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Saying goodbye to 2018 in Greenwich

December 29, 2018

GREENWICH — The more things change ...

The year just ending saw unprecedented developments. For starters, Democrats from town won seats in the General Assembly for the first time in, well, longer than anyone alive can remember.

It was also a year of numbing repetition. Once again, Greenwich is searching for a new school superintendent after watching one skip town after what could more accurately be called a visit than a tenure.

Water was a recurring theme in 2018, some of it contained in a sparkling new pool complex, much of it uncontained in school building pipes. One cultural institution completed a redefining renovation this year, another embarked on one. Two teams at Greenwich High were crowned champions. And Greenwich bade farewell to its most famous son.

Some of the notable events of 2018:

One year after Democrats took control of the Board of Estimate and Taxation for the first time in the town’s recorded history, a century-old Republican control of the town’s delegation to the Legislature came to an end.

Democrat Stephen Meskers in November defeated incumbent Republican Michael Bocchino in the race for the 150th State House District, which covers Greenwich’s shoreline. Meskers will be the first Democratic state representative from Greenwich in more than a century. But his was not the only upset on Election Day.

Democrat Alexandra Bergstein defeated Republican incumbent L. Scott Frantz the 36th State Senate District, which covers all of Greenwich as well as portions of Stamford and New Canaan. Bergstein will be the first Democrat to represent the district since H. Allen Barton in 1930.

Bergstein and Meskers will be sworn in on Jan. 9 along with returning Republican incumbent state Reps. Livvy Floren, who did not have an opponent in her quest for a 10th term in the 149th District, and Fred Camillo, who won a sixth term by wide margin in the 151st District.

Greenwich Democrat Ned Lamont, a former member of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Estimate and Taxation, also had a big Election Day as he was beat Republican Bob Stefanowski to become the next governor. And in a Congressional showdown between town residents, incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, defeated Republican Harry Arora. Himes will begin his sixth term in office.

After less than a year on the job, Superintendent Jill Gildea surprised the school board, and most everyone else in town, by abruptly resigning. Gildea was in the process of overseeing a rocky breaking in of later school start times at Greenwich High, when she left to take another position out west. The school administration issued a statement that said Gildea was leaving “due to her family’s unanticipated relocation to Utah.”

Her departure was another turnover at the top of the public school district, which has seen a dozen leaders, including interims, over the last two decades. The Board of Education is expected to announce a replacement for Gildea early in the new year. Currently, Ralph Mayo, a longtime district administrator and principal at Eastern Middle School, is serving as interim superintendent.

Also, Greenwich High School headmaster Chris Winters stepped down after nine years on the job. He left for Greenwich Country Day School, where he will create a new Upper School from scratch. Assistant Headmaster Richard “Rick” Piotrzkowski was named interim headmaster before classes began in the fall.

A long-awaited project finally had its debut in 2018. The new municipal pool in Byram Park opened in late June, in time for the Fourth of July weekend. The new facility quickly erased any memory of the old pool it replaced, with areas for lanes and aquatic activities, plus a shallow kiddy pool, splash pad, new concession stand and locker facilities, and a terrace overlooking Long Island Sound.

The $9.5 million project was completed through a public-private partnership with the Junior League of Greenwich, which is expected to complete its $2.5 million campaign in 2019. According to the town Department of Parks and Recreation, the pool averaged 485 visitors a day.

The town also saw more than its share of water mishaps in 2018. In October, a faucet in an art room at Cos Cob School malfunctioned, flooding the school’s lower floors and causing $1.9 million worth of damage. Students in lower grades, who have been attending classes at other schools in the district since the break, are expected to return to Cos Cob School at the end of the holiday break on Jan. 2.

Cos Cob was not the only school to have water problems this year. The hot water system in Greenwich High School’s science wing malfunctioned in November, causing the mechanical room there to flood with 7 feet of water that had to be pumped out. Then, earlier this month, a pipe coupling broke in the school’s Performing Arts Center, causing extensive damage and closing the auditorium and the school gymnasium.

The $46 million Performing Arts Center, which opened in 2015, also had flooding in its orchestra pit, and leaking from a skylight in 2018.

Greenwich High School also had much to be proud of in 2018, including two championship sports teams.

The Girls Swimming and Diving Team won the FCIAC championship, LL state championship and the State Open championship this year, while the Cardinals Football Team rebounded from a championship game loss in 2017 with a perfect season, capped off in December with a 34-0 win over New Canaan in the Class LL Championship game.

Both teams will be honored with a Parade of Champions in downtown Greenwich on June 9.

In a Stamford courtroom on December 11, Andrew Schmidt was sentenced to two years in prison for a hit-and-run collision that killed a Cos Cob man. Schmidt, 19, read an apology out loud in court for his conduct in April of 2016, when he struck Edward Setterberg on East Putnam Avenue while driving a Mercedes-Benz SUV. Schmidt told Judge Gary White he wanted to lead a productive life after his release.

When he was living in Greenwich as a youngster, George H.W. Bush was known as “Poppy” to family and friends. When he died Dec. 1, the community mourned the passing of a favorite son. Bush grew up in a 1903 Victorian with at 15 Grove Lane and attended Greenwich Country Day School. He was a regular visitor to Greenwich, while making his primary residence in Texas and Maine. Bush died eight months after his wife, Barbara, a native of Rye, N.Y. The two met at a holiday party in Greenwich.

One of the world’s greatest rock-and-roll musicians came to Greenwich in May. Eric Clapton played some of his most iconic hits during the Greenwich Town Party. The event, geared for local residents, was sold out in seconds when the tickets were put up for sale online. Organizers of the Town Party later introduced a new way for fans to purchase tickets for the all-day music festival.

The Greenwich Historical Society opened its doors to a brand new campus in early October. A new glass-enclosed lobby and welcoming center were created. The society also expanded its records and exhibition space. The expansion will lead to more educational events for young people. New gardens and landscaping will give educators a venue to discuss agriculture and farming practices, as well.

In November, the Bruce Museum broke ground on a major expansion project. The $45 million renovation will bring in more visitors, showcase new art collections and create much for space for science-education space. The 40,000-square-foot addition will double the current size of the museum. At the center of the new addition will be an open atrium, filled with white birch trees and other plantings, a so-called “light court. A 60-seat cafe and patio will be built, as well as a venue that can accommodate large parties.

In early June, a California man who committed three robberies in Greenwich and escaped from police on multiple occasions was given a seven-year prison sentence in U.S. Federal Court in Hartford. “I definitely want to apologize to the victims, for what they went through,” David Byers said at his court sentencing. The former fitness model robbed a bank twice in Greenwich in 2017, as well as a gas station. He also committed crimes on Long Island. The bank robber was captured in San Diego on May 2 by an FBI team in San Diego.

In February, a treasure trove of artwork, jewelry, antique scientific equipment and other collectibles went on sale at a local auction house, Black Rock Galleries in Greenwich. The items were recovered from the home of a wealthy Greenwich woman who left them in her home when she moved to a hotel. The woman, who was the partner of a successful aerospace executive, left the proceeds of her estate two charities benefiting young people in Greenwich. The woman in lived in a Greenwich hotel until her death in early 2017. She left the home in central Greenwich, leaving her purse behind with a Patek Phillipe watch in it, and it gradually turned into a ruin. The auctioneers used shovels and flashlights to remove the artwork and collectibles. The gallery reported that a Claes Oldenburg piece sold for $35,200. A Steinway piano sold for $15,400.

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