize how special the Xavier High School program has been. Xavier High School has represented Middletown on the state and national cross country scene over the past 40 years, winning 10 state open championships, producing multiple individual champions and All-American runners and a member of the USA National Team in the marathon. The man responsible for these championships, retired Coach Robert Michalski, was inducted into the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame last February.

The Xavier Cross Country course is special in that it is one of the few high school race courses left that takes place completely on grass and trails. The race starts in the practice fields behind Xavier, winds through the campus and athletic fields and the trails. The best spot to watch from is the track, which will allow you to see almost all of the first mile of the race, and the final 500 meters. The finish line is along the outfield fence of the baseball field.

Food Not Bombs Still Serving Despite Controversy

For most of us, the last true weekend of summer means thoughts of returning to school, or switching gears for the rigors of work.

For the hungry, every day, weekend or not, means considering where the next meal comes from.

I stopped on the corner of Main and Liberty Streets Sunday to see if Food Not Bombs was delivering its regular shared meal, despite summons, court appearances and a state Board of Health hearing.

A few minutes late, two cars filled with Food Not Bomb members, mostly Wesleyan students, arrived with coffee, fruit, vegetables fresh from the garden and dessert. A few minutes later, a red pick-up truck delivered sandwiches.

Wesleyan student Abe Bobman, who received a summons earlier in the year for his work with the group, and just back from a summer working on an organic farm in Massachusetts, was there with peppers, eggplant and carrots from the farm.

(Wesleyan sophmore, Alex Ketchum, resident of the new "Food House" on campus.)

Elize Perlmutter, a Wesleyan sophmore who spent the summer in Middletown working at the Long Lane Farm under a Mellon grant, called the weekly meal "a testament to abundance" in this country.

Another sophomore, Alex Ketchum, who worked at a farm in Ireland all summer, enjoyed a bowl of vegetable stew as she told me about Wesleyan's commitment to food policy, including the establishment of a new residence based around the issues of food. The residence at 344 Washington Street, will host 11 students who are concerned about issues of food, food politics, nutrition and food distribution.

"It will be a center for students who are interested in the politics of food," Ketchum said. "But we really want to connect with the community on issues of health, nutrition and hunger."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 6

Miller’s Pond

Needing a day of R&R, Phileas Fogg took some local recommendations to journey just over the border from Middletown to visit Miller’s Pond. To get there From Route 9: Take Exit 11. Follow 155 West. Turn left onto Millbrook Road. Bear left onto Foothills Road. Parking area is on the right.

A quiet place, with no boat launch, this is a wonderful quiet location for swimming, picnicking, hiking and fishing. Phileas is sure to enjoy some napping. Millers Pond is unique in that its principal source of water comes from large springs which create a body of unpolluted water excellent for small mouth bass or trout. The original dam at the pond was erected some time before 1704.

From 1979: Bank may delay plans to demolish buildings

The following article appeared in The Hartford Courant 30 years ago today. It was written by Gary Weiss.

A local bank's board of directors will decide Sept. 13 if it will again delay its long-postponed plans to demolish the two 18th century buildings to expand its parking lot.

The College Street buildings, which were the home and shop operated by the Danforth family, Revolutionary War-era pewter craftsmen, stand on a site acquired for parking by the Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank late in 1977.
Bank officials were dissuaded from demolishing the buildings by preservationists and city officials, who were looking to the now-abandoned proposal to move the Danforth buildings to the nearby urban renewal area. The bank's executive vice president, Arthur Webster, said the bank may wish not to demolish the two buildings -- if it can meet parking requirements some other way.

Webster referred to a city plan to build a four-deck, 400-car parking garage on land adjacent to the bank and to the Danforth buildings.

John R. Reynolds, a founder of the Greater Middletown Preservation Trust, said he believed the bank would only gain about 10 parking spaces if it decided to demolish the buildings.

A bid by the trust to move the buildings to the nearby Theater Block historic preservation project was rejected recently by the Redevelopment Agency, which said the proposal would conflict with the plans of the prime developer of the block, a group of old buildings at Main and College Streets nearby.

Reynolds said the ideal solution would be for the buildings to be refurbished where they now stand. The buildings have great historical significance for the city because of the fame of the Danforths, who were the leading pewter craftsmen of that era, and because there are few 18th century buildings still standing.

The fate of the buildings is being discussed by a sub-committee of the bank's board of directors. Thefull board will meet Sept. 13 to decide the issue.

Reynolds, who has moved and restored similar old buildings in recent years, said that retaining the buildings would fit into the plans drawn up by the garage project architect, Seb Passanesi.

At the time of the Revolutionary War, Middletown rivaled Philadelphia and Boston in its pewter production, almost exclusively because of the Danforth family (photo at right is of a piece in the Yale museum, probably made in Middletown). The Danforth house and shop was dismantled in 1979 to make way for what became known as the Middlesex Mutual Assurance Company garage. The house was reassembled five years later, at the corner of Pleasant and South Main Street (photo from Connecticut Museum Quest). The reconstruction of the house cost $100,000, paid for by the City. In 1995 the city sold the building for $10 to Eric Thomas and Juan Sosa, for use as professional offices.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Macdonough staff are all wet

Middletown schools don't open until next Wednesday, but Macdonough School on Spring Street was packed with families on Saturday for the Back to School Bash. The Faith Christian and Catalyst Churches cooperate to put on a fun-filled family party for all the new and returning students at Macdonough, with a bouncy tent, popcorn, entertainment and free backpacks for all the kids.

Most activities were held inside due to the drizzle, but one activity kept a large crowd outdoors in spite of the weather. Students and parents lined up to try their hand at the dunk tank, and they had great success in keeping their teachers and their principal more soaked than the crowd.

Romeo and Juliet

Juliet and Romeo will be falling in love indoors this evening in Portland, not on the town green.

The rain venue is: Brownstone Intermediate School, 314 Main Street, Portland.

For more information about the performance and the theatre company, click here.

Block Island Daycation

Tuesday, August 25, Dave (below) Beth, and Tim left home at 6:45 to catch the 9am High Speed Ferry to Block Island, 13 miles off shore of Rhode Island. We arrived on Island by 9:30 with our bikes (plenty of places to rent bikes as well), water bottles, helmets, swim suits, a camera and our light wind rain/jackets just in case, and a list of plenty of things to do for a day.

My brother Dave was visiting from CA, and had never been on the Block. Our first choice day trip to NYC, was nixed after we found tickets were sold out to the Statue of the Liberty museum and the stair climb to her crown . My thought was, it was just as well, as the heat in NYC would have been unbearable on Tuesday; so instead we welcomed a bright sunny, almost clear sky, reflecting the beautiful colors and hues of the Island. In the morning we rented kayaks

From Pond and Beyond kayak tours, and paddled out of New Harbor staying in the confines of the 1700 acre Great Salt Pond. During our paddle adventure we learned that the Great Salt Pond, used to be a daily dumping ground for the more than 1000 boats that can fill the harbor on any given day in the summer. Now thanks to the Federal Clean Water Act in 1972, combined with Rhode Island designating the Great Salt Pond as a "No Discharge" zone in 1993, the water is cleaner. For a pump-out, you contact one of the marinas or the town-operated floating pump-out station. Three years later shell-fish beds which had been closed since 1983 where reopened for harvesting. We paddled by one of the two small oyster farms on Island that provide mostly for the town’s restaurant business. The photo shows the terns hanging out in the bed. We where impressed to learn that more than 40% of the Island is preserved as open space, and that there is a strict moratorium on building any new docks or piers on the Islands waters. The later is currently being tested in the courts.

I was pushing to paddle ocean side, but that was nixed in favor of more time to ride, and a chance to see other parts of the Island and gain some beach time. Maybe I’ll get back later this fall to join the ConnYak paddlers on their 18 mile paddle around Block Island.

So we covered the distance of the Island on our bikes, stopping for lunch and some views of the ocean. Our last stop on the ride was the beach at Mohegan Bluffs.

First we rested up for the climb back up the 200 foot cliff side at Mohegan Bluffs.

To end our day we dined in town (NewShoreham), paying the bill in time to make the 7:45 ferry back to Point Judith, and what seemed like a short drive home to Middletown while I slept. We learned to late that the state beach has shower facilities we could have taken advantage of after working up a pretty good sweat during the day. Turns out there was no jacket needed on Island, even with an ocean breeze, it was still hot humid and reaching into the high 80’s. It was a great get-away for the day and we left with plenty more to see and do next time we get back to Block Island.

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 5

Vecchitto Italian Ice

323 deKoven Drive

Now that the summer is finally hot and dry, stop by Vecchitto Italian Ice for a truly cool treat. A true family business, Vecchitto’s has been making what some claim are the best Italian ices around since the 1930s. Our world-traveler Phileas Fogg will put that claim to the test the only way he can – by trying each and ever flavor they serve. Which is your favorite?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lyman Orchard to open Sunflower Maze Tomorrow

Lyman Orchards is scheduled to open its Sunflower Maze, tomorrow, August 29th. Of course, Tropical Storm (or possibly Hurricane) Danny may have something to say about that, but once the bad weather blows through, the maze should be open for business. Once again, $1 of every admission ticket will go to the pediatric cancer unit of Connecticut Children's Medical Center (CCMC) in Hartford. To date, Lyman Orchards reports on its website that it has donated more than $17,000 to CCMC since opening its first Sunflower Maze two years ago. This year's maze is in the shape of a guitar.

Tickets are $9 for ages 13 and up, and $5 for ages 4-12. Click here for the Lyman Orchards Sunflower Maze website (including a $1 off admission coupon). Lyman Orchards is located at the junction of Routes 147 & 157 in Middlefield, CT. Hours for Sept/Oct are 9am-7pm, 7 days a week.

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 4

North End Farmer's Market

Main Street

My Friends,

I write you for the first time. Located in the heart of this urban metropolis, I have discovered vendors peddling local produce and legumes. I quickly purchased several fresh fruits, for on a journey such as this, one knows not how long until I come by fresh foods again. With the traditional New England harvest just around the corner, I know not how long these fresh local merchants will make the journey to the city streets. Of all things, I also discovered the most wonderful pies! You must join me today.

P.S. - Yesterday at the Chamber of Commerce, I encountered the most interesting creature. A large dog, trained to walk on two legs. Simply amazing! He was the very first to accept a photograph with me.

-Phileas Fogg

Eye on the Air August 28

Eye on the Air, Friday 1-2 PM, WESU 881.FM (

Guest: Planning and Zoning Commissioner Catherine Johnson talking about smart growth planning. This show will be truncated due to vacation.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Washington Street Delays Expected

From the State DOT

Revised Operations Plan for Route 66 Intersection and Drainage

The Department of Transportation announced today that beginning Monday, August 24, 2009, operations will be altered for work associated with the reconstruction of Route 66 (Washington Street) between the streets of Bernie O’Rourke Drive and Plaza Drive in the city of Middletown [this is between the Walgreens and the Foodmart]. Route 66, (Washington Street), may be reduced to one lane in each direction between the hours of 6:00 am and 2:30 pm. This change in operations is to allow ample time for construction operations while maintaining existing roadway conditions for the evening rush hour.

Work on Route 66 will continue through the 2009 -2010 construction seasons and extend into the Spring of 2011.

The anticipated completion date for the reconstruction of Route 66 is April 25, 2011. This $4,005,989 project was awarded on May 26, 2009 to Simscroft – Echo Farms, Inc. of Simsbury, CT.

Motorists are urged to obey the posted speed limit and precede with caution through this and all other construction work zones. Schedules may change due to weather conditions.


"The stars were aligned," was what one of the commissioners said to me at the end of the meeting, referring to the set of circumstances that allowed the Planning and Zoning Commission to elect Richard Pelletier as chair, and Barbara Plum as vice-chair. The Commission also approved a revision of their bylaws. All of this was in addition to discussing and voting on three applications which were the subject of public hearings.

No more acting as chair
After 9 months of failed elections, the commission elected Richard Pelletier as its chair. This puts an end to the twice monthly struggles which started last November with wrangling over the voting process itself, and then continued when no candidate was able to garner the required super-majority of 5 votes.

For the past few months, Deb Kleckowski and Pelletier have been nominated for chair. Pelletier has always gotten all of the votes of the Democrats and Kleckowski has always gotten all of the votes of the Republicans. It seemed that the only path out of this impasse was for one party to miss a meeting.

This is what finally happened last night; all of the Democrats attended, but three Republicans were absent. Kleckowski herself was not present, Ron Borelli came for a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting but had to leave, according to Catherine Johnson, "because he is going away in the morning." Their absence led to the seating of two alternates, and since Republican alternate Nicholas Fazzino also was absent, the seating of Quentin Phipps and Carl Bolz gave the Democrats 5 votes.

Les Adams gamely tried to nominate fellow Republican Johnson, but she demurred with a guffaw. Pelletier received 6 votes, with only Johnson voting against him. Having been elected chair, Pelletier then opened nominations for vice-chair. Plum and Kleckowski were nominated, and Plum won by a vote of 5 to 2.

All of the Democrats, as well as Adams, seemed happily relieved that the election of officers had finally been concluded. Pelletier will be chair until the first P&Z meeting after the November municipal elections, when the commission will again elect officers.

By-Laws distributed, read, discussed, and passed
The By-Laws have also been the subject of many commission meetings, with discussions of the process of By-Laws revision beginning in earnest in March. In April they voted to establish a By-Laws committee, and in June they began to vote on the simplest of the bylaws. In July commissioners realized that they were not all working from the same draft By-Laws, and in August they unexpectedly canceled a meeting.

When the By-Laws discussion began at last night's meeting, it seemed briefly that commissioners might stay true to form. Adams appeared to not have the relevant copy of the By-Laws revisions, and Pelletier called a 5-minute recess to allow Planning Director Warner to make another copy and to put everybody on the same page for the discussion.

Vice-chair Plum, as chair of the By-Laws sub-committee, approached the discussion having put in a lot of thought about the By-Laws in advance. Johnson, Phipps, Bolz and Adams also contributed actively to a thoughtful discussion. Chairman Pelletier seemed to be reading the proposed By-Laws for the first time, expressing repeated confusion over the process by which the commission was proceeding. Secretary Fortuna was laconic, not offering an opinion about any of the suggested changes.

The change in the By-Laws that generated the most discussion was (not surprisingly) a possible change in the procedures for electing officers. Two additions to current procedures were considered for a situation in which no nominated candidate receives the necessary 5 votes to be elected. One was to select officers by raffling a name out of a box. In the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, a member of the public, Arline Rich, spoke out forcibly against this proposal, saying that this option "is just ridiculous, and, if approved, the city would be disgraced nationwide." The other option the commissioners considered was to select officers on the basis of which commissioner got the most popular votes in the most recent election.

In the end, the commissioners rejected both options, heeding the advice of the city attorney, who advised them that any means of electing an officer other than by their own vote would likely be illegal. Thus, the method of election will remain unchanged, although the language clarifications should prevent a recurrence of the kind of wrangling over process that took place last winter. Other changes to the By-Laws provide for better definition for the conduct of public hearings, for the expectations of both regular and alternate members, and for the standards of ethical conduct.

One of the most remarkable things to long term observers of Planning and Zoning meetings was that the entire By-Laws were read and approved in little over an hour. The dialogue was respectful, the lines of disagreement were not large and they cut across party lines, and there was substantive give and take. Almost every change in the By-Laws was approved unanimously.

Adaptive Reuse I: NO in the Village District
Two applications for adaptive reuse were considered prior to the election of officers and voting on the By-Laws.

The owner of a house on College Street applied to the commission to convert two rooms into professional offices. The house is within the Downtown Village District, which was established to encourage residential uses of buildings in the areas around Main Street. David Kennedy told the commissioners that he needed to improve the cash flow for the house, to generate income necessary for the maintenance and improvement of the house. He pointed out that there were many offices on College Street, most of them owned by Wesleyan.

Jen Alexander, who played a major role in the establishment of the Village District, spoke of how important it is for the revitalization of downtown that the area's houses be kept in residential use, "While office conversion maintains the shell [of the building], it does not maintain the community of a neighborhood." She also read from a letter by Mary Alice Haddad, who lives only one lot away from the property in question, "Ours is a lovely community that has seen dramatic improvements in recent years ... houses in our area are in demand once again. Please help us protect and build on this success in revitalizing a core neighborhood in downtown Middletown."

Kennedy told the commissioners that it was unrealistic to imagine that his house could again be the home of a single family, indicating that it was obsolete, "It will never be a one-family house again, ... it's a large space, ... it's not a cohesive space."

The only commissioner who agreed with Kennedy was Johnson, who said she owns a house on the same street and also was interested in renting professional office space, "It is very hard to find [residential] renters right now. I specifically bought my house because it could be mixed use."

Johnson showed her fellow commissioners large boards with maps of the downtown area, one showing the historical distribution of houses and one showing the current distribution of houses. Johnson pointed out that much of the property between Main Street and the River had been converted from housing and professional offices into strictly office and commercial space. She urged commissioners to reexamine the Village District zoning, and to take away the restrictions which prevent the conversion of residential spaces to offices, saying that if this was not done, there was a risk that during the day the neighborhood would empty like suburbia.

Other commissioners were not swayed, and voted to deny the application.

Adaptive Reuse II: YES in Westfield
The owner of a house on Middle Street applied for a special exception to allow her to convert vacant professional offices into three one-bedroom apartments. Director Warner told the commissioners that this was exactly the kind of situation for which historic adaptive reuse was designed. He told them that a commercial use would allow any changes ("... could wrap the house in granite and neon lights!") to be made to the
house, while if the commission approved a historic adaptive reuse, they could place restrictions on the changes that could be made to the structure.

Arline Rich, chair of the Westfield Residents Association, expressed the WRA's misgivings about the proposal, citing inadequate parking, no play area for possible children in the apartments, and incomplete historical restoration of the building. Warner suggested that if the commission approved the application, they should require the owner to submit suggested modifications to the Design and Review Board. The commissioners unanimously approved the application with this condition.

Adaptive Reuse, to be continued.
The application for conversion of a day care near FoodMart on Rte 66 was withdrawn because of inadequate sign notification. The application for adaptive reuse of a three-family house on Broad Street into insurance offices was scheduled for a public hearing on September 9.

An application to subdivide a property on Brush Hill Road was also approved at last night's meeting.

Disclosure: I am vice-chair of the WRA

Wesleyan President Roth Eulogizes Kennedy

In an opinion piece published in the Huffington Post today, Wesleyan President Michael Roth praises the life and work of the recently departed Massachussetts Senator Ted Kennedy.

"It is difficult to think of another elected official since WWII who supported programs to help the most vulnerable members of our society with the energy and intelligence consistently displayed by Senator Edward Kennedy. His vision of justice was tied to a commitment to mitigate the cruel effects of economic inequality and entrenched power without unduly compromising economic growth and individual freedom," Roth writes.

Kennedy was scheduled to be commencement speaker for the 2008 graduation at Wesleyan but had to bow out due to his illness. In his place, then presidential candidate Barack Obama stood in for the ailing Kennedy.

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 3

Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast

Phileas accepted an invitation to attend today's Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast. After being in Middletown for only two days, Phileas already learned that the Chamber provides many programs, services and activities that can enhance your business. Benefits and opportunities available for you include exposure and referrals of your business, numerous networking events and continuing education programs.

Phileas should be impressed with the attendance of the largest chamber in the state, and one of the largest in the country.

As well as being a traveler, Phileas is also a fan of sportsmanship and feats of athleticism and eagerly awaits the remarks of University of Connecticut Football coach, Randy Edsall.

Board of Ed Meets

Reading scores are solidly up in our schools. Writing and math…not so much.

That’s the condensed version of the presentation on CMT scores at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Barbara Senges walked the Board through the results for the 3rd through 8th grade CMT scores, comparing this year to previous years. Fortunately, the data can be isolated to show just the kids who were in Middletown every year, as opposed to those who moved into the district. For example, the "matched" group of kids who were here from third to sixth grades showed a gain from 68 to 80 percent proficiency in reading during that time.

Scores at 6th, 7th and 8th grade level are less impressive, and she outlined a number of initiatives that are designed to fix that, such as extending the relatively successful elementary writing program into the middle school years. And there continue to be significant achievement gaps for the "subgroups", which means kids who are minorities, special education or low-income, although in some cases, we are doing better than other towns in closing those disparities. The full analysis of Middletown's scores will soon be available at

After the 70-minute presentation, the Board moved through a number of other topics of interest.

First some background: Middletown is required to adopt a plan on how to resolve the racial imbalance in our schools. The state law stipulates that no individual school can be more the 25% above or below the average number of minority students in the district, and Middletown has been guilty of "racial imbalance" for some time. That is, in fact, one of the reasons why the Board hired JCJ Architects to study the capacity of all the buildings in the district and the demographics of the students. Last Spring, JCJ held a number of school/community meetings and studied the physical capacity and limitations of all the school buildings. At this meeting, the Board learned that representatives from JCJ are assessing the transportation costs that might result from redistricting students. The Board expects to hear proposed solutions from JCJ in October or November, and the state has given Middletown an extension until February 6, 2010 to submit their racial imbalance plan.

Both Ryan Kennedy and Renee Johnson-Thornton – two of the newer board members – spoke about the need to improve the clarity and depth of the board’s annual process for setting a budget. As Renee put it, this is the time of year -- before budget season starts -- when we should be setting ourselves up for a more successful budget process than we've had in recent years. After the topic was put on the table, the budget committee (through its chair Jay Keiser) offered to use its monthly reporting time to highlight a different section of the district's expenditures at each meeting. Over time, this should help Board members develop a better understanding of the details of the budget. The question of how to improve the timeline for budget decisions was less satisfactorily resolved, and both Renee and Ryan spoke about the public frustration on this issue. The Board is required to submit a proposed budget to the Council by March 1st, and must then adjust their budget to the final amount approved by the Council in late Spring. Renee spoke about the possibility of taking more time to develop three potential budgets, high, medium and low, so that more thought can be put into the impact of cuts and better communication can take place between the Board and the Superintendent about how to prioritize limited resources.

Superintendent Frechette pointed out that there are five fewer administrators this year, and some changes were needed in the physical layout of Central Office to make the remaining staff more efficient. After an 8-month planning phase, the summer renovations included grouping like services in a single area, such as payroll, insurance and contracts, making it easier to get similar kinds of business done. Also, he pointed out that nearly all the work was done in house and was not excessively expensive. Another management change was to standardize the staff lunch hour from noon to 1 pm – although there will still always be a limited staff available to answer the phone and help the public during that hour.

Although the new Middletown High got through its first year, there are still a few outstanding construction issues, such as acoustical problems in the science labs due to poorly placed HVAC equipment, and problems with the pool lighting and the auditorium seats. After being questioned by the Board, Director of Facilities Ken Jackson reassured everyone that these issues are raised at each Wednesday's project meeting, and they are continuing to work toward resolution before the building will be recommended for acceptance of completion.

The Board meeting ended with a hearty debate about where meetings should be held - not just for the sake of convenient location but because options for televising the meetings are limited. At the new High School, meetings can be broadcast live on Channel 19 from the cafeteria, and that's where they are typically held. But problems have been cited with the sound quality, and when the microphones are just right for the in-house audience, they are sometimes inaudible to the folks at home. Chairman Raczka suggested that meetings return to the Junior High, where meetings can be taped for later playback. But that would represent a step backwards in public access, in the eyes of Communications Chair Corinne Gill, whose committee has worked hard to bring live coverage to the Board of Ed proceedings. Ryan Kennedy took the common sense perspective that Board of Ed meetings should simply be held at the Council Chambers at City Hall, which were designed for live playback. A few experienced Board members voiced their concern that education meetings might get bumped at the last minute if the Council wanted to use their chambers for special business. In the end, it was agreed that the Communications committee will review the options for locations, particularly with regard to the Council Chamber option.

This reporter would like to endorse the idea that meetings should always be held at the same location, at the same time, since I spent the first half-hour of this meeting driving -- the usual location at Middletown High did not have any sort of notice that the meeting would be held at the Board of Ed offices on Hunting Hill Avenue, where, I might add, there are no facilities for recording the meeting.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kiwanis Of Middletown Golf Tournament Scholarship Fundraiser

The Kiwanis Club of Middletown is hosting its 7th Annual Scholarship Golf Tournament this Saturday, August 30th at the Quarry Ridge course in Portland. Lunch and registration to play begin at noon. Anyone and everyone is welcome to participate. Entrance fee for each player is $115 which includes the game and dinner. Those wishing to watch rather than play are welcome. Dinner without the golf game is $33. At 6:30 pm winners will be announced and raffle items drawn. The event will take place rain or shine.
All Tournament proceeds benefit the Middletown Kiwanis Club scholarship fund. The scholarships are given out to students at Middletown High School, Vinal Technical, Mercy High School, Xavier High School and Middlesex Community College. Other fundraisers that have contributed to this fund are the Kiwanis Annual pasta dinner, and peanut sales, both of which took place in the spring. Last year Kiwanis of Middletown awarded $7,000 in scholarships to local youth. Donations are welcome anytime of year.

August 30 - Golf Tournament Scholarship Fundraiser at Quarry Ridge, 9 Rose Hill Rd. Portland, starts at 12:00 noon. Short fun start at 1 pm.
If you are interested in participating or would like additional information, please call Guy Russo at 860-345-2767

Romeo and Juliet, Free on the Portland Town Green

(From David S. Rintoul)

Sword fights, swains, bawds and balconies come to the Portland Green, all for free! The Flock Theatre performs Shakespeare’s ROMEO & JULIET on the Portland CT Town Green, 5 Waverly Avenue, at 7:00 p.m. August 29, 2009. Rain venue Brownstone Intermediate School, 314 Main Street. Bring a blanket and a chair. All ages are welcome to this family-friendly performance.

The Flock Theatre is a professional theatre company based in New London that has been performing accessible and honest Shakespeare and other classics since 1994. This is the second year Family Shakespeare in Portland has brought free Shakespeare to town. Its mission is to make it easy for everyone to see how enjoyable and fun good Shakespeare can be. Friends of the Portland Library is the organizing sponsor of the show this year, and contributions to the program are tax-deductable.

Contact David S. Rintoul at (860) 202-7344 or for more information.

Adaptive Reuse at Planning and Zoning

The theme of tonight's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting is "Adaptive Reuse".

The owners of two properties are applying to convert historic downtown houses into offices, and the owner of a property near the Foodmart on Rte 66 is applying to convert a daycare into offices. Meanwhile, the owner of a property in the Interstate Trade zone in Westfield is applying to convert vacant professional offices into residential apartments.

These four different applications are unconnected, and the Commissioners must consider each in isolation, on its own merit. However, there seems to be a pattern to the applications: 3 owners of properties near other businesses want to convert housing or daycare to professional offices, while the owner of a property on the outskirts of town wants to convert professional offices into housing.

Here are the 4 properties (links are to application materials):
  1. 196 College Street: Historic adaptive reuse to convert 2nd and 3rd floors to office use (Planning Dept. Staff Comments).
  2. 9 Camp Street: Change of use for a daycare center to a professional office.
  3. 861 Middle Street: Historic adaptive reuse to convert vacant professional office space into 3 one-bedroom apartments.
  4. 59 Broad Street: Historic adaptive reuse to convert 3-family dwelling into an insurance office (note: this will be scheduled for a hearing, and will NOT be discussed tonight).
Also on the agenda for tonight is the long-awaited discussion (and voting?) about Commission By-Laws.

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 2

The Russell Library
123 Broad Street

In order to better understand the world he will be exploring, Phileas Fogg’s second destination is the Russell Library. Striving to be the “Gateway to the Future of Middletown”, the Russell Library offers a wide range of library services, career resources, nonprofit organization assistance, art classes, music performances and film showings. It is no wonder the Russell Library was awarded the 2009 Public Service Award from the Connecticut Library Association and the Connecticut State Library. After enjoying a delicious Oddfellows Tribute special at ION last night, Phileas will spend the day utilizing the library's services and catching up on the summer reading he put off until the last minute.

Join the librarian staff tonight for an end of summer ice cream social, from 6:30-7:30pm.

Randy Edsall to Speak at Chamber Breakfast

From the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce

UConn head football coach Randy Edsall will be the guest speaker when the Chamber holds its monthly member breakfast meeting on Thursday, August 27, 2009 from 7:45 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Cromwell. The breakfast is sponsored by People’s United Bank.

As Randy Edsall enters his 11th season as the head coach at the University of Connecticut, he continues to see the positive effects of his first decade in Storrs as the program has blossomed from a major college football newcomer to a team that has made three bowl appearances in the past five years.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Middletown Teen Theater Annouces The Crucible Cast List

Cast List

John Proctor: Mike Bradley
Elizabeth Proctor: Katie Armstrong
Abigail: Kendra Oates
Mary: Alissa Lancia
Betty: Natalie Schmitt
Parris: Mike Cho
Tituba: Jackie Harris
Susanna: Ally Cullinan
Ann Putnam: Shannon Scott
Thomas Putnam: TBA
Mercy: Haley Parent
Rebecca Nurse: Brittany Harris
Giles Corey: Collin Schuster
Rev. Hale: Brendan Sullivan
Ezekial Cheever: TBA
John Willard: Dimitri Toledo
Judge Hawthorne: Will Hawkins
Danforth: Ross Patterson
Sarah Good: Sara Gaechter

Girls with Abigail: Liza Marino, Megan Scott, Giuliana David, Melina Rothert, Carrie Ornato, Cristina Shea, Lauren Reynolds

Congratulations to all our young stars, we look forward to another oustanding production.

Soccer Tournament at Donovan Park!

I was going to write something about the Soccer Tournament that was held Sunday at Donovan Park, but I realized that what I was going to say was all said in the Middletown Press article. So, rather than spend the time on it, I made a slideshow and copied the article here if you're interested. Also, not noted in the Middletown Press was that Mo Avila and Paradise Luxuries co-sponsored this event and did a ton of work to make it the success it was!

Soccer teams compete in NEAT tournament
MIDDLETOWN — Six soccer teams competed Sunday for a $500 prize in a tournament organized by the North End Action Team.

Held at Donovan Park, behind Macdonough School, the tournament was lively, even in the hot afternoon sun. Sounds of Latin music and the smell of hot dogs grilling wafted down the street as spectators gathered along the fence and passersby watched from the sidewalk.

NEAT offered free food and cold drinks to the players, who formed their own teams for the double-elimination tournament. There was so much interest, they had to turn people away, said Nick Petrie, community organizer with NEAT.

Petrie said he would like the tournament to become an annual event.

NEAT also holds basketball tournaments at the school on Fridays, and the soccer tournament was organized to reach out to the large Latino community in the North End, said Petrie.

NEAT is a neighborhood organization dedicated to improving quality of life in the North End.
Jennifer Sprague

Reprinted with permission from the Middletown Press.

August Arts (8/25 - 29)

One might be tempted to "cakewalk" down Main Street Middletown this evening, especially because the "Summer Sounds" series presents bassist Roy Wiseman & Elite Syncopation in concert at 7 p.m. on the South Green.

The quintet, in existence since the early 1990s, specializes in "early jazz", the music of Scott Joplin, the young Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, "Jelly Roll" Morton, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and others. They play with great feeling, imbuing the music with soul and joy. Besides Wiseman (who is a member of the music faculty at Wesleyan), the group includes Liz Smith (reeds), Perry Elliot (violin), Ettie Luckey (cello) and Gary Chapman (piano.)

In case of rain, the concert moves inside to South Church. To find out more about the group, go to

By the way, here's a definition of "cakewalk" - "The Chalk Line Walk, as it was originally known in 1850 in the southern plantations, later became very popular from 1895-1905 as the Cakewalk with a resurgence around 1915. It originated in Florida by the African-American slaves who got the basic idea from the Seminole Indians (couples walking solemnly). Many of the special movements of the cake-walk, the bending back of the body, and the dropping of the hands at the wrists, amongst others, were a distinct feature in certain tribes of the African Kaffir dances. The African Ring Shout has a certain tie to this dance as well." Read more here.

Boney's Music Lounge continues to present blues, jazz and funk on the weekends in the space above Fishbone Cafe on Court Street. This Friday (8/28), the Melvin Sparks Trio returns to the Lounge for an evening of high-energy "acid-jazz along with his usual compatriots, Matthew O. (organ) and Bill Carbone (drums). On Saturday, the Tines welcome the Kathy Thompson Band for an evening of blues and blues-rock. The guitarist/vocalist usually tours with an 8-piece band (including 3 saxophonists and a trumpeter) so the Lounge certainly should be "hopping ." The music starts both nights at 8:30 p.m. For more information, call 346-6000.

Also on Saturday night, the Cypress Restaurant & Grill, South Main Street, welcomes the Dayton Rich Band for an evening of good music (rock, soul, and original songs.) Long-time Middletown residents will recognize Joe Cannata (bass, vocals) and Dean Coutsouridis (lead guitar, saxophone, flute, vocals) from the many different bands they've worked with (or , in the case of Coutsouridis, his years of teaching at Coginchaug High School.) Leading the band is vocalist/guitarist/composer Dayton Rich and rounding out the sound is drummer John Morello. They'll play on the Patio at 8 p.m. For more information, call 346-3367.

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 1

It's Only Natural
Vegetarian Restaurant

Phileas Fogg begins his journey at one of Middletown's signature restaurants. It's Only Natural Restaurant, lovingly referred to as "ION", has been part of Middletown for over 30 years. ION began as a co-op and has organically grown into a Vegan oasis and the largest art gallery in Middletown.

ION has been voted "Best Vegetarian" by The Hartford Advocate since 1992. Mark Shadle and Renana Magee continue to make ION a destination for vegetarians, vegans and artists
from around CT.

If you haven't been to ION, now is the time to check it out. Phileas is not a strict vegetarian by any means, but the Sweet Potato fries are simply incredible! Make sure to save room – even if you don’t eat all of your veggies, because dessert is a wonderful treat at ION.

Join Phileas for dinner this evening at ION - order the special on the menu - and a portion of the meal will be donated to support Oddfellows Playhouse Scholarship Fund.

Eye on the Air Archive, August 21

Eye on the Air, August 21

Guest: Rob Rosenthal, Sociology Professor at Wesleyan University talking about his study of protest and topical music, and the upcoming publication of his book, Playing For Change, along with his work compiling the papers of Pete Seeger.

A comment rejected

The Middletown Eye frequently publishes comments which are critical of elected or non-elected public officials, even when those comments are anonymous. Three of us (Jen Alexander, Ed McKeon, and myself) have "volunteered" to decide whether a specific comment should be published, a task which none of us particularly enjoy, but which we think is very important for The Eye's success. When I am faced with such a decision, I try to evaluate whether the comment is closer to a constructive expression of a personal opinion or closer to a destructive attack.

In the last week or so I rejected the following anonymous comment [ellipses and brackets indicate my alterations]:
What don't any of you get! [Name of public official] is operating the puppet strings of the .... They do whatever .. suggests and recommends. [This person] made a mess ..., does not care about ... The sole purpose of ... actions is to make [this person] and the "yes" people surrounding ... a big pay day .... Wake up Middletown ... taxpayers! This [person] is ruining ... town, and spending our money on things we don't need, or have anything to do with .... Need to be chased out of town!
Always wanting to see the best in others, I think that the authors of comments such as these are expressing a heartfelt, albeit extreme, opinion about a person working as an elected or non-elected official in Middletown. However, when hypernegative comments are written anonymously, with absolutely no facts to back them up, they are read by most people as little more than the spewing vitriol of someone unhinged.

For me they have crossed the line into a personal, anonymous attack, and they do not belong in Middletown's community newsblog. I will reject them.

To reiterate what has been said by Jen and Ed before: sign your name and demonstrate that your opinion is informed, and your comment will be published and you will help to make our city a better place.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rotary Offers Group Study in South Africa

From Laura Falt

Five successful candidates from this area will experience life in South Africa at almost no cost for 4 weeks this spring, 2010, as part of the Group Study Exchange, sponsored by Ct. Rotary District 7980. There are currently four slots as team members available to professionals who have been employed in their current professions for two or more years. Those accepted will travel with a team leader who is a Rotarian.

Selected participants will be abroad from April 10, 2010 – May 9, 2010. GSE team members must be non-Rotarians between 25-40 years of age with at least 2 years of work experience. They cannot be related to any Rotarian. A valid passport is required.

An application and interview are part of the selection process. Deadline for team leader application is September 15, 2009, and deadline for team member application is October 15, 2009

The team will explore Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, including the towns and villages between S.A. and Swaziland, private game preserves, and major national parks. Participants will spend at least one day each week observing and interacting within a business organization of one’s own profession in the greater Pretoria area. Team members stay in “Host Homes,” those of members of the local Rotary Club who provides room and board. The Rotary International Foundation finances the round trip transportation while internal transportation is provided by local Rotary clubs.

The purpose of this vocational and cultural exchange program is to foster International understanding through person-to-person contact. The concept of GSE began in 1955 when the Rotary Club of Auckland, NZ, created ROTA (Rotary Overseas Travel Award) to celebrate RI’s 50th Anniversary. In 1963 it became “Exchange of Study Group.” Past destinations for teams from Connecticut have included countries such as Chile, India, Sweden, and Philippines. The program is termed an “Exchange” as Connecticut District #7980 will host a similar team of South Africans from mid-April to mid-May, 2010 that will experience life here.

Those interested in this distinctive opportunity to South Africa in 2010

should contact Rupi Rupwani, outbound exchange chairperson: or 203-729-7458 before October 1, 2009. Additional information is available at

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Future Musical Treats

Among the treats we picked up at today's Open Air Market at the Wadsworth Mansion were announcements of 2 upcoming concerts series.

That smiling face to the left belongs to cellist and Middletown resident Jason Duckles and, on Saturday September 26, he will play the opening program in the Russell Library's 2009 Fall Concert Series. Titled "Cello All Alone", Duckles, 1/3rd of the Amelia Piano Trio, will play music by J.S. Bach and contemporary composers John Harbison and Augusta Read Thomas.

Duckles studied at Northwestern University and received advanced degrees from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He teaches at both Wesleyan University and Connecticut College, has private students and is very involved in other educational projects. On top of that, he is a masterful musician and his concert should be quite enjoyable. It takes place at 2 p.m. in the Hubbard Room (as do all the shows with the same start time.)

The schedule also includes harpist Bridget Kirby (October 3), the duo of violinist Emil Altschuler & guitarist Jerome Mouffe (October 24) and the Janaki String Trio (December 2.) The concerts are free and open to all in the community, just part of the Library's commitment to make Middletown a great to live, learn and enjoy the arts. For more information, go to

The Greater Middletown Concert Association has not 1 but 2 series planned for 2009-10. There are 3 shows scheduled for the Concert series that starts on Saturday October 17 the vocal trio of Terry Burrell, Robert Cuccioli and Christianne Tisdale performing "Broadway Live: The Songs, The Shows, The Stars" at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Middletown High School Performing Arts Center, LaRosa Lane.
Subsequent shows include the Heartbeat Dixieland Jazz Band (February 7, 2010) and The Adaskin Trio (April 10, 2010.)

This season, Barbara Arafeh and her hardworking committee have added a new wrinkle to their presentations and that is the "Opera Series." The Connecticut Lyric Opera and the Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, Adrian Sylveen, conductor (pictured), will present Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" ("The Elixir of Love") on Saturday December 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the MHS Performing Arts Center. The companies will return on Saturday May 15 2010 to perform Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci" and Puccini's "Gianni Schicci."

Tickets for both series are now on sale and you can find out more by calling 347-4887 or 346-3369 or by email at The GMCA's series remain one of the best bargains in the state and the performances are always first-class.