By COLIN A. YOUNG Staff Writer
Though it is now in the rear-view mirror, 2013 was no dull year in Waterford. And before looking ahead to the prospects of 2014, it is important to remember some of what happened during the last trip around the sun.
A decade-long school buildings plan was completed with the opening of the new high school, which welcomed a new principal and a group of students from halfway around the globe. And while celebrating the new school, some residents were also trying to save a school built 90 years before it.
In April, the town opened the doors to its $67-million technology-laden high school. The school boasts free WiFi Internet access throughout the building, surround-sound speakers in every classroom and interactive Whiteboards that function much like large touch-screen devices.
"We built the school for technology that hasn't been designed yet, to support in a wireless way what's to come," then-Principal Donald Macrino told The Day in April. "I think it's time we've turned schools into something more than factories."
With their student ID card, students can use one of about a dozen remote printers scattered throughout the school to print assignments on the way to class, or print a hall pass in the main office if they are running late for first period. The ID cards also function as credit cards for student lunch accounts.
But like the town's other new school buildings, the high school is built with technology to make it a more energy-efficient building, including toilets that use less water than traditional ones and using geothermal heating and cooling units instead of oil.
And in September, the high school welcomed 15 exchange students from Weihai No. 2 High School in China's Shandong province. The Chinese students lived for about a week with families in Waterford and attended classes with their hosts at the high school.
"At first, we felt a bit nervous because it is the first time for us to come to the United States but when we saw people's shiny smiles we dispelled all of our misgivings," Zhen Xi, a junior from Weihai, said in September.
The Chinese students, many of whom said they hope to attend an American university after high school, toured a number of area colleges and tourist sites during their visit.
"For me, it is exciting to see how, over the course of just a week, their presence will filter into the student subculutre here," school psychologist Peter Hunt said of the students from halfway around the globe.
"I always think it is important for our students to realize that there is another world out there and that they really learn about the cultural differences," Kathleen McCarthy, chairwoman of the town's Board of Education, said.
But while the town was celebrating the ribbon-cutting of its most recently built school building, some residents were fighting the possible demolition of another.
The 90-year-old Cohanzie School, which sits on 9 acres on Dayton Road, has long been viewed as a site for potential redevelopment. And late in 2013, with an environmental cleanup of the site underway, town officials hope a development plan, which could include the demolition of all or part of the building, will not be far behind.
"This is a hub, a tie to the community," Kathleen Reagan, who led the Save Cohanzie School group, said. "We need community, we need kids to grow up in the community. When you take away landmarks and ties people no longer care and this is valuable."
Cohanzie School was left vacant in 2008 as part of a building project approved at a 2002 referendum that consolidated the town's five elementary schools into three. In April, the Representative Town Meeting approved the appropriation of $463,100 for the cleanup and demolition of the school.
"We understand why people are sensitive about the building and the past history of the site and its sentimental value; it is a community asset," town Planning Director Dennis Goderre said. "Any type of development would have to reflect that."
Before any real action can be taken at the Cohanzie site, the town will have to assess the findings of the environmental consultants who tested the site in late November. Their findings are expected sometime in January, Goderre said.
Goderre himself took on his job as planning director in 2013 after succeeding Tom Wagner, who worked for three decades in Waterford. His last day of work was Feb. 22, exactly 30 years to the day he started the job, Feb. 22, 1983.
When he started three decades ago Crystal Mall was still under construction, blasting was underway on the side of the mall property's hill to make room for more development and the grand opening of Sears and Jordan Marsh followed shortly after.
Since then, the retail and dining developments along Route 1, Route 85 and Interstate 95 have become a premier destination for not only Waterford residents but those of southeastern Connecticut.
"Hopefully, people are happy with the way the town has been developed over the last 30 years," he said early in 2013. "I won't take all the credit, but hopefully they like what they see out there."