By Jennifer Grybowski
Turley Publications Reporter

In an effort to answer questions, hear input about what people need and show the community they are there for them, the Board of Selectmen held a special community discussion June 8 for those affected by June 1 tornado damage.
Selectmen Chair Thomas Creamer said now that people are recovering, it is time to push forward.
“It really boils down to what we can do for each other because the government is ill-equipped to deal with something of this magnitude,” Creamer said. “We are looking at a minimum of six-month effort on our part. We are not going to forget you.”
Selectmen Priscilla Gimas urged people to reach out for help.
“The outreach of this community has been overwhelming,” Gimas said. “You need only to call us and we’ll help you.”
She also warned residents about the con artists that have been making their rounds. She encouraged residents to call Town Hall if they are not sure about someone, and to keep Town Hall posted if they do in fact find a con so that they can warn others.
The people of Willard Rd. in particular were worried about security. They said that traffic has dramatically increased on the road and that people are walking through their yards without asking, parking in their driveways, taking pictures and also taking wood and metal scraps.
Police Chief Thomas Ford said he has sent out extra patrols in the area already, but that residents should not hesitate to call if people are lurking in the neighborhoods. He also said he would try to work out a way to close affected roads off to general traffic, even if that means stationing a patrolman or CERT member at the end of the road. He urged anyone who does not live or is not volunteering in affected neighborhoods to stay away.
A majority of the residents at the meeting were from Willard Rd. and most of their questions centered around debris.
“What more are you doing at with the town dump,” asked Matthew Bell, of Willard Rd. “What can we bring down there without a large expense?”
Selectmen were slated to discuss a debris policy later in the evening.
“We’re going to do as much as we can for you,” Creamer said. “Some of this debris isn’t even yours. It would be disingenuous for us to charge you for it.”
Board of Health Chair Linda Cocalis told residents to just bring what they have to the dump.
“It would be better for Sturbridge if we just take the debris and figure out how to pay for it later,” she said. “We know the roads affected and we have the list of sanctioned volunteers.”
She said, however, that the dump is unequipped to take all the debris at once, so she asked people to space out their trips. Also, she said, if possible, debris should be separated into burnables and demolition. Selectmen also suggested that people move debris to within one foot of the street so that the town can come and pick it up in sections.
Streeter Rd. resident Jessica Cooper asked if residents could do some burning themselves, even though it is off season. Selectmen said the state sets those rules and that they are working to see if they can get a special permit to allow burning.
Selectmen also said residents should not hesitate to ask for help in moving debris. The Southern Baptist Convention, working through FEMA, is in town to help people for free.
“These are trained professionals and everyone is CORI checked,” Gimas said.
In addition, the town is asking anyone who would like to volunteer to register with Dr. Sue Waters and sign a waiver by calling 774-402-4387 and become a “sanctioned volunteer.” The reason for that is twofold: It protects volunteers and homeowners in the event that a volunteer is injured while volunteering and homeowners can be assured that the volunteers are genuine, and not saying they are a volunteer and then sending them a bill for the work done.
Some questions centered around the permitting processes. Conservation Agent Erin Jacque explained some of the emergency permitting that is available, and Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski reassured residents that they only need to call into Town Hall, where employees are eager to help them through the correct processes.
Other questions centered around tax relief. Principal Assessor William Mitchell explained that homes are physically assessed each July. He encouraged anyone with damage to report it to his office so that an assessment can be done.
“We will adjust the value of the home which will, in turn, lower your taxes,” Mitchell said.
He also encouraged people with damage to send insurance report to his office, so that they can reconcile their numbers with the adjuster’s numbers to get an accurate value.
People were also worried about communication. Many people are still without phone, cable or Internet, so they feel out of the loop. Creamer said for now, when information is present he and others will be going door-to-door in affected neighborhoods to get the word out. He also encouraged people to submit their cell phone numbers to the town so that they can receive mass text messages with information and weather warnings.
Over and over again throughout the meeting, residents in need of help were urged to call Creamer at 774-696-0903 or Gimas at 774-230-5572. For more information, visit the Tornado Response Center at http://www.town.sturbridge.ma.us/



