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Economic development, clashes between City Council and mayor mark 2012

Date: 1/2/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

CHICOPEE —The city of Chicopee wasn't as caught up in casino fever as much as some of its neighbors, but there was plenty of news generated in 2012.

Unity between city officials

Jan. 11, 2012: Newly elected City Council President George Moreau said that he is holding out an olive branch to Mayor Michael Bissonnette.

Moreau told Reminder Publications that one of his priorities is "to see if we can't get some of the bad blood out of the [city council]. I'm looking for more cooperation between the city council, the mayor and all of the departments."

"It can't always be one way," he added. "It can't always be his way or our way."

Bissonnette recently hosted a unity breakfast event at which he admitted that actions he took exacerbated the hostility between his office and the city council.

By the end of the year, the well intentioned "unity" had broken down again with members of the City Council and Bissonnette criticizing each other.

Warren campaigns in Chicopee

Jan. 18, 2012: In a campaign stop at the Westover Job Corps, Democratic senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren said that she is unaware of any political action groups (PAC) who are working on her behalf by sponsoring television ads attacking incumbent Sen. Scott Brown.

Warren has been the subject of commercials criticizing her views on the "Occupy Wall Street" movement and questioning if a Harvard Law School professor is in touch with voters.

"All I can say is that Karl Rove has landed here in Massachusetts and is spending millions of dollars — Wall Street money ­— to make sure that I don't get elected to the United States Senate. That's evidently what's happened to politics. All I know how to do is to go out and talk about what is important — to talk about jobs, to talk about our future, to talk about making the investments in the future," Warren said. "I'm not a professional politician. That's what I'm in this for. All I know is to go out and talk to people."

Although Warren and Brown agreed to keep PAC money out of the state and the senate race, their contest cost more than $70 million, one of the most expensive in the nation's history.

High school re-used

Feb. 1, 2012: The process of converting the former Chicopee High School into a new middle school moves forward with the selection of an architect later this month, according to Mayor Michael Bissonnette, and the Massachusetts School Building Authority will consider a Chicopee-based firm.

Caolo & Bieniek Associates Inc., which designed the new library and is working on a plan for the Chicopee Police Department, is among the companies being considered for the Chicopee High School re-use.

Bissonnette said the project is "a little bit trickier because it's a renovation."

By the year's end the renovations were progressing with the bulk of the work scheduled for 2013.

Officials work to save Westover

March 21, 2012: The importance of telling the story to decision makers about the positive impact made by Westover Air Reserve Base (WARB) was the message brought by state officials last week.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray brought members of his Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force to WARB on March 15 for a tour and a subsequent discussion about the impact of proposed cuts to the defense budget on the nation's largest reserve military base.

After seeing a massive C-5 transport plane being repaired, Murray and his team met with elected officials and business leaders at the Westover Metropolitan Airport facility.

Murray explained the proposed cuts to the defense budget involve $500 billion over a 10-year period. The state's approach, he added, is to assess the six military facilities in the Commonwealth — Barnes Air National Guard Base, Hanscom Air Force Base, the Massachusetts Military Reservation / Otis Air National Guard Base, Natick Soldier Systems Center and Fort Devens — and then seek ways to lobby against the cuts that affect those installations.

So far, there has not been any additional plans announced to change WARB's mission.

Holy Name closes school

March 28, 2012: A long-standing education tradition in the city will end this year.

Last week, Father David Darcy, pastor of Holy Name parish, announced to parents and then to the press that the parish school will be closed at the end of the school year.

Escalating costs, plus the repair needs of the buildings along with declining enrollment prompted the decision to close the school. The closing of the school buildings comes after the decision to close the historic Holy Name Church for structural reasons.

The school's last day will be June 22. Darcy said parents are being encouraged to enroll their children in another Catholic school.

Heroes honored

May 2, 2012: On May 2, the Chicopee School Committee honored four of the district's employees for their heroic efforts during the April 13 shooting rampage on the city's streets between the authorities and Carlos Gonzalez-Lauger.

Cecilia Rosado, bus driver; Tina McCollaum, bus monitor and paraprofessional; Deborah Paquette, crossing guard and paraprofessional; and Joseph Morrissette, a school resource officer from Chicopee Comprehensive High School, were recognized for their dedication to keeping the students safe during the crisis.

"The children came first, my mother's intuition kicked in," Paquette recalled, noting that she directed students to return home while at the corner of Hampden and Center streets.

"She called me and I could hear the gunshots in the background. [A shooting] can happen anywhere. I'm proud of her," John Paquette said of his wife's efforts.

While en route to Gen. John Stefanik School, Rosado, McCollaum and an 8-year-old student were caught in the crossfire.

"I actually crawled down the sidewalk behind a state trooper with a shield," McCollaum recalled.

When asked how the student is fairing now, McCollaum replied, "The student is doing well. The first couple days he was quiet, but now he's back to being himself."

The shoot-out on April 13, 2012 shocked the city. Members of the State Police and the Chicopee Police Department were honored on June 5 for their heroism during the event.

Hotel goes up

June 27, 2012: Although the recession put the new Residence Inn by Marriot hotel project into slow motion, officials finally broke ground for the 115-room hotel June 21 in the Chicopee Crossing development area.

Located on Memorial Drive, the project was first announced in 2007 and Frank Colaccino, president of the Colvest Group and the developer of Chicopee Crossing, said, "A project like this takes a long time."

The hotel, scheduled to open in the fall 2013, will be owned by BK Investments and managed by Waterford Hotel Group.

Colaccino said that between 1,200 and 1,400 construction jobs would be created by this hotel project. When completed, the hotel will employ about 45 full- and part-time employees.

The hotel is under construction. Also in the same area of Memorial Drive, a new Aldi's supermarket, T-Mobile and Chipotle Mexican Grill were constructed and opened last year.

Lapointe admits to charges

Sept. 19, 2012: The punishment of Francis Lapointe, former state representative and aide to Mayor Michael Bissonnette, did not satisfy two of the city councilors responsible for calling for an investigation into the forgery of signatures on a referendum petition last year.

According to the Attorney General's Office (AG), on Sept. 12, Lapointe "admitted to sufficient facts today in Chicopee District Court on the charge of Willful Alteration, Mutilation, or Destruction of Nomination Papers. The Commonwealth had requested that the court find the defendant guilty. District Court Judge Bethzaida Sanabria-Vega continued the case without a finding and ordered Lapointe to one year probation, with the condition that he be prohibited from working on any political campaign, whether for a candidate or for a ballot initiative. Violation of the terms of probation will automatically result in a guilty finding. Judge Sanabria-Vega also ordered Lapointe to pay a $1,000 fine."

The statements of City Councilors Dino Brunetti and John Vieau may restart some of the hostility between the City Council and the mayor that has been abated in recent months.

Brunetti said in a written statement, "Today is a black eye for the city of Chicopee and Chicopee residents deserve better. While some City Council members and the City Clerk exposed fraud and forgery in an effort to keep Chicopee elections honest, Mayor Bissonnette chose to hide behind his petition campaign chairman rather than stand and face the people of Chicopee."

Bissonnette was not named as part of any aspect of the fraud case by the Attorney General's investigation.

Chapin School to get new use

Oct. 24, 2012: The long closed Chapin Elementary School will have a new use as an apartment complex for homeless veterans.

Mayor Michael Bissonnette was joined by City Council President George Moreau, Jack Downing, the CEO of Soldier On and Dennis Fitzpatrick, the president of The O'Connell Companies at the school on Oct. 18 for the announcement.

Closed for more than a decade, the school had been considered by a developer for a condominium project prior to the advent of the recession in November 2008.

Bissonnette said the renovation of the school was a $10 million project. The O'Connell Companies will buy and develop the property in partnership with Solider On, the Northampton-based program designed to assisting homeless veterans to rebuild their lives.

Church re-opens as chapel

Nov. 28, 2012: St. Patrick's Church — one of the parishes closed by the reorganization effort undertaken by the Springfield Diocese — will be used again, but it will not be a separate parish.

Father Dariusz Wudarski, pastor of the Holy Name of Jesus parish, explained to Reminder Publications the building will be like "a big chapel" rather than a church.

Mark Dupont, spokesperson for the diocese, stated, "Under previously announced actions, the Vatican upheld the decision by the Diocese of Springfield to close the former St. Patrick's Parish and merge its territorial responsibilities into Holy Name of Jesus Parish. The Vatican did, however, indicate that St. Patrick's Church could not be relegated for sale or for any non-sacramental use. This decision did not specifically direct any particular use, allowing for local pastoral discretion."

Wudarski will begin a single weekend liturgy beginning Dec. 1. The weekly Mass will take place Saturdays at 5:30 p.m., except on Holy Days and Easter weekend. Wudarski would have to approve any other use of the building, such as for weddings, or funerals.