Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 2, 2014

THE YEAR THAT WAS

A look back at 2013's newsmakers

Compiled by Dustin Luca
The Andover Townsman

---- — Teacher mourned

Colleen Ritzer, 24, of Andover, a math teacher at Danvers High School, was found dead Oct. 22. Authorities believe one of her students, Philip Chism, 14, attacked and robbed Ritzer in a second-floor bathroom at the school, then wheeled her in a recycling bin to a wooded area nearby, where he assaulted her and left her under a pile of leaves and debris.

Police found a note next to Ritzer’s body that read, “I hate you all.”

More than 1,000 people filled St. Augustine Church in Andover on Oct. 27 for Ritzer’s funeral Mass.

Chism, of Danvers, pleaded not guilty last month to charges of first-degree murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery. The case is scheduled to continue Jan. 30 in Salem Superior Court for a status hearing.

Youth center go-ahead

Town Meeting voted to support a critical piece of funding for the Cormier Youth Center by voting to split a $1.4 million trust between elderly programming and Andover Youth Services. The $700,000 helped push the youth center project closer to completion as town officials looked for an early October ground-breaking. By October, however, the youth center hit a snag as the project’s lowest bidder pulled out at the last minute. By December, it was announced that the youth center construction would be delayed into the spring, although a contract was awarded.

Charter school proposed

In August, a wave of charter school proposals at the state level unveiled a pitch by School Committee member David Birnbach to create STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Studio in Andover. As opposition to the idea began to grow, Birnbach vowed to maintain his role on the School Committee, while ethics concerns were raised from fellow committee members. A state forum on the charter school in November drew a capacity crowd that both praised and blasted the proposal as the process continues to move forward.

School developments

Andover High School implemented a pilot program on Breathalyzer use at school dances before ultimately making it a permanent policy.

In July, the state labor board overturned the town’s 2012 decision to fire Andover High teacher Jen Meagher, ordering that she be reinstated. She returned to the classroom in September.

Work to redistrict the town’s elementary schools moves forward, with implementation expected in fall 2015.

In June, work launched at Doherty Middle School for renovations and site work began for the adjacent youth center.

Local politics

In January, school district veteran Dick Collins announced he wouldn’t run for re-election to the School Committee.

In March, dismal voter turnout led to the elections of selectmen Alex Vispoli and Paul Salafia and School Committee member Barbara L’Italien.

The 2014 election season began in the fall with announcements from Selectman Alex Vispoli that he intends to campaign for state Senate and School Committee Chairman Dennis Forgue, who said he will not be seeking re-election this spring.

New police chief

As February ended, the community learned that longtime Police Chief Brian Pattullo would retire in July. By March, Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski had appointed Sgt. Patrick Keefe to replace Pattullo, effective Aug. 1.

Town Yard

After months of planning by town officials, Town Meeting voters rejected rezoning the Town Yard, sending the project back to the drawing board. Town officials had hoped to rezone the downtown area so it could be developed for a mix of uses such as housing, retail and offices. The Town Yard, which houses public works offices and equipment, would have been relocated if the measure had passed.

Gambling craps out

In August, all eyes focused on Tewksbury and a fast-moving casino proposal just over the town border. But after a full-court press from Andover, along with heavy opposition within Tewksbury, the proposal for a Penn National Gaming slots casino was rejected.

Water woes

In May, news of a water fee spike drew the ire of residents and elected officials. Then, things escalated as brown water flooded homes, staining residents’ laundry and generally causing concern in the middle of a rainy summer.

At the same time, James Berberian’s case against the town for dumping toxic sludge from a water tank onto his property made the front page as an agreement between the parties remained elusive. In December, selectmen voted to settle the ongoing case by paying the Bancroft Road resident $500,000.

Marathon bombing

In April, twin explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line rocked the region, including the lives of several Andoverites either attending or participating in the race, including some who were injured. A candlelight vigil took place in The Park May 1.

Drug use

Andover seems to be getting serious about its adolescent drug problem. A standing-room-only crowd attended an educational forum at Old Town Hall in the fall and officials are planning to do more outreach and education on the problem in the coming year.