By Jennifer Grybowski
Turley Publications Reporter

More than 35 people turned out March 30 to watch the five candidates for Selectmen debate audience-submitted questions. Incumbent Mary Blanchard, incumbent Scott Garieri and Priscilla Gimas are vying for two, three-year term seats. Angeline Ellison and Alphonso Esposito are vying for one, one-year term seat.
During their opening statements, the candidates each spoke about their backgrounds and motivations for running. Esposito and Garieri both have business backgrounds. Esposito said his business development training background has given him the opportunity to travel to and observe many different cities and towns.
“I chose to run because I believe my diverse background gives me a unique advantage,” Esposito said.
Garieri, a local business owner, said that not only as a business owner, but as a Selectman, he believes that the town is not more than a larger business itself.
“I care about what happens to Sturbridge,” Garieri said. “I hate seeing empty storefronts in this town.”
Blanchard, Ellison and Gimas all have education backgrounds. Blanchard pushed for support of the Planning Board and the Master Plan as well as the hiring of an economic development coordinator, but said she feels the largest issue facing the town is the budget.
“We need to determine how to get people the services they deserve at a price they can afford,” Blanchard said.
Ellison said she is committed to promoting education.
“I am committed to the betterment of the schools and the community,” Ellison said.
Gimas also pushed for support of the Master Plan and the Commercial Tourist District Revitalization Study.
“I am running because I feel I can contribute to the town’s economical and cultural vitality,” Gimas said. “I will bring integrity, respect and objectivity to the Board of Selectmen.”
During the question and answer portion of the evening, it was clear that residents in this town are concerned about development.
As for Route 15 development, all candidates said they were in favor of some type of development and all spoke to the challenges of getting sewer and water services to the corridor.
Blanchard said she thought it would be a good idea to hire an economic development coordinator to reach out to businesses that are currently zoned there. Garieri said he thought the special use zoning should be changed and that the town should focus on getting water to that area as soon as possible. Gimas said she didn’t think the zoning should be changed; she said the town currently offers incentives, such as Chapter 43D permitting, Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and a single tax rate, and should use those incentives to attract businesses that fit the zoning. Ellison said she also thought offering TIF would be helpful and that the town should work together to move along the process that has already begun with Master Planning. Esposito said he thought private and public grants could be secured to help develop the area. Both Ellison and Garieri said they thought the area is prime for entertainment and recreational facilities.
Another question asked candidates how they would balance the town’s outdoor recreational and shopping opportunities.
Garieri gave credit to the people in town who create and maintain the trails, however said Sturbridge is one of the few towns he knows of that has a river people don’t enjoy.
“It’s one of the biggest advantages we have,” he said.
Ellison again pointed to the Master Plan and the Commercial Tourist District Revitalization Study. She said the studies show ways to connect trails and the river to Route 20 as well as obtaining a unique gateway to the district.
Gimas said she thought this was an instance in which an economic development coordinator or grant writer would be vital. She said that many people don’t know about the trails and that a coordinator would be able to connect them to the shopping district.
“There’s a lot of potential out there,” Gimas said.
Blanchard said she agreed that some people don’t know about the trails and that a coordinator would help, but that she thought balance and patience were necessary. She said she thought the Commercial Tourist District Revitalization Study was a wonderful plan, but that it was going to take time and money to implement.
Esposito said he thought the more opportunities there are, the more people will visit the area. He also suggested opening up the fields to regional tournaments and that beautification efforts along Route 20 should be pursued.
Candidates were also asked how they felt the town should pay for all the ambitious projects outlined in the Master Plan. All candidates agreed that it’s really up to the voters what projects, and when, they decide to implement. Gimas said this was another reason an economic development coordinator could be utilized – to help find alternative sources of revenue other than raising taxes.
“That is not an option,” Gimas said.
Esposito agreed that raising taxes is a bad idea and thought prioritizing projects, as well as communicating the issues to voters so they can be well-informed, were a good approach.
“There is only so much money to go around,” he said. “We need to be a model of fiscal discipline.”
Blanchard said the town is fortunate to have a diversified tax base and continues to budget conservatively so that projects can be funded.
Garieri said that when projects are presented to the public, they are presented as only costing each taxpayer $200 or $300 a year in taxes. But, he pointed out, those projects add up and now they are putting a pinch on people’s pockets.
“In reality, grants are not available like they used to be,” Garieri said. “We need to live within our means.”
Ellison said she thought partnerships with local towns and state and national entities could help the town get creative about alternatives other than raising taxes to pay for projects.
Another question focused on legal counsel and who should appoint the position. All five candidates agreed the Town Administrator should continue to appoint legal counsel, with Board of Selectmen confirmation, because he is the one who consults with them most, and is the one that is able to reach out to certain people in the community. Esposito pointed out that there are very few firms who represent municipalities and most of their fees are similar. In fact, Blanchard said the town received a deal on legal counsel this year as a direct result of the current town administrator’s negotiations with them and that while Town Counsel all cost pretty much the same, it is the town’s responsibility to do what they can to be careful so it doesn’t have to use their services as much.
The candidates all thanked Moderator Michael Caplette for moderating, Selectman Thomas Creamer and the Local Cable Access personnel for helping to put the night together. The election is scheduled for Monday, April 11 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Burgess Elementary School gymnasium.

