2021 in Review: March – April

As Reading’s year turned to March and the beginnings of spring became apparent, there was hope that the newly available vaccines for the COVID-19 virus would soon bring an end to the continuing pandemic. The upcoming election dominated the month as candidates for the town-wide offices made their cases to voters, and voters were allowed to vote in person or by mail-in ballot.

Vanessa Alvarado, Candidate for Re-Election

The Democratic Town Committee hosted “Meet the Candidates” forums with the Select Board and School Committee candidates. At the Select Board forum, incumbent Vanessa Alvarado spoke, emphasizing her experience on the board and learning “how things get done at Town Hall.” She also pointed out the importance of maintaining “continuous dialog between those making decisions and those affected by decisions.”

Christopher Haley, Candidate for Select Board

Challenger Christopher Haley listed three areas that he would emphasize as a board member: downtown parking, small business growth, and public safety. He described parking and small business growth as “inextricably intertwined.” Haley confirmed his commitment to the community by concluding, “I live in Reading, I work in Reading, I eat lunch in Reading, I sleep in Reading.”

Shawn Brant, School Committee Candidate for Re-Election

In the School Committee Forum, incumbent Shawn Brandt shared what he believes to be the importance of representing young families on the committee. “[I] have a lot of skin in the game.” Brandt stated as he has three young children and “a cumulative 37 years of schooling in Reading ahead.” He expressed gratitude for all he has learned in the past year and believes that he can find a common cause with his colleagues on the committee. 

Geoffrey Coram, Candidate for School Committee

Former short-term School Committee member Geoffrey Coram spoke next. He shared some of the positive experiences that his two daughters have had in the Reading Public Schools. These have led to his broad experience as a budget parent and PTO member throughout his time in Reading. “I’ve seen financial needs at all three levels,” Coram explained. 

Sarah McLaughlin, Candidate for School Committee

The final challenger, Sarah McLaughlin, shared that her profession “requires me to be data-driven, innovative, and collaborative,” suggesting that she would bring these same qualities to the School Committee. “My focus is on education,” she stated. “With the coming of a new superintendent, a new high school principal, and a [recently hired director of student services], we have an immense opportunity to build on our strengths,” McLaughlin continued.

On March 29, the School Committee voted 6-0 to approve a resolution brought by Brandt and member John Parks condemning harassment and intimidation of district administrators and staff. A vote which chair Chuck Robinson declared as “a no brainer as to what we should be doing.” Member Thomas Wise agreed, “The language [of the resolution] is spot on.”

Superintendent John Doherty had shared that an email received by Reading Memorial High School Principal Kate Boynton, which precipitated the resolution, was “the tipping point of a list of harassing and intimidating and threatening communications” to staff and administrators, especially around the work of equity and social justice issues.

The local election occurred on April 6, with Select Board challenger Christopher Haley winning the election for the three-year seat over incumbent Vanessa Alvarado. School Committee incumbent Shawn Brandt retained his seat for a three-year term and was joined by newcomer Sarah McLaughlin. 

In the Reading Municipal Light Department Board of Commissioners race, incumbent John Stempeck was elected to remain as a commissioner, with challenger Marlena Bita also elected to the Board of Commissioners.

Incumbent Andrew Grimes remained on the Library Board of Trustees and was joined by newcomer Monique Gnanaratnam. Incumbent Alan Foulds also won his unopposed bid for a twenty-fifth term as Town Moderator.

Photo from Reading Police Facebook Page

In the early morning hours of April 13, Reading firefighters were called upon to battle a three-alarm fire in the clubhouse at the Meadow Brook Golf Club on Grove Street. The previous clubhouse was destroyed in a fire less than one year prior. The building, which was still under construction, was approved by the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) in November 2018, and the ground was broken in October 2020. Reacting to the fire, the board of governors shared their devastation and vowed to rebuild the clubhouse once again.

On April 16, the School Committee voted 6-0 to direct the superintendent to submit a Statement of Interest (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for the replacement or update to Killam Elementary School. This is the first step toward the ultimate goal of developing a twenty-year plan for solving school space issues in the district.

The Reading Post reported, “Members of the committee made it clear that this first step does not mean that any decisions have been made regarding what type of school building ‘scheme’ the committee will recommend to the community. ‘Once we submit [the SOI], we will be in the pipeline [with the MSBA], not committed,’ Superintendent John Doherty shared.”

The Select Board announced on April 22 that it had settled a federal district court case regarding the former Daniels House located at 59 Middlesex Ave. It also resolved a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Housing Act complaint, both filed by the owner of 59 Middlesex Avenue against the Town. The property owner had alleged that the Town violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to issue a certificate of occupancy to operate a congregate living facility at the property.

The Town admitted no discrimination but, balancing the cost of litigation and the consequences of any potentially adverse finding by HUD, the Select Board concluded that resolving the matter would be appropriate. The agreement directed the Town to issue a certificate of occupancy, provided certain conditions are met, for enumerated protected uses at the site. The agreement also required payment of $110,000 to the property owner. The Town’s insurance covered $100,000 of the cost while the remaining $10,000 was paid by the Town.

Also, during April, Karen Herrick was elected chair of the Select Board, CPDC approved the Auburn Street water tower project, and Kevin Tracey was named the new principal of Reading Memorial High School. Virtual Annual Town Meeting commenced on April 26 with twenty warrant articles to consider. There was also a special Town Meeting within the Annual Town Meeting on the 26.

The Reading Post will continue to review 2021 as the final week of the year continues.

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