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    Highs and lows from last week (March 24, 2014)

    High: Dozens of Stonington residents voted to spend $1.2 million to replace the leaky roof at Deans Mill School, and the unanimous vote at Stonington High on Tuesday night drew worthy applause. “I’m glad it’s finally over,” said Amy Hambly, a volunteer at Deans Mill, echoing the sentiments of many. Hambly had been on a crusade to have new roof installed at the school. “I feel like it’s been a long road since I was in the school in October and first noticed the leaks,” she said. “Thank goodness. I’m glad (residents) understand this is what needs to be done.” Bill King, the district’s operations and business manager, said work on the roof should begin over the summer and be completed by the time school starts in the fall. “Now it will be fixed once and for all,” he said.

    High: The Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission gave the green light for a fitness center to take over the former Stop & Shop in Pawcatuck, which abandoned the Route 1 space five years ago. The commission approved a change-in-use application on Tuesday, and the new facility, to be called Renegade Fitness Center, now only needs a zoning certificate from the planning office before it can open. First Selectman Edward Haberek Jr. praised the new business as an “exciting addition to the town.” Too, it’s a welcome addition. The anchor store of the Pawcatuck Shopping Plaza has been vacant far too long.

    Low: It’s hard to believe that a far-reaching change in land-use regulations could sail through the Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission with so few ripples — this in a town where things like backyard chickens and advertising placards have aroused so much controversy. Perhaps it’s the way the proponent of changing rural setback rules was able to frame his proposal as an abstract matter of fairness and convenience. But make no mistake: Allowing owners of large lots in the greenbelt to put buildings 45 feet closer to their neighbor’s property line, without seeking a variance, is sure to generate ill will and disputes over screening barriers when the abstract idea turns into concrete. And the potential for all that new construction will undoubtedly undermine the purpose of the greenbelt zone itself, which is to protect valuable environmental features.

    High: Westerly Hospital is not only financially stable; it’s thriving — this according to Bruce D. Cummings, Lawrence + Memorial’s president and CEO, and its chairman of the board, Stephen Greene. “Our balance sheet is strong,” Greene said when the two men spoke to the Westerly Town Council on Monday. “Our cash flow is good.” This is encouraging news for the hospital, which entered into a voluntary, 18-month receivership in 2011 before L+M of New London purchased it in June 2013. Adding to the feel-good vibe was recent news that a labor agreement has been reached between the hospital’s unions and management (it was scheduled to be ratified today). Said Greene, “Things are going very well at The Westerly Hospital through the efforts of a good many people.”

    High: The Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center will extend its Weekender Backpack Food Program to Westerly starting April 4, which means qualifying children will receive a backpack of food every weekend to hold them over until school starts again on Monday. The program was able to expand into Westerly (North Stonington and Stonington clients already participate) thanks to the record $21,000 raised by the Cabin Fever Festival last month in Olde Mistick Village, and will begin with eight selected families with more than 30 children. As PNC Executive Director Vicki Anderson noted, “You can’t learn at school if you’re hungry.”



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