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2013 in review: Area faces changes, challenges

Jan. 3, 2014 |

By Carley Dangona carley@thereminder.com WESTFIELD – Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport saw many changes this year. Its 28-year-old runway was replaced after the $14 million cost of the project was offset by an $8.7 million Federal Aviation Administration grant for runway construction, $4.6 million from the U.S. Department of Defense and by additional state and local monies. During the construction, the F15s assigned to the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts National Guard were relocated to Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod. In May 2013, the fighter wing received the highest grade possible from NORAD following a no-notice Alert Force Evaluation in April. Then Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray visited Barnes Air National Guard Base on May 16, 2014 to recognize the wing for its achievement. It was the second time it earned the grade. Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation celebrated the grand opening of its new 125,000 square-foot hangar on May 14, 2013. The $20 million facility has 75,000 square-feet of hangar space. Two overhead cranes and a tail dock are housed within the building. Services offered are aircraft-on-ground support, airframe inspections and repair, avionics installation and repair and interior refurbishment. An additional 100 job openings were created by the new building. In February 2013, Rectrix Commercial Aviation Services announced that it acquired AirFlyte Inc., a full-service executive flight terminal at Barnes. The location remained the primary facility for Federal Aviation Administration Part 145 certified repair station. According to Rectrix President and CEO Richard Cawley, the procurement provided a wider variety of services to clients, enabling the site to expand its customer base. Eventually, the company hopes to serve the major airlines. The Nov. 5, 2013 election saw the departure of many incumbents; Mayor Daniel Knapik was re-elected by a difference of 333 votes. In April 2013, Michael Roeder announced his campaign for mayor. His biggest issue with Knapik was the amount being spent for city operations and projects. Roeder remained positive despite the loss. “I have no regrets. It was a close race and we did everything we could. It was a fair race and I wish him the best,” he said. He does not intend to run for mayor again. “You have to be reasonable about this,” Roeder said, noting that he would be 70, pushing 71 at the time of the next election. Knapik officially began his third term as mayor on Jan. 2. The Hampden Superior Court solidified the validity of the write-in candidate on April 22, 2013 when it determined that Brian Winters was the next highest vote getter for the Ward 2 City Council seat. The Ward 2 seat of the City Council has remained vacant since August 2012 when Jim Brown resigned from the position. Resident Brian Winters received one write-in vote in the most recent election, making him the next highest vote getter since Brown ran unopposed. The City Council debated whether a single vote solidified Winters’ candidacy, since ballot listings require 50 signatures as a stipulation. The councilors voted in October 2012 to have the mayor fill the seat. Winters did not run for re-election on the Nov. 5, 2013 ballot. Five other councilors will not return to the City Council after being defeated in the election: Ann Callahan, John Beltrandi, Kevin Harraghy, Agma Sweeney and Richard Onofrey Jr. Michael Knapik stepped down from his Senate seat in August of 2013 for a job at Westfield State University (WSU). He now serves as executive director of University Advancement. He was in his tenth term as senator representing the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District, which includes Agawam, Chicopee (Ward 7, Precincts 9A and 8A), Easthampton, Granville, Holyoke, Montgomery, Russell, Southampton, Southwick, Tolland and Westfield. In the race for the seat, state Rep. Donald Humason Jr. won over Holyoke City Councilor David Bartley. “I’m very, very happy and maybe a little bit apprehensive because it’s a bit new,” Humason said. “It’s a big job, but I’m a big guy and I think I can do it.” He was his sixth term as state Representative for the 4th Hampden District. From 1991 to 1998, Humason worked as legislative aide and chief of staff for Knapik in the House of Representatives and Senate. He also served as the former director of Legislative Affairs at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services from 1998 to 2002. A special election will take place on April 1 to fill the vacancy. John Velis and Dan Allie have both filed papers to run for the seat. Schematic designs for the new Westfield Senior Center were finalized this year. According to historical documents, the project has been in the works since the late 1970s. The new center will be located on the Noble Street property given to the Westfield Housing Authority by Mary Noble. On March 21, 2013, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Department ruled to allow the city to create a community senior center. The design includes two wings, a one-story wing and a two-story wing. A large multipurpose room with a folding, soundproofed partition that seats 240 people is a main feature of the building. It will include a 113-space parking area and two points of entry. A two-story, library/community living space, a gym, an arts and crafts room, a computer classroom and a billiards room will also be included. The right side of the building will include an expansion space if needed for future growth. Tina Gorman, executive director of the Council on Aging, estimated that the interior details would be designed by March and that a ground breaking by fall of this year. The second phase of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail received approval from the City Council to use a $2 million grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. According to the city website, this portion of the trail will extend Phase 1 to East Silver Street with connections to South Broad Street and Colman Avenue, with improvements to the Little River and Meadow Bridges. This will be the first time the 72- mile network of the Rail Trail will have access to downtown Westfield. Last year marked the 175th anniversary of WSU. Exhibits, lectures and performances celebrated the event. In 1838, Horace Mann, called the “Father of American Public Education,” laid the foundation for the institution that later became WSU. The Westfield Normal School opened with a student body of 20 students. Fast-forward to 2013 and the school, which became a university in 2010, now caters to 5,000 students. It also saw the departure of President Evan Dobelle amidst the investigation of his spending habits on behalf of the university. According to news reports, Dobelle was forced into retirement to avoid being fired. He has since filed two lawsuits against the college. He seeks lost wages, legal fees and other costs related to his unemployment. The WSU trustees will meet on Jan. 13 to discuss the impact of the continuing legal fees. After more than a decade, Director Christopher Lindquist left the Westfield Athenaeum in September 2013 to start a new job with the Wellesley Free Library. “It’s very bittersweet,” Lindquist said. “I’ve been so fortunate and privileged to have worked with this community. I will miss the relationships most – with the staff, the board of directors, the volunteers and patrons.” He participated in the Harvest Fair – the first of a yearlong celebration in honor of the athenaeum’s Sesquicentennial anniversary – as his last official duty. For a complete schedule of events, visit www.westath.org. More than a year later, the Ashley Street School Project is remains at a standstill. The site remains under temporary injunction until the National Parks Service (NPS) rules on whether the Article 97 requirement has been satisfied for the use of Cross Street Playground as part of the new 600-student elementary school site, initially anticipated to open in September 2014. The injunction has been in place since Sept. 18, 2012. This March, the city submitted its environmental assessment of the playground, which is protected by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, to the NPS. In April, during the public comment period of the assessment Alice Wielgus, owner of own the property at 146-150 Main St., submitted a letter stating that her land, which was named as a replacement site in the environmental assessment to accommodate the conversion of the Cross Street Playground, was not for sale. The NPS has yet to rule on the case. Southwick resident Marita Niquette took part in a study as part of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Niquette, 47, has been in a wheelchair since 1985 after suffering a spinal cord injury (SCI) during an automobile crash. She is one of only eight chronic SCI patients in the physical therapy program. Its goal is to increase the functionality of atrophied muscles to make the candidates eligible for Schwann cell transplantation. Niquette explained that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays the trial sessions consist of circuit training. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she spends 40 minutes on the locomotor, which is a device that places wheelchair-bound people upright and enables them to walk with mechanical aid. Each day, she uses the Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) bike, a device that uses electrical currents to stimulate nerve cells, for 20 minutes. “It’s going fine – I thought I’d be a lot more tired,” Niquette said, adding that she is already beginning to see results such as muscle tone and increased strength. “I don’t have any regrets. It’s a great experience, a great opportunity to see what needs to be done.” Niquette completed the study on Dec. 13 and will return for one more week of treatment this month.

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