A Year of Shock, Rebuilding
Ashburnham, Ashby, Lunenburg and Westminster had their share of news in 2018 ranging from crime, business, education and environmental stories. Here’s a rundown of some of the top stories from those communities.
Julia Enright charged with murder
The 21-year-old Ashburnham woman was accused of murdering Brandon Chicklis of Westminster, who was reported missing in June and discovered by the side of the road in Rindge, New Hampshire. Prosecutors say the 20-year-old died in Ashburnham and that his blood was found in Enright’s car and a treehouse at her Packard Hill Home. She was indicted before Christmas and will be tried in Worcester Superior Court. She remains held.
Alltown rises from the ashes of Mr. Mikes
A new convenience store opened on Route 101 more than a year after Mr. Mikes burned. In April 2017, a three-alarm fire gutted the store where many people stopped for morning coffee, snacks or quick groceries. Construction on the new shop began in February and the Alltown Market opened in August.
Baby goat slain
An 18-year-old Groton man allegedly stabbed and cut the throat of a goat named “Marshmallow” in September. Police say Dominick Tidd cut into a pen the goat shared with other animals and led the animal about 100 yards away before killing it. Tidd, who is homeless, has mental health and substance abuse issues, according to court documents.
McGraths ousted from Ash-West schools
Former janitor James McGrath allegedly raped another school employee four times, which he was charged with in May. His wife, former J.R. Briggs Elementary School Principal Andrea McGrath, was placed on administrative leave and fired a month later. To fight her firing, she filed a lawsuit against the school district in September. James McGrath awaits trial.
Steps taken for new public safety building
The town began accepting proposals for a project manager in November to build the police department a new space on Main Street. Its current post is a former modular classroom that has a leaky roof. The department’s new building would connect to the fire station.
Transforming Maja Hall
A former Finnish Dance hall is getting a makeover from the Fire/EMS Association. The association wants to transform the space into a place for town and community functions. Through fundraising over the holiday season, the association and fire department are hoping to finish work and have the hall ready by the spring.
Recreational marijuana? Maybe
Fitchburg State Road could become the site of a retail shop and cultivation facility proposed by United Cultivation LLC. The business came to town in December to share its proposal with residents. Zoning approved at the 2018 Spring Town meeting allows some types of recreational marijuana establishments.
Burnham named superintendent
Kathleen Burnham was named head of the town’s public schools in June. She took over from Loxi Jo Calmes, who served in the role for 15 years. Burnham was one of two finalists who interviewed for the position. She previously worked as the special education director of North Andover Public Schools.
Residents say no to logging
Robbs Hill Conservation Area that includes Small Town Forest isn’t the place for selective logging, a group of residents told town officials in the fall. By October, the Conservation Commission put the plan on hold to give it more time to re-examine management for the forest. This would be the second town forest area to undergo selective logging.
Cherry Hill silo collapse damages barn
A grain silo fell onto the farm’s iconic red barn that overlooks Leominster Street in October, halting dairy production and forcing the MacMilliam family to decide how to move forward. The community rallied together to raise money, house the farm’s dairy cows, and help clear hay from the damaged barn.
Goodbye Bootlegger, hello Simon-Pure Publick House
After The Bootlegger Restaurant closed in January, longtime chef and restaurant manager Rick Laakkonen reopened it in Novemeber as a pub and tavern called the Simon-Pure Publick House. He purchased the restaurant, made improvements inside, and changed the menu.
Who needs plastic bags?
Town Meeting voters approved a bylaw that will eliminate single-use plastic bags from grocery retail stores starting June 2019. The citizens petition drew debate from residents, including those who asked about the impact the change will haves on small businesses. Plastic bags that will be subject to the bylaw are the typical ones with two handles.
Chief changes for fire, police departments
Former Fire Chief Kevin Nivala retired in June, less than a year after being diagnosed with brain cancer. The next month, former Police Chief Sam Albert retired to work as the director of safety, security and emergency management at UMass Memorial Health Alliance-Clinton Hospital. Their departures promoted searches that resulted in the promotion of former Fire Capt. Kyle Butterfield as chief in September. The search for a new police chief continues.
Plan to swap land, grow landfill fails
Westminster and Fitchburg were counting on state legislation that would have approved the trade of 85 acres from the Leominster State Forest for 175 acres from Westminster. The trade would have helped expand the landfill the communities share. Without the swap, it is expected to close by 2024. The bill failed on the last day of the legislative session in August. Legislators will try again in January refile it.
Wachusett expanding its facility
The brewing company received Planning Board approval in October to install four barrel fermentation tanks and make improvements to its brew yard. Wachusett’s campus project is a longterm vision in town that will increase beer production and attract more guests. The expansion is expected to be completed by spring 2019.
Police chief search slowed
The town seemed to be on schedule to hire a new chief by the end of the year. But by the end of October, search committee Chair Steve Hemman resigned after an Open Meeting Law complaint was filed against the committee. Before Christmas, a police officer faced discipline for allegedly giving video footage of a meeting between Hemman and Acting Police Chief Michael McDonald, who applied for the permanent chief position. At the committee’s most recent meeting, member H. Christopher Redney asked for the dismissal of two members for allegedly acting improperly.
Follow Mina Corpuz on Twitter @mlcorpuz.