Guilford panel offers school upgrade options

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 28, 2008

GUILFORD — Two Guilford schools are in need of at least some repairs, and the price tag for construction could range from $28 million to $112 million, members of a community task force told the Board of Education Wednesday.

The meeting was the culmination of more than three years of investigation of the conditions at the district’s school buildings, especially Guilford High School and Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School.

The Community Task Force on School Facilities presented seven options to the board, including basic health and safety repairs at the two schools, an overall grade reconfiguration at several schools, and “renovate as new” projects for the high school and middle school.

The most expensive option would be to build completely new facilities, but task force co-Chairmen Mauro Rubbo and Mary Jo Kestner said that option would address all of the school district’s current infrastructure and educational program needs.

An architecture firm hired by the district put the cost of replacing Adams Middle School, assuming work begins in 2012, at $69.8 million. The cost for a new high school would be about $112 million.

For a house with an assessed value of $300,000, the presenters said, those figures would translate into $426 for the middle school work in the 2012-13 fiscal year, when the town’s debt load would begin. The new high school could increase taxes by $687 for a homeowner with a $300,000 house.

The basic renovations, which would cover health and safety concerns, have an estimated cost of $28 million for the middle school and $60.7 million for the high school.

The third major option, for a “renovate like new” project, would carry a total price tag of $59.7 million for the middle school and $93.7 million for the high school.

The task force also assumed that about 30 percent of the cost could be reimbursed by the state.

Board of Education Chairman William Bloss called Wednesday’s presentation an “unprecedented meeting” for Guilford.

“We have invested far less in infrastructure than comparable towns and part of that is not necessarily bad — we have been cautious,” Bloss said. “But we must make sure that caution does not become irresponsibility.”

In January 2003, Guilford residents defeated a $55 million proposal to renovate Abraham Baldwin Middle School and replace Adams Middle School with a new building.

The presentation included a timeline for construction that would set a referendum on the issue for December, with construction beginning in 2012. Bloss said Wednesday that the Board of Education will hold tours of the buildings and forums for public input.

The high school tour is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. March 19 with the public forum at 7:30. The Adams Middle School tour is set for March 27 at 6:30 p.m.

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Guilford High may get new weight room

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 28, 2008

GUILFORD — A group of parents of Guilford High School students is hoping for the Board of Education’s approval to set up an athletic training room in an old portable classroom near the football field.

The plan has been presented to the board, which could vote on it March 10. Under the proposal, the school’s weight room would move from a space in the main high school building to the larger outbuilding.

The current training room is beneath the high school’s auxiliary gym.

The parents are offering to pay for the project, which would include donated services to make the building appropriate as a weight room and some new equipment.

Ron Nault, one of the parents working on the proposal, said the move would roughly double the size of the training facility. He estimated that the value of the donated services will be at least $10,000.

“The existing (training room) is small and crowded and booked all the time,” Nault said. “It’s a way to get a better facility there at the high school at no cost to the taxpayers or the Board of Education.”

Nault said that the initial effort would be to refurbish the building and transfer the high school’s weights and machines there.

“Now, two people can’t use adjacent machines because they’re so crowded,” he said. “The additional equipment would follow, but the additional space would be huge.”

Athletic Director Chip Dorwin said that the high school’s sports and physical education programs have outgrown the current fitness room.

“We’re very crowded and the environment is not real good,” Dorwin said. “It’s an interior room, so there are no windows (and) ventilation is not as good as what we would like.”

Dorwin called the proposal to move the facility “a great concept.”

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella said the outbuilding where the parents hope to relocate the weight room is used as storage for custodial staff and the school’s drama program. He is looking into whether the existing weight room is large enough to store those items.

Forcella said he thinks the new weight room could go ahead “as long as the group that is looking to refurbish that area and make it into a weight facility understands that there’s the possibility that if we do have a project at the school, that that building may be demolished.”

The school district is looking into the possibility of replacing or renovating the high school. Nault said the parents are aware that the outbuilding could be removed during construction.

“With those (plans) being four years away or more, we would deem it worthwhile to go ahead with our plan anyway, even if this building gets torn down as part of a high school expansion,” he said. “Any equipment we purchase would obviously be reusable into the new facility.”

Board of Education Chairman Bill Bloss called the idea for a new weight room “a really nice thing.”