I have been a resident of Sturbridge for 37 years, and was a teacher at Burgess for 25 years.

I was an elected member of the Zoning Board of Appeals from 2002 to 2008, a member of the Open Space Committee from 2001 to 2008, the 2000 and 2005 Charter Review Committees, and was an appointed member of the Board of Registrars of Voters for 9 years.

I also served as a member of the Route 131 Study Committee, the Affordable Housing Subcommittee of the Dialogue for the Future and the Burgess Teachers Negotiating Committee for 4 contracts covering 12 years.

I am married with four grown children who attended Sturbridge Public Schools, and two grandchildren who currently attend Burgess Elementary School.

As a teacher, and as an active member of several town boards and committees, I have learned that when improvement is needed it is accomplished not by confrontation, but through positive support, encouragement and open communication.

Since I was elected to the Board of Selectmen in 2008 I have worked to maintain the character and quality of life of our community, to keep Sturbridge affordable and to help get the maximum value from our tax dollars.

I will continue to bring an open-minded and broad view to the Board of Selectmen – requiring the Board to consider how its actions will affect the entire community.

By Jonathan Cook
Turley Publications Reporter

STURBRIDGE – News about Pioneer Brewing leaving Hyland Orchard & Brewery for a location on Main Street has garnered plenty of attention. But it has left many people wondering, what will happen to the orchard up on the hill?
Rest assured, proprietor Chris Damon said, not much will change.
“My family is committed to keeping it going,” he said. And that means, apples, animals, music and a brewery with a bar.
Only one question remains. Who will run the brewery?
Damon said he has had many offers from investors who love the place and don’t want to see anything happen to it. He has also talked with a brewer from New Hampshire who would like to come in and operate the brewery. But Damon says he is inclined to keep the operation close to his family once again.
While he credits Tim Daley and Todd Sullivan of Pioneer Brewing with “crossing some hurdles we weren’t able to cross” when they took over the brewing process in 2004 and made it a success, having another entity on the inside can be disjointed.
For example, Pioneer eliminated the Hyland line of ales and began making only Pioneer.
Also, Damon said two liquor licenses became necessary, creating a divide between the bar and the pavilion.
Once Pioneer has vacated, which Damon expects will occur in March 2010, he wants to reunify the license and bring back Hyland’s staple brews – Amber and Pale.
Furthermore, even when Pioneer takes a whole set of brewing equipment with them, Hyland has a second set ready to be plumbed in. Damon estimates it’ll take one month to begin brewing on site.
Until then the plan is to contract brew the Hyland recipes with another brewery, plus feature a variety of guest taps in the bar. Other than beer, also available is wine, bottled water, fruit juice, and soda.

The Hyland in the orchard

Something about the winding climb from Brookfield on Rice Corner Road and the straight uphill ascent made from Sturbridge on Arnold Road must have struck home for Jim Hyland more than 60 years ago.
It’s not hard to imagine why he sold three properties to buy 144 acres under the wide-open sky.
In 1945, he came to a hobby orchard that had been grown over for years and in his mind’s eye he saw thriving apple trees.
“He was rewarded with 30 years of clearing stones,” his daughter Sally Damon said. Yet, Hyland Orchard was born.
Sally, who is also Chris’s mother, grew up in the house and moved back in 1976 to raise Chris, Don, and Melissa. But somewhere along the way, the orchard and woodland acreage was sold to a developer. For more than 10 years the orchard remained untended, until Chris’s father Eugene Damon came in to finance the purchase of the bulk of the original land, build a brewery, establish a variety of farm animal populations, and plant new apple trees.
Then Chris, like his grandfather, began clearing overgrown land and saving what old trees he could while patiently pruning for five years before the fruit would grow. The work paid off this year in a bumper crop of apples. “The best I’ve ever seen,” Chris said.
All varieties but Courtland are outdoing themselves for size, ripeness and abundance, he said. The orchard sells overflowing bags or empty ones for those who like to pick their own.
For one thing, Damon, explained, the trees are hitting the prime of their productive years.
For another, equipment problems that normally crop up didn’t happen this year due to careful winter maintenance. Plus, there was lucky weather including a lack of the normal hail storm that will knock buds from the trees.
In October, Hyland is going full gear. This weekend is the Oktoberfest celebration with live music on Saturday and Sunday.
For Damon, keeping the place essentially unchanged means more than full time hours for part time pay, which is why he also runs a landscaping company.
October is the grand finale, but, beginning in early August, peaches and a couple of apple varieties ripen. That’s when weekend concerts begin under the pavilion. The orchard hosts weddings and charity events as well.

