Thursday, September 3, 2015

O'Rourke's Diner to Sponsor Benefit for The Buttonwood Tree & Musicians

Celtic Concert Joins North End Neighbors

Brian O'Rourke, the infamous and creative chef of O'Rourke's Diner, will be cooking up some tasty treats in support of The Buttonwood Tree Performing Arts & Cultural Center on Saturday, September 18th. The Canadian Celtic band, Searson, will perform at the intimate art center at 8 pm, with dinner to be held at the diner at 6pm. Dinner will be enhanced by the lovely sounds of sisters, Erin and Colleen Searson, on keyboard and fiddle. The Coffeehouse Recording Studio will provide a sound system for the diner, proving once again that Middletown's North End neighborhood is full of kind and generous business owners who help each other out. O'Rourke's Diner (728 Main Street) has been supporting The Buttonwood Tree through various efforts and Michael Arafeh of The Coffeehouse Recording Studio has been Buttonwood's volunteer sound engineer for 25 years.
Following dinner, a full concert of the quartet will take place at The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street, with dessert and Slambovian coffee being served. Seats for the show are $15. A limited number are available at $45 which includes an original, creative dinner, dessert and coffee. Wine and beer are available at Buttonwood by donation, the diner is BYOB. Reservations are requested for all seating. 860.347.4957.

Sisters Erin & Colleen Searson will be performing songs from their brand new album release 'Stars Above the Farm'.  A mix of instrumental and original vocal numbers, the new album tells stories of their hometown, The Ottawa Valley in Ontario, Canada.  Searson is a highly energetic show that includes step dancing, sweet vocals and lively fiddling.  Joined by talented musicians Fraser Gauthier and Daniel O'Shea on bass, drums and percussion, this is a show for all ages!  Join Searson for their first performance at The Buttonwood Tree, a show that will keep your toes tapping.

Underfunding Staff and Equipment The Cause of Park Deterioration


John Milardo

However this vote turned out last night, the biggest issue for me as retired Parks Superintendent for Middletown was the present and future ability to maintain ALL park fields, grounds, and facilities.  I harped on it for many years while presenting information, budgets, plans and ideas to directors, the Parks & Recreation Commissioners, Common Councilor's, Mayor’s, and all the sports leagues.

It is nothing new for the public or politicians to hear that the department is terribly understaffed and underfunded. The City has a Parks crew who takes pride in their work, but is deflated because all they can do is “hit and run”.  All the equipment needed to have great fields and facilities is currently in the department.  The biggest component missing is a properly staffed maintenance crew to perform the work, and proper funding.  Both of these key issues fall on the shoulders of the Mayor's and the Common Council members when they review and cut up budgets.  When the Mayor or Common Council look for savings in budgets, one of the first places funding is removed or reduced by the Budget Analyst, has historically been in the Parks Division. 

While viewing last nights meeting, the Council asked the Public Works director how many new employees he would require with the addition of 6 new natural grass fields.  His answer to the question was 4.  Even if that were true, if you need that amount to take care of 6 fields, then how can you take care of the existing 21 lacrosse/soccer, 23 baseball/softball, 2 football, 500,000 square feet of buildings, 700+ parks property with 400+ mowing and trimming acres, pool, lake, ponds, and so on - with the remaining 10 working employees?

The National Parks & Recreation Manpower Study report I used (until retiring in 2012) to illustrate what was needed to perform ALL aspects of work in the department was ignored.  The data from this report, which was updated yearly, indicated the department required 33 maintenance employees and 2 additional supervisors with a superintendent.  That does not include the proposed 6 additional fields.  Every year the request was made, personnel and funding were either reduced or frozen.  (We are talking decades)

The current Parks division's maintenance facility is small and outdated; they cannot house all their items and machinery in the building.  Some equipment sits outside, and others are in a storage trailers or remote buildings.  A lunch room so small the crew takes turns who sits to eat; no locker room, an outdated and out of code septic system, and a building in general disrepair.  One must take everything under consideration for review and look at the entire picture if the City is truly going to improve the Parks system.  It can't be done over a 10 year period - it needs to be fast tracked.  The longer you wait, the faster the rest of the Parks system and infrastructure will deteriorate. 

I for one would have liked to have seen an itemized $34 million dollar project plan, along with all the promises for the Parks division I heard last night.  This should have been included as part of the information the Common Council members received regarding this bond issue.  We do it for fiscal budgets, why wasn’t it done for this bond?  If “that’s not how we’ve done it in the past”, is the answer – then change it!

For those who are longtime native Middletown residents, they know the prime for City parks was back in the 60's and very early 70's.  This was prior to the first consolidation of the Parks Department with the Recreation Department.  My belief is that a director of a single division with expertise, knowledge, management ability, and a true passion for the parks system is sorely missed.  No disrespect to all past Parks & Recreation department Directors – government consolidated the departments for unproven monetary reasons.