“We got that proposal (in early February) and are going to try to figure out how to do it,” he said.

$1 million in cash stolen from home safe in North Branford

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 27, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Police have arrested three East Haven men on charges that they stole $1 million in cash from a North Branford resident who hit a lottery jackpot more than 20 years ago and was keeping the winnings in a home safe.

Two of the men arrested are the grandson and son-in-law, respectively, of the alleged victim, and the third man is a friend and neighbor of the other two, police said.

The thefts allegedly occurred on Nov. 5, when other family members were at a confirmation party, and Thanksgiving Day, Detective Sgt. Ken McNamara said. The North Branford man, whom police are not identifying, noticed on Jan. 15 that the money was missing from a safe in his house.

The victim, who is in his 60s, won $1 million in the lottery in 1986 and received periodic payments of the winnings until 2006, according to police. He kept the money in bills of different denominations in the safe and was apparently saving it for retirement, McNamara said. The arrested men allegedly took the pins off the safe and pried the door open to access the money.

North Branford police have recovered about $219,000 of the stolen money, McNamara said.

On Sunday, North Branford police arrested Raffaele Iuliano Jr., 18; his father, Raffaele Iuliano Sr., 44; and Joseph Bernardo, 24. All three live on Oregon Avenue in East Haven.

McNamara said he believes the suspects may have spent some of the money on a cruise and home renovations.

Raffaele Iuliano Jr. and Bernardo were each charged with first-degree larceny, second-degree burglary, second-degree conspiracy to commit burglary, and first-degree conspiracy to commit burglary, according to police. Raffaele Iuliano Sr. was charged with first-degree larceny and first-degree aiding and abetting larceny.

Each man was released on $50,000 bail. The Iulianos are due in Superior Court in New Haven March 6, and Bernardo has a court date of March 7, according to police.

McNamara said that officers started looking into the Iuliano family because the relative whose money was stolen suspected them.

Some of the stolen cash was allegedly being stored at the house of a friend of the Iulianos. McNamara said the friend gave police about $118,000, and he expects that more arrests will be made in the case. Bernardo gave police about $101,000, McNamara said.

Structural issues delay Smith Library project

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 26, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — The Edward Smith Library expansion has hit a snag as structural issues have come to light during construction, according to town officials.

The issues have delayed work on the project for a few weeks, Interim Town Manager Michael Paulhus said Monday.

Paulhus said that workers have found “unforeseen” structural issues with the existing foundation, as well as hard rock and ledge where the building is slated to expand.

“They’ve got to shore up some of those walls, and they’ve got to do what’s called underpinning in terms of the foundation,” Paulhus said. “We’ve got some issues with getting the rock and ledge out of there, but doing it in such a way that it’s not going to undermine the integrity of the existing foundation.”

In addition, a problem with the architectural drawings for the site held up some progress, but Paulhus said that concern has been addressed.

At this point in the original timeline, he said, construction should have progressed to pouring concrete for the foundation.

“We’re behind schedule now, so that’s of some concern to us,” Paulhus said. “We’ll have to watch it and monitor it closely, obviously wanting to deliver this project on time and on budget.”

Paulhus said he thinks additional costs, if there are any, will be covered by the contingency funds in the project.

Keith Goldberg, senior construction manager for PinnacleOne, the construction company for the project, said the work is now about three weeks behind schedule. But he added that he believes the construction team will make up the time during the remainder of the job.

The $5 million project is set to be completed in February 2009.

Goldberg said that workers Wednesday will start the underpinning, which will add support to the existing foundation. On Monday, he said, they are planning to start pouring the foundation.

Construction on the Smith Library began in November. The work will renovate the existing 4,500-square-foot building and add 7,300 square feet. After the Smith Library expansion is complete, work is scheduled to start on expanding the Atwater Memorial Library.

Guilford police moms find right balance between babies, bandits

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

Feb. 25, 2008

GUILFORD — For police Officers Martina Jakober and Joanne Shove, there are certain challenges to being both cops and mothers with new babies at home.

Jakober decided to take an extra three months of unpaid maternity leave because, for one, she found that breast-feeding was not entirely compatible with law enforcement.

“It makes it very difficult to be wearing the bulletproof vest,” she said. “In police work you can’t just say, ‘I’m sorry, I know you’re under arrest, I’ve got to head back to the station and pump.’ ”

And after being out of the office for six months and off the road for about a year, she felt like she had a case of “baby brain”: “I had a difficult time the first week getting my bearings — trying to get my brain back into the laws and statutes and uses of force.”

In most small-town police departments, female officers are still something of an anomaly: about 6 percent of the officers in departments that serve a population under 25,000 are women, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Guilford, with a population of about 22,000, has four women on its 38-person police force, or about 10.5 percent of the department. Jakober, who is 31, was the first officer in the history of the department to take maternity leave, with Shove, 35, following soon after her.

Jakober’s son Mason was born on Aug. 3, and she resumed full-time duty at the beginning of this month. Shove is still at home with her daughter, Julia, who was born Jan. 23. She plans to return to work on April 17.

Both officers said they had strong support from the Police Department during their pregnancies and leave. A few months into the pregnancy, each woman moved to inside duty, handling reports and meeting with people in the police station. After taking three months off — which included two months paid — Jakober requested an additional three months of unpaid leave to stay home with Mason and her older son, McKael, 5.

Shove called Guilford’s police officials “phenomenal” in their response to her pregnancy.

“They were so accommodating, and it was like, ‘What hours do you want to work and what days do you want off?’ ” she said. “It took any of that added stress away and it helped me have a healthy pregnancy.”

Having worked in Guilford for about six years, Shove said she has found the department accepting of female officers. Before joining the force, she was a nursery-school teacher in Westport. Some of the male officers “tease you here and there,” she said, but the department is “pretty diverse, which is good.”

“I really see there’s a need to have women on this job,” she said. “I think we approach situations very differently than men do. I think sometimes our presence on a scene can kind of de-escalate the situation.”

Jakober said she decided she wanted to be a police officer when she was 8 years old. She started her career in the police department in Tucson, Ariz. With a force of 1,700 people, it was a very different experience from working in Guilford.

When Jakober became pregnant with McKael, she was working as an undercover narcotics officer in Tucson. The department had a light-duty maternity policy in place, so she transitioned out of the narcotics work early in her pregnancy.

After moving back to Connecticut to be closer to family, Jakober said she would have liked to have another baby sooner, but waited because Guilford did not have a policy set up for light duty during pregnancy.

Chief Thomas Terribile said the Police Commission passed a maternity policy a few years ago.

Jakober said that having two officers on leave or light duty puts a strain on the department, but there are often people out with injuries or illnesses.

“In my opinion, law enforcement is still kind of a man’s world and it’s still unusual to see (female officers),” she said. “It’s still unusual, I think, for a woman to have a family and be in law enforcement period, so the actual having a baby and the two of us at the same time have a baby, I think it was a shock for the department.”

Terribile said that in many cases the department tries to make accommodations for people to balance family and career, whether for male or female officers. He added that no one has taken extended paternity leave in the past.

“In today’s environment the wife works and so does the husband, so we’re always juggling that around,” he said. “I don’t know how they juggle it. I was lucky — my wife was a stay-at-home mom.”

Shove and Jakober used a combination of sick days and vacation to take some paid time off, as well as unpaid days. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a baby.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., was the author of the act, which was enacted 15 years ago, and now is working to expand it to include eight weeks of paid leave. The legislation would cover paid leave for both parents for a birth or the arrival of an adopted child, as well as time for people to take care of themselves or sick relatives.

Jakober’s and Shove’s husbands also work in emergency services. Scott Jakober is a police officer in Clinton, and Mike Shove is a captain in Guilford’s fire department.

Martina Jakober works 3-11 p.m. in Guilford, while her husband works from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., so they switch off with child care. They also have family nearby when there are any scheduling conflicts.

The Shoves said they will probably have Julia in a daycare two days a week. Mike Shove works 24-hour shifts at the firehouse followed by three days off duty.

“It’s easy right now because (Joanne’s) home, but when she goes back to work, it will definitely be a challenge trying to juggle schedules,” he said.

Both families said that they did not seriously consider having one parent stay home full-time, for a combination of financial and personal reasons.

“In this day and age, it’s a two-income world,” Joanne Shove said. “As wonderful as I think it would be to be home, I think you need something for yourself, too — something that’s you and you’re not just mom the whole time.”

Scott Jakober described his wife as very committed to both her family and her career.