A community together

By Taryn Plumb
Turley Publications Reporter

STURBRIDGE – These days, divisiveness seems to be the status quo.
Politicians, local officials, coworkers, neighbors, friends – even family members – are very often split down political, social and economic lines.
But that’s exactly the accepted norm that the Merchants of Sturbridge organization (or MOS) is trying to combat.
Beginning this spring, the group of local retailers, officials and residents – whose political differences have been, at times, as discordant as an un-tuned symphony – have unified as a cohesive force to promote and celebrate Sturbridge, and, ultimately, drum up commerce by drawing attention to its multitude of businesses from both inside and outside town borders.
“It’s community, really,” said Karin Rokicki, a committee member who represents town residents. “Everything that you can think of that would define a community is what we’re trying to establish.”
And in just a few months, they’ve been quite busy.
Headed by Selectman Thomas Creamer, the group collects membership dues and gathers monthly, and is now awaiting word on its application for non-profit status.
Since April, it has established an ambassador committee with members welcoming and greeting large tours and conference attendees while dressed in traditional 19th century garb, furnishing them with packets, booklets and coupons (which at times have been specially tailored to conference visitors). A Web site, http://www.merchantsofsturbridge.com, has also been launched; it provides an event calendar and a listing of dozens of town businesses, restaurants and services.
Smaller efforts have included hanging flags along Route 20 during patriotic events and holidays; incorporating food stations from area restaurants – such as The Copper Stallion, Sturbridge Coffee House, Enrico’s Brick Oven Pizzeria and Rovezzi’s Restaurant – into concerts on the common events to draw more families and promote local eateries; and unifying and beautifying area business fronts by offering volunteer weeding, gardening and planting.
But the organization’s largest effort thus far will come with its Feast and Fire event on Oct. 10, an evening of music, local cuisine and a blazing bonfire at Turner’s Field.
“From the littlest guy to the biggest guy, (we’re) working together to make this town a success,” said committee member Alexandra Pifer of The Seraph, which has had a presence in town for 28 years.
Because there’s no reason it shouldn’t be, she said. Consider the asset of Old Sturbridge Village, the hundreds of acres of open space, the location between Route 84 and the Massachusetts Turnpike at the “intersection of all New England.”
“It isn’t all about being a merchant, it’s about belonging, a sense of community,” she said. And the hope is this will be “contagious” and “reciprocal.”
“People think we’re out here selling our wares and they’re back there paying taxes,” she said. “But it’s all together. We all have to stand together if we want to make this town what it should be. People should support local businesses. The support of the community just has to be there.”
But therein lies the conundrum, the ultimate quandary that Merchants of Sturbridge has committed itself to solving.
Sometimes, as much as town residents want to support local businesses, there are deterrents – sometimes big hurdles.
For starters, because there isn’t always advertising, townspeople sometimes can’t tell from the names of new stores that crop up what they sell or what services they offer, she said. Also, because many shops and restaurants are in older buildings and homes, there are logistical issues – such as just finding the front door. She suggested businesses make a better effort to advertise what they sell and put up clearer signage.
Access is another issue.
Working moms and dads looking to make quick stops on their way home or on weekend mornings before practices and games often find shuttered shops, because some retailers close at 5 p.m. and hold limited hours on Saturday and Sunday, she said.
“It’s important that they at least have a couple of days where they’re extending their hours or shifting things around,” explained Rokicki, who has informal discussions with friends and neighbors to provide input to the committee. “We’re not asking for a change so they can work 17 hours a day, we’re just telling them why a big part of the population isn’t there.”
Another population that could be better served: Youth, according to Maryann Thorpe, another resident representative on the committee. “There really isn’t much for our children to do in town,” she said.
She’d also like to see merchants utilize Sturbridge’s open space by catering to eco-tourism.
Thirteen years ago, when she moved to town, she remembers it as “bustling.” But now, she’s “concerned by all the empty storefronts on Main Street,” she said.
Pifer, a longtime merchant, agreed that commerce in town is a “very complex problem.” Retailers have “lost focus” as to what people are looking for, she acknowledged. “Obviously the town is in dire need of something to make it cohesive,” she said. “It seems a little disjointed.”
And in some cases, people have given up. “A lot of people are fed up with trying to do anything,” said Rokicki.
But there’s no one particular person or thing to blame: It’s the combined fault of the town, the residents, the business owners themselves, Pifer said. There’s also a geographic challenge, she noted, with there being no “town center” that pulls everyone together.
Yet at the same time, “It’s not a big mystery that the economy is really, really bad,” she said. And in such instances, small, independent shops “are the first to fall.”
Rokicki agreed that, in casual conversation, people will sometimes refer to locations around town as “the so and so, that used to be the such and such, which was the blah-blah-blah.”
In the end, the goal is to keep businesses around for a long time, she said, so they can establish firm identities.
In some cases, it’s simply about starting with a unified look.
For instance, through MOS efforts, many businesses honored Pan-Mass Challenge participants this year with painted bicycles decorating their storefronts. Also, during the upcoming Sturbridge Harvest Festival, many retailers will place decorated scarecrows out front. And for Christmas, the hope is to get as many residents as possible to band together and place luminaries on their doorsteps to create a “town of candles,” as Pifer put it.
The group similarly hopes to put at least three Christmas trees along Route 20 this holiday season.
All told, Rokicki noted, “We’re really trying to wrap our arms around each other.”
Because in the end, that can foster what so many have been seeking for so long: Community. The goal is to make Sturbridge “as prosperous as we once were, for our many generations to come,” Thorpe said.
For more information, visit http://www.merchantsofsturbridge.com.