The public has waited a long time for anything like this bond, and the promise to upgrade the Parks division to happen; it wouldn’t have hurt anything if they waited another few months to get it right! This bond provides poor to no planning, and an empty promise from some Common Council members to properly fund the Parks division.  Nothing has been solved!

Creative Writing Contest Begins

Attention Young Writers!

Russell Library is sponsoring the 2015 Edna and Benjamin Shenker Creative WritiContest. The contest is held in memory of Mrs. Shenker, who was an avid reader and library user, and Dr. Shenker, a wonderful supporter of the Library. The theme this year is: “Who is your hero…”
Who is your hero and why?
Is your hero real or imaginary?
Put on your thinking (or imagination) hat – all ideas are welcome. Write on!
All elementary and middle school students who live in or attend school in Middletown can enter.
Judges will award prizes for the best entry written in the 2015-2016 school year by students in Grades 1-8. It may be a short story, essay or poem. Winners in each grade receive a gift certificate to The Book Bower in Main Street Market: First Place winners receive a $50.00 certificate, Second Place winners a $25.00 certificate, and Third Place winners a $10.00 certificate. Judging will be based solely on the merits of the entries. All writers are invited to the Shenker Contest Literary Tea on Thursday, December 10, 2015, at 7:00 p.m., in the Hubbard Room, for the awards presentation.
1. Each writer may submit one entry only.
2. The writing must be your original work.
3. There is no minimum or maximum number of words but the entry cannot be longer than three pages.
4. Entries may be hand printed but must be legible. First and second grade entries must be hand printed.
5. All entries must be on 8½” x 11” paper.
6. Submit the original and three (3) copies with one contest application form stapled on top.
7. Write your name on the application form only – not on the story, essay or poem. This ensures fairness.
8. Please do not include artwork or special binding.
9. All entries must be turned in to Russell Library by 5:00 p.m., Saturday, October 10, 2015.
10. Winners in each grade group will be notified by mail in late November. Unfortunately, due to the number of entries, every submission cannot be acknowledged but all entries are appreciated.
Good Luck!
Application forms available at the Russell Library or online
Submit entries to: Director, Russell Library, 123 Broad Street, Middletown, CT 06457

Celebrating All Things Connecticut at the MxCC Foundation’s Red Moon Fest

The Middlesex Community College Foundation hosts the Red Moon Fest on September 12, marking the fourth year the Foundation has celebrated all things “grown, made and created in Connecticut.”  This fundraising celebration, which will take place on the College’s Middletown campus, benefits MxCC students and programs. The event starts at 6 p.m. in the College’s new Pavilion at Founders Hall with a cocktail hour featuring local beers, wines, and artisanal foods, along with a silent auction and entertainment.  It then moves over to Chapman Hall for heavy hors d’oeuvres, entertainment and a live auction.  For full details, and to purchase tickets ($75 each), visit

Honorary co-chairs and goodwill ambassadors for this year’s fest are Carrie Carella from NoRA Cupcake Company and Phil Ouellette of Eli Cannon’s Tap Room. Both are credited with helping revitalize Middletown’s NoRA district (previously known as the North End) – and serve as inspiring examples of the importance of building a community.

As co-owner Eli Cannon’s Tap Room – which was named Business of the Year by the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce – Phil has been an important part of Middletown’s business and social scene for more than 20 years.  He is an active member at the Chamber and its mentoring program, and has served on the board of directors for the Connecticut Restaurant Association. Phil received the Middletown Design Award from the city, and has been recognized by Governor Dannel P. Malloy for his contributions to the local community. 

Carrie Carella, who took courses at Middlesex Community College while pursuing her many degrees, established the award-winning NoRA Cupcake Company in 2012 along with business partner Phil Ouelette.  The idea for this company came to her while working for 15 years as Eli Cannon’s Tap Room’s general manager.  She credits Phil for helping develop her marketing and customer service skills, along with a sharp business acumen – key elements to being successful in the highly competitive and crowded food service industry.

Council Votes In Favor of Mayoral Compromise on Parks and Fields Bond Referendum

A divided Common Council voted to approve a compromise to the parks and playing fields bond referendum offered by Mayor Dan Drew.

The 7-5 vote saw Democrat Tom Serra joining Republican Council members (Kleckowski, Giuliano, Bauer, Russo-Driska) opposing the compromise, while the remaining Democrats voting for the compromise (Daley, Chisem, Streeto, Bartolotta, Kasper, Santangelo and Faulkner).

