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2014: Fresh starts, old problems resolved

Date: 1/2/2015

EDITOR'S NOTE: With the New Yeard, the staff of Reminder Publications took a look back and compiled a list of some of the top stories and trends that helped shape the Pioneer Valley in 2014. Feel free to share your thoughts or memories of the past year by either emailing us at or connecting with us via social media on Facebook ( or Twitter (@TheReminderMA).

New school on track to open this February

Jan. 24, 2014
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The new West Springfield High School is nearing completion and is on track to open on Feb. 25.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Russell Johnston said the school district initially requested a renovation of the 60-year-old high school, but the state denied its request. The Commonwealth did however fund the construction of the new $107.1 million high school, which is a redesign of a model school in Hudson. Once the new school is in use, the old high school will be torn down.
“The building is basically done,” Mayor Edward Sullivan said. “The construction is right on schedule.” He said that the faculty will move in over winter break, Feb. 15 to 23. The keys to the old high school will be handed over to the contractor on March 1 for demolition.

Bellamy’s family, friends react to Olympic loss

Feb. 21, 2014
WESTFIELD – A heartbreaking end to the Women’s Olympic gold medal hockey game sent Kacey Bellamy’s family and friends into silent disbelief.
The U.S. team led Canada 2-0 until Brianne Jenner scored to make it 2-1 with just 3:26 left in the third period. A second goal by Marie-Philip Poulin in the final minute of regulation sent it into overtime, setting up Poulin to score the game winner at 8:10.

Supporters of Bellamy, who was part of the silver winning team in Vancouver, gathered at the Tavern Restaurant, 2 Broad St., to watch the Americans and Canadians battle for gold. Those in attendance included Bellamy’s sister Lindsey Bellamy, cousins Jeanine and Robert Braceland, aunt Jeannie Fiedler and Mayor Daniel Knapik. When the winning goal was scored, a hush came over the crowd as they sat and stared, openmouthed at the replay.

During a timeout in the third period, Reminder Publications chatted with Lindsey about watching her sister in the Olympics. She said, “ It’s the most incredible feeling – words can’t describe – she’s my hero. I love her so much. I’m so proud of her, of the whole team. The past four years of blood, sweat and tears has seriously shown.”

Town seeks reserve funds to cover costs of winter storms

Feb. 21, 2014   
AGAWAM – This winter has brought numerous snowstorms and as a result, some communities have overspent their snow budgets.

As of Feb. 10, the town of Agawam had $73,600 left of its initial $456,000 snow and ice budget. Mayor Richard Cohen estimated that the amount had been depleted after three more storms occurred on Feb. 13, 15 and 18.
A motion to transfer $332,160 from the Reserve Fund and Salary Reserve Fund was to go before the City Council at its Feb. 18 meeting, which was cancelled due to inclement weather.

Cohen cited safety as the first priority. He said that the Department of Public Works (DPW) would never cease its snow and ice removal processes simply because the budget money ran out.

According to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 44, Section 31D, municipalities are allowed to deficit spend in order to meet the snow and ice removal needs of a community.

Judge rules Knapik breached First Amendment

Feb. 28, 2014   
WESTFIELD – A federal judge ruled that Mayor Daniel Knapik violated the First Amendment rights of two people running for office when he ordered the removal of their campaign signs.

On Feb. 21, Federal District Court Judge Michael Ponsor decided in favor of property owner David Costa, At-large City Councilor David Flaherty and Municipal Light Board Member Jane Wensley in a lawsuit filed against Knapik in March of 2012. The complaint stemmed from an incident in 2011 when the Department of Public Works (DPW) removed the plaintiffs’ political signs per the mayor’s request. Knapik moved for reconsideration of the ruling on Feb. 24. A date is yet to be determined.

West Side enters arbitration with MGM to outline agreement

March 28, 2014
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The town will now enter into arbitration with MGM Springfield since the two failed to negotiate a surrounding community agreement by March 19, the deadline set forth by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC).

The MGC is not responsible for appointing the legal mediators. West Side and MGM must now choose a panel of arbitrators for the issue. If they don’t happen to choose a coinciding attorney, then each will select its own and then, jointly, pick the third member of the panel. Once the process begins, the two have 20 days to reach an agreement.

“We had a series of meetings,” Mayor Edward Sullivan said. “We had good discussions. When it came down to the deadline, we had to agree to disagree on the impacts and costs associated with them.”

Velis to take residence in 4th Hampden District seat

April 4, 2014
WESTFIELD – John Velis edged out opponent City Councilor Dan Allie to become the next 4th Hampden District state representative.

In a vote of 2,697 to 2,354, Velis won the election with 53 percent of the vote. At this time, a date for his official swearing in has not been set.

“It was so close,” Velis said. “As 8 p.m. approached I was cautiously optimistic. Over the course of the campaign, I had a very good feeling.”

His reaction after the results were official, “Oh my God, I’m going to be a state representative.” Velis said he immediately hugged his family and “reached out to all the supporters he could” to thank them.

Nurses protest wage earnings, seek raises

June 13, 2014
AGAWAM – Nurses working for the Agawam Public School District are fighting to increase their wages, which they say are hindering the ability to maintain its nursing staff and necessary since nurses deal with more than cuts and bruises. 

A picket line of nurses and supporters has greeted attendees at the past few City Council meetings. At the June 2 meeting, Agawam High School nurse Mary Pasteris, RN, BSN, NCSN, spoke during the Citizen’s Speak Time. She noted that the nursing staff had 41,280 office visits during the last school year and has already handled 40,000 visits this year. She explained that the students have a “myriad of complex diagnoses” that require medication management that account for just over 8,850 of the visits.

“We’re unable to attract and retain professional school nurses because they won’t pay professional wages,” Pasteris, who has worked with the school district for 19 years, said. “We care for your most valuable commodity – your children.”   

Economic development projects on tap following MGM license

June 18, 2014
SPRINGFIELD – Mayor Domenic Sarno said that economic development projects other than the MGM casino should be moving forward now that MGM Springfield has been granted a casino license.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted unanimously on June 13 to award the Commonwealth’s first casino license to MGM. The decision was met with a standing ovation at the commission’s meeting at the MassMutual Center.
Sarno cautioned though, that if the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules a referendum question that could repeal the legislation that created the possibility for casino gaming could be on the November ballot, he and other casino advocates will be “spending the summer educating the state” about the issue.
Sarno said the possible ballot question would delay the casino and its jobs and revenue by almost a year.

Plex proposal withdrawn, residents relieved

Oct. 23, 2014
AGAWAM – Applause erupted at the Agawam City Council meeting on Oct. 20 as a long battle ended, at least for now.
The petition for a zone change, which would allow the construction of The Plex, was withdrawn just two hours before the meeting, as announced by City Council President Christopher Johnson.

The Plex, an indoor/outdoor sports complex proposed by Don Cameron of DCJ Realty LLC, has been the source of heated debate. Residents of Agawam and Feeding Hills repeatedly voiced their concerns over the South West Street site that Cameron had chosen, citing issues such as parking, traffic and the effect of the complex on the surrounding wetlands as more trouble than The Plex was worth.

While the proposal has been removed from the City Council’s agenda, Johnson said there is still a chance that it can be brought back before the council again.

MassDOT announces plans for Memorial Avenue rotary

Dec. 5, 2014
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has announced that construction on the Memorial Avenue rotary is set to begin in May of 2015 and will be completed before the Big E opens on Sep. 18, 2015.

Bob Penfield, the design manager from VHB Inc., presented the 75 percent complete design plans at a public information meeting on Dec. 2, with the MassDOT Project Manager Alex Murray.    

The Memorial Avenue Rotary Repair Project has targeted the both rotary bridges, and while they are both safe to drive on, the westbound bridge is in “serious condition,” according to Penfield.

Because this project is part of MassDOT’s Accelerated Bridge Program, the construction and replacement of the superstructures will take place over two long weekends, rather than an extended period of time. The eastbound bridge construction will take place from May 29 to June 2 and the westbound bridge June 19 to 23, provided there is acclimate weather.