By Matthew Bernat
Turley Publications Staff Writer

STURBRIDGE – Four members of the Town Administrator Search Committee have resigned, citing a lack of direction from selectmen and saying their reputations – in the community’s eyes – would be tarnished if they continued.
“We don’t feel we have the confidence of the Board of Selectmen,” Reed Hillman, former search committee chairman, said.
“If perception is what guides you, if you don’t have the spines to stand up and say we have faith in these five people to do the right thing,” Hillman told the board. “For me, my integrity’s in play – I’m out.”
Barbara Barry, town finance director, Anthony Celuzza, resident representative, and Kevin Smith, chairman of the finance committee, also resigned at the selectmen’s Sept. 8 meeting.
The surprise announcement came after a debate between board and committee members. It was sparked by the committee members’ decision to tweak the language of the advertisement for the town administrator position.
Committee members had originally planned to release the names of three finalists, but instead told the board two of the applicants had since withdrawn. Hillman said no viable candidates were left from a field of 49.
Creamer said he was concerned it appeared the committee abandoned the original criteria, which might lead residents to believe, “the hometown candidate was given a significant edge.”
The “hometown candidate” referred to being Charles Blanchard, the town administrator for Paxton and husband of Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Mary Blanchard. Creamer said he discovered Mr. Blanchard’s interest through an e-mail correspondence.
“I feel, potentially, that the entire process has been compromised because I would have to wonder how many candidates did not submit their name based upon the established criteria,” Creamer said.
Committee members sought someone with seven years of experience as a town administrator, or assistant, and a master’s degree.
Mr. Blanchard has served as a town administrator for four years, and lacks a master’s degree.
“It concerns me that there are folks out there who are looking at this criteria and coming to the conclusion that a candidate was sent forward that did not meet that criteria,” Creamer said.
He went on to say Mrs. Blanchard should resign from the board if her husband were to apply for the position.
“It’s a thought,” she said. “But where not anywhere near being in that situation yet.”
She said there would not be a conflict of interest and had checked with the state’s Ethics Commission regarding the situation.
Regardless of Mrs. Blanchard’s inquiry to the Ethics Commission, Selectman Harold White said should Mr. Blanchard apply, it would create a “fundamental problem” for the board. He said the perception of impropriety would be enough to cause concern among residents.
Selectman Ted Goodwin also asked the “legality” of such a move be studied.
Hillman took issue with Creamer’s comments about the committee’s search procedure. He said at no time did any suspicious action take place.
“We have never taken any effort to favor any candidate,” Hillman said, and noted the extended search, “had nothing to do with any candidate, local or otherwise. This is an effort by the five of us to send to you three candidates, any one of whom we would be proud to see as our next town administrator.”
After about 40 minutes, the discussion ended and Barry, Celuzza, Hillman and Smith met outside of the main meeting room briefly. When they returned it was to resign.
“I feel that my integrity has been questioned and will be questioned by not only members of the board, but by the public,” Barry said.
She came to the committee with an open mind and a willingness to contribute, she said.
“I feel it’s unfortunate that from the very beginning of the process the search committee was not given any direction,” Barry said.
Hillman suggested the board hire an outside firm to conduct the search. Doing so would remove local politics from the equation, he said.
White said the Town Charter stipulates that a search committee be “appointed” and the board would not be able to hire a firm.
After learning of the resignations, board members discussed placing an advertisement to attract residents in order to rebuild the Search Committee. The fifth committee member, Selectman Scott Garieri, did not resign.
Garieri said the earliest date Sturbridge could expect to see a new town administrator installed – under the best circumstances – would be Jan. 1.

By Jennifer Grybowski
Turley Publications Reporter

STURBRIDGE – The staff and students at Tantasqua Regional High School are doing all they can to make sure new students – freshmen and transfers – are ready as possible to embark on a new year at a new school.
Interim Principal Michael Lucas said this summer’s New Student Orientation, run by the Student Council, has been successful, with about 240 students attending – that’s about 80 percent of incoming freshmen and new students.
“The feedback is they feel much better as freshmen walking in the first day,” Lucas said. “We want the kids to be coming in excited, not anxious. And it prepares them to be good students.”
Student Council President Patrick Bressette agreed.
“It went really well,” he said. “We got them active and they had a really good time. I think most of them came because their parents asked them to, but when they left, they realized they had a lot of fun.”
Orientation included presentations from students and staff about academic success, non-athletic extracurricular involvement, the athletic program, scheduling and dress code and behavior; tours of the building; a cookout lunch on the patio; and a question and answer session.
Dean of Students Leigh Joseph also pointed out that orientation programs are not solely for students. There was a Freshmen Parent/Guardian Forum Aug. 26.
“It’s an opportunity for all parties involved to be on the same page,” she said. “For many parents, this is the first time they have a student coming to the school so we want to prepare them as well. We want them to view us as partners, to help them become more involved and to know what the rigor is.”
In addition to the orientation sessions, Lucas is looking to implement what he calls a Freshmen Academy next year. The focus, he said, is to enhance the experience of freshmen.
“The program makes sure they are welcomed into the high school environment,” he said.
Joseph said making the transition from the junior high to the high school – where the population doubles – is often difficult for some freshmen.
“We are looking at what we have to offer and see what we need to do to make it easier for them,” she said.
Assistant Principal Peter Dobrowolski will be overseeing the program this year, creating a study group made up of faculty to assess what freshmen need to succeed.