The special meeting was called by Drew to address concerns about the bond issue voted into effect on August 24 by the Council which would have provided $37 million for new natural grass fields and park improvements.  The compromise lowered the bond amount to $33.45 million, added 4-6 new playing fields and extended improvement to fields not noted in the original language to satisfy residents who felt that some schools, especially those in urban neighborhoods, had been ignored by the initial bond proposal.

Several residents spoke about the issue during the public hearing.

Advocates from the town's sporting leagues raised issues of playing time and quality of fields hoping to defeat the measure. Resident Michelle Malloy said it was important that the city should better its reputation with other sports leagues, asking that "we strive to be the best we can be."

Residents opposing the use of artificial turf reiterated concerns about health and safety issues they had made at the previous meeting. Moses Harvell said, "Use what the good lord blessed us with: dirt and natural grass."

Council members opposed to compromise cited lack of a detailed plan with the compromise package. Some questioned where the new proposed fields would be built, and were not satisfied that there wasn't a ready answer.   Council member Seb Giuliano advocated for an approach which would allow for new artificial turf technologies in the future.  In a florid speech he compared the compromise bond language to Humpty Dumpty, broken apart, and unable to be put together again.  Council member Sandra Russo-Driska, who is running for mayor, indicated that it was unrealistic to expect to reach the staffing levels needed in the future to maintain parks since past performance indicated that future councils would not vote for adequate personnel.

Council member Gerry Daley agreed with the maintenance issue, "We have to face up to maintenance in the next budget cycle." But he stressed the need to do something for the parks, "I don't think we should delay, this is long overdue." Others in favor of the compromise cited the need to err on the side of safety when it came to constructing fields of real grass, and not artificial turf, and the overall need to pay attention to parks which have suffered neglect for years.

In a separate resolution, the Council voted to bifurcate bonding language to separate the request for parks money from the request for additional dollars for sewer line construction, making them separate questions for the ballot.

In addition, the bifurcation allows the parks and fields bond to be challenged again at the next Council meeting where it's expected that opponents will once again try to defeat the compromise by having it removed completely from the ballot.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cat Tales ~ Cat of the Week ~ JACKIE!!

Cat Tales presents... Cat of the Week!!


Gender:  Female
Breed:  Domestic Short Hair
Color:  Black
Age:  2 years

Hello! My name is Jackie. I'm a cute, very sweet, affectionate girl who craves attention!  I lived with my owner who died suddenly and I was found hanging out at the house waiting for her to return. I'm now at Cat Tales with four kittens of my own. I would love to feel the warmth and security of a loving home again. I would also like to know that my kittens will have a safe and happy home too. I am FIV+. Humans and dogs cannot catch this and it is only transmitted to other cats through blood. I am not a lover, not a fighter so this would not happen. Cats with my condition can live long, happy, healthy lives just like any cat - with no symptoms at all. I would only need 2 vet visits per year, or as often as my doctor advises. To learn more about FIV, visit  Please come meet me! I have lots of snuggles for you!

No Dogs, please.

Phone:  (860) 344-9043

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Opinion: Artificial Turf with "Organic" Infill Still a Costly Risk to our Children and the Environment

Dear Mayor Drew and Members of the Common Council,

I am concerned about the recent flurry of activity associated with revisiting the parks improvement bond language. I want to make it clear that those of us who spoke out against artificial turf at last week's hearing do not support any form of artificial turf, including artificial turf with "organic" infill. 

As mentioned by some who oppose artificial turf at the hearing, the alternative infills have not been tested independently, so it is not known whether they are safe relative to traditional crumb rubber infill, nor is it known what the long term impacts to players may be. Further, any form of artificial turf is still composed of plastic blades of grass, which result in "turf burn" injuries and unsafe high surface temperatures. 

The environmental concerns associated with converting pervious natural grass fields to impervious plastic artificial surfaces would be the same, no matter what the infill.  

Use of artificial turf fields would also limit the use of fields intended for public use and supported by public funds. When converted to artificial turf, they would no longer be available for use by members of the public for activities other than sanctioned organized team sports. 

Last but not least, the cost of artificial turf, would be exorbitant, even more so with "organic" infill. From what I understand, the infill composed of coconut fiber costs nearly three times as much as crumb rubber infill, about $50,000 more per field, and would have a lifespan of 2-3 years instead of the 8-10 year lifespan of the rubber crumbs. The huge expense--for initial installation, and disposal and replacement--would be an unnecessary expense that should not be borne by the City's taxpayers. 

Should artificial turf re-enter the equation as far as the parks improvement bond is concerned, you can be sure that I would not support the referendum and would lobby heavily against it, as I believe would be the case for others opposing artificial turf. 

Again, we should "Play it Safe" where our children, the environment and limited financial resources are concerned, and improve our playing fields by making the switch to affordable and safe organically maintained natural grass fields.

Jane Brