Custodian Outsourcing, March Flood Biggest News Stories of Year
Some events galvanized the community - the custodians, the fire at Trafalgar East. Others will have an impact for years to come - construction of the new Cole Middle School, the agreement with New England Tech.
News comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Sometimes it's postitive, such as when the new turf field finally opened at the high school. Sometimes it's tragic, such as when a 19-year-old former high school student overdosed on heroin. Still other times, it involves overcoming tragedy, such as the March flood and the Trafalgar fire. And sometimes it's hard to tell if the final story is good, bad or indifferent, as is the case with the controversial decision to outsource the school custodians.
The East Greenwich Patch news team covers it all with equal vigor. And we approached our Top 10 news stories of 2010 with that same vigor. At two consectutive editorial meetings, we discussed and debated what were the most significant events that happened locally in 2010. What follows is our list of the 10 biggest events of the year in East Greenwich.
Haiti wasn't considered a very safe place when Julie Prudhomme told her parents that that was where she was going for a three-week school trip in January, but they could never have imagined the horror of the earthquake that struck Haiti just a day after Julie's arrival there. In the chaos that followed the quake, the Prudhommes heard nothing from Julie for two days. Finally, they got word that Julie was all right and were able to talk briefly to her. They were reunited in Miami later that week. Tragically, three of the eleven Lynn University students who traveled to Haiti were killed in the earthquake.
If there were a face to the East Greenwich Police Department over the last two decades, it would have been Tom Joyce, the gruff-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside officer with the improbably full head of red hair. He started on the force 49 years ago but made his most significant contribution in the second half of his career, when he became the first juvenile officer for the department. Over the years, Joyce got to know lots of kids in town, starting with those just entering kindergarten through helping out at Safety Town each summer.
After more than a year of acrimony and delays, the long-dormant new turf field, now known as Carcieri Field, was finally opened to much delight. The fields project may not have provided any additional playing fields in town, as it was designed to do, but it did enable the football, soccer and lacrosse teams to play home games at the high school.
In February, Bostitch announced layoffs and that it would end nail production at its South County Trail facility. Eight months later, the other shoe dropped: Bostitch would close shop completely in East Greenwich by December 2012. After years of downsizing, this final move would eliminate 128 jobs, officials said, with another 75 employees to be moved to another facility in Rhode Island. The landmark building opened to great fanfare in the mid-1950s. At one-sixth of a mile long and one-tenth of a mile wide, the plant was the largest single-floor factory in New England at the time.
After years of discussion, the town and New England Tech agreed to the terms of an in-lieu-of-taxes agreement for the college's campus on Division Street just west of South County Trail. New England Tech is a nonprofit school so it is exempt from paying property taxes. In the agreement signed with the town, it will pay $450,000 a year for the next 10 years. It will pay that same amount the 10 subsequent years or can give the town the East Greenwich Country Club property it owns instead. It has also agreed to pay for (and work has begun on) road improvements on Division Street between South County Trail and Route 4.
Some stories last for months, even years. The construction of the new Cole Middle School is just such a story. Ground was broken on the site in 2009 but the building began to take shape in 2010. Construction on the building itself has gone relatively smoothly and, according to building officials, the project remains on schedule for opening in late April. However, neighbors of the property, particularly two on Sarah's Trace, say their houses have suffered extensive structural damage.
Fires are terrible wherever they hit, but when they hit people with few resources, fires can seem doubly cruel. So it was when a fire struck the Trafalgar East apartment complex on Post Road on an early morning in February. Remarkably, no one was physically hurt in the blaze, which destroyed 15 units and displaced about 45 residents. And some in the community did rally to help those displaced by the fire, including members of Christ Church, who found furniture for those affected, and real estate agent Allen Gammons, who organized a fundraiser for them at Pals.
The news that 19-year-old Addison Rocke was found dead by his father at their house was quickly on everyone's lips. This was a young man that many people knew. He'd played football at EGHS and he had been working at Fat Belly's on Main Street. When police announced a few days later that Rocke had died of a heroin overdose, drug counselor Bob Houghtaling and others organized a community forum to discuss prevention. The most powerful moment of the forum came when Addison's father, Andre, urged those present to keep talking and attending forums like that one.
While the Flood of 2010 was an extraordinary story for everyone in the state, we were able to put a local face on it by getting pictures and stories during and after the record-setting rain. By the day after the rain stopped, fire and police had helped more than 200 people, mainly those with flooding in their houses. Some motorists needed help too, including a couple from West Warwick whose car got trapped on Tillinghast Road when part of the road gave way. Whole stretches of roadway were damaged in the flooding and special trash pickups were organized to deal with people's water-logged belongings.
When the EG Patch editorial team discussed the number one news story of the year, there was no debate that this was it. The School Committee's advisory finance committee recommended going out to bid on custodial services. When the bids, from two out-of-state companies, came back significantly lower than what was budgeted for in-house custodians, the battle began. Some argued that any cost savings that would not affect students in the classroom should be adopted. Others said that the outside companies were only able to put in such low bids because they did not pay their workers a living wage. After a several noisy, rancorous meetings, the School Committee split 4-3 in favor of outsourcing. But a contract settlement was reached after a judge ordered the two sides back to the table and the custodians were able to keep their jobs after agreeing to concessions.