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North Suburban News

Stories to Keep an Eye on in 2019

Jan 02, 2019 08:15AM ● By Katie Lovett

Year’s end is a time for reflection of events from the past 12 months, and memories made, as well as a chance to look towards the future and what the new year may bring.

Below are some of the top stories we'll be watching in 2019. But before you scroll down, make sure you sign up for our newsletter so you can stay informed on these stories and stay up-to-date on all the latest news and information in the community.

First Baptist Church/Tall Spire Pre-school

In late October, the landscape of downtown Wakefield forever changed when a massive 7-alarm fire destroyed the 150-year-old First Baptist Church, following a lighting strike.

In the months since the historic landmark was leveled, members of its congregation led by temporary pastor Rev. Norm Bendroth have been started envisioning a new future for their church. Church services are currently being held in the chapel at First Parish Congregational Church, which also gave space for Bendroth to have an office. Cleanup at the church site began last week.

“People definitely do want to rebuild at that site,” Bendroth said. The church will not be rebuilt to the same majestic height and scale that it was, however. The congregation is growing older and attendance is getting smaller.

Church members are considering their options, including building a multi-use building with flexible space for worship and community activities. Bendroth said members would like to have space that could be used by area non-profits. Options could be space for drug rehabilitation services, elder daycare, or housing.

Meanwhile, the nursery school housed in the basement of the church has found a temporary new home for the rest of this school year - at the Hartshore building on Chestnut Street, generously offered by The Savings Bank. Leaders continue to look for a permanent new space.

Tall Spire will reopen on Jan. 2 and welcome its 76 students to its new location, according to Kathy Relihan, the director of the school.

“We are all moved in and ready to welcome our children back,” she continued. “We appreciate our Tall Spire families’ patience, support and love through this very difficult time. I continue to secure the best possible space for our permanent home for September. We are all so grateful to be a part of this wonderful community.”

Housing Development in Wakefield

Wakefield’s Zoning Board of Appeals is considering a major new affordable housing project that would push the town’s percentage of subsidized housing units above 10 percent and help alleviate a housing crunch across the Boston metro area.

Proponents say it would also help to diversify the community and bring in young families who might otherwise be priced out.

The location for the new project is on Tarrant Lane, a dead-end street just north of Rt. 95. Developer Anthony Bonacorso has proposed erecting three structures with a combined 190 rental units. A quarter of those units would be affordable housing, but under state law all 190 would count toward Wakefield’s affordable housing quota because all of the units will be rentals.

Stoneham's New Town Administrator

Following the departure of former town administrator Tom Younger last summer, officials began a search for a new top executive.

Earlier this month, the Board of Selectmen voted to hire Dennis Sheehan, of Melrose, the current director of administration and finance for the Department of Public Works in Watertown.

Selectmen praised Sheehan’s willingness to communicate, his calm demeanor, and attention to detail, as factors in their decision.

Sheehan has spent the last few weeks since he was hired getting ready to start.

“While a start date has yet to be finalized, I have spent the past few weeks transitioning from researching and preparing for an interview process to preparing for my new role with the Town of Stoneham,” Sheehan wrote in an e-mail on Friday. “As I stated in my interview, I look forward to getting to work right away with the town accountant, budget analyst, department heads and the various boards and committees on the budget process and gaining a fuller understanding of the priorities of the community. It's an exciting time in Stoneham and I look forward to being a part of it in 2019.”

As director of administration and finance for the DPW, Sheehan supervised the financial operations of the department’s 10 general fund divisions, capital project funds and the water and sewer enterprise funds. He also oversaw the personnel in the department. In this capacity, Sheehan also served on the project management team for large-scale infrastructure improvement projects, such as Mount Auburn Street and work in Watertown Square.

Stoneham High School Project

 After five years of frustration, Stoneham moved one step closer in its quest for a new high school. As 2018 came to a close, the town hear from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) that the Stoneham High School project can move forward.

MSBA’s approval is contingent on Stoneham completing certain deliverables over the next 270 days, which includes forming a building committee, projecting future high school enrollment in order to gauge the size the new school would need to be, and eventually securing funding for a feasibility study, which can be partially reimbursed by the MSBA.

Opening the new Woburn Library

The much-anticipated new Woburn Library will open its doors this spring, two years after construction began.

Interim Library Director Chuck Flaherty said library officials hope to receive their occupancy permit for the building this week, which will allow for the installation of shelving and equipment.

If all goes according to plan, Flaherty said the temporary facility in Cummings Park will close in early February and officials can begin the move to the new building.

Flaherty said the goal is to hold a grand opening at the library on March 16, but stressed that none of the dates are set in stone and can change.

“There are lots of moving parts,” he added.

The long-awaited $31.5 million renovation project began in the spring of 2017 after the library relocated to its temporary headquarters in the Cummings Center.

The historic library, built in 1879 by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, is a national landmark. It will receive a new 2.5-story wing, which will include a new, large children’s room, meeting and gallery space.

Flaherty said he learned last week that the mayor has funded two new positions for the library – a teen librarian and a general assistant.

The mayor also expressed plans to fund a new part-time custodial position and an facilities/IT position, Flaherty said.

Woburn Mall Rebuild

This year will bring big changes to the Woburn Mall.

Under plans by the new owner of the property, EDENS, a national real estate developer, the new Woburn Village will become a mixed-use outdoor shopping complex similar to Market Street in Lynnfield.

Plans call for the major stores in the plaza to remain: TJ Maxx, Market Basket, DSW and HomeGoods – but the others will likely need to relocate.

The City Council and Planning Board will vote on zoning changes over the next several months, including allowing for a 425-unit housing complex. If approved, construction would start in the spring.

City Elections in Woburn

Could the mayor face a challenger this year?

The mayor, all aldermen at large, all ward aldermen and five school committee member offices are open for election in 2019. A preliminary election, if needed, will be held on a date to be determined by the City Council in early 2019. 

But before the city even gets that far, the new year will bring some major changes to the Woburn City Council as it takes up the task to name a new president and fill the position currently held by Council President Richard M. Haggerty, who heads to the Statehouse for his new position as state representative from the 30th Middlesex District. 

Override Vote in Winchester

While not official, members of the Winchester Board of Selectmen are preparing residents for a potential override vote this spring, saying it’s a necessity to keep the current level of services in town.

In an interview last month, selectmen chairman Lance Grenzeback said that the town has reached a tipping point in terms of population and needs to increase revenues. Without an override, Grenzeback said the town will need to accept a “slow but steady” cutback in the town’s services.

“The town’s population has been growing,” Grenzeback said at the time. “The school’s population has been growing and so we need to add additional staff to accommodate them. We continue to see growth and that requires more services and more people to deliver those services.”

Early estimates show a possible override of about $12 million. This permanent increase in taxes will slowly impact tax bills over the next five to eight years if it passed.

Reading Police

Town Manager Robert LeLacheur placed Police Chief Mark Segalla on administrative leave on Saturday, Dec. 22. But since then town officials have not released any additional information. 

This is not the first incident the Reading police department has had to deal with this year. Last February, a Reading police officer shot and killed a suspect who was wanted for assault. According to the district attorney’s office, their investigation into the officer-involved shooting is not yet complete.

Hate Graffiti

Has Reading curtailed its issue of hate graffiti found throughout the town?

Since 2017, Reading police have created a list of about 30 incidentsof anti-Semitic incidents, including swastikas written in black marker on science lab table discovered last month and “gas the Jews’’ written on a brick in the lobby of Parker Middle School. 

Reading school officials and local police are cooperating in investigating these incidents, but Reading Deputy Police Chief David Clark explained the incidents are hard to investigate because there is usually a lack of information, no witnesses and few leads to follow.

“This type of behavior is not acceptable in our school community and we will continue to do our diligence as a school district to investigate these incidents, take action when necessary, and educate our students on the meaning of these hateful symbols,’’ Reading Superintendent John Doherty wrote in a letter to staff and families.

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