“She’s a great mother — she really is very dedicated towards the kids and sacrifices for their best interest and really puts them first,” he said. “She’s a very aggressive, very dedicated police officer. She knows her job very well and is very good at it.”

With two police officers for parents, many might consider it a safe bet as to what the future holds for 5-year-old McKael and 6-month Mason. Indeed, when his mother recently asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” McKael immediately responded, “A police officer.”

House fire victim had ‘turned her life around’

By Rachael Scarborough King, Rachael Scarborough King
Feb. 22, 2008

GUILFORD — The woman who died in a house fire Wednesday on Stillmea­dow Drive has been identified as Barbara Higgins, according to the chief medical examiner’s office.

The cause of death was smoke inhalation. Assistant Fire Chief Wayne Vetre said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Higgins had been living at the home at 40 Stillmeadow Drive for about a year, along with some other people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Glenn Remmers, who owns the house, said it is his private residence and he rents rooms to friends or people who are dealing with addictions.

He also works with two non-profit companies, Lifelinx and Catapult Services, which provide services for people with drug and alcohol addictions.

Remmers said he and four others, including Higgins, were home Wednesday afternoon when the fire started.

He said he smelled smoke and went to Higgins’ bedroom, and when he opened the door “there was a wall of flames there.”

Although the house rules include a ban on smoking, drinking and drugs, Remmers said he believes Higgins may have been smoking in bed before taking a nap. He said he had never seen her smoking in the house previously.

“If we do find them smoking, we ask them to leave,” he said.

Remmers described Higgins as a “wonderful person.” He said she was originally from Stonington and was a waitress in Guilford. She had been “clean” for about six months, he added. Another resident had identified Higgins as being in her late 30s.

It is unknown whether Higgins still had family in Stonington.

“We are deeply upset by it — she was a much-loved person (and) she had turned her life around,” Remmers said. “She had so much to offer and it’s just a real sad situation.”

Seven people were living in the house at the time, including Remmers and his wife. He said the house is uninhabitable, and most of the residents are now staying at a hotel.

Guilford’s police and fire departments, as well as the state fire marshal’s office, are investigating the incident, Vetre said.

Guilford may create board before charter change vote

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 22, 2008

GUILFORD — Voters will decide in November whether to amend the town charter to create a public works commission, but the town may set up the commission before the official vote.

The Board of Selectmen agreed this week to continue work on an ordinance to establish a five-member public works commission, rather than waiting to see whether voters approve it as part of the charter.

The creation of the public works board was one of five recommendations recently put forward by the Charter Revision Commission, all of which will go to voters in November.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said that the Public Works Department has seen a lot of growth in recent years and the selectmen “just want to get this (commission) in place as soon as possible.”

“In Guilford, public works does major work” like building roads and bridges, Balestracci said. “Because it gets involved with some major responsibilities like that and it’s only going to continue to grow, we just feel it needs the support of a commission to help with the long-range planning, to help with the policy making, to help advocate for it when it comes time for budgets.”

Balestracci added that it’s important to make commissions part of the charter because it creates more stability.

“When a commission is established by ordinance, it can always be disbanded by some future Board of Selectmen, but once it’s part of the charter, then there’s a great deal more permanence to it,” he said.

Fred Trotta, the chairman of the Charter Revision Commission, said the public works commission would be in charge of oversight issues, like budgets, personnel, union grievances and equipment purchases.

“In terms of the size of the budget, it’s certainly one of the larger departments. … Something like that probably should be looked at by a commission,” Trotta said. “The day-to-day running (of the department would be) left to the professionals.”

He added that he thinks it is a good idea to go ahead with the ordinance before the vote in November.

“I think we should have had a public works commission a while ago, so the sooner the better,” he said. “By doing it now, it helps to get these people in place to help craft the budget for the next fiscal year.”

The Public Works Department has 19 employees and its operating budget for the current year is about $1.8 million, officials said.

Most of the towns in Greater New Haven do not have public works commissions.

John Volpe, Guilford’s public works director, said he has not worked with a commission in his 30-year career, and he is waiting to see what decision the Board of Selectmen makes.

“If the members are people that have the department in mind and not their own private agenda, then it could work to the benefit of the department and the town,” Volpe said.

The selectmen will hold one public hearing on the public works commission, the date for which has not been set. After that, the board would approve or reject the ordinance and, if approved, appoint the five commissioners and two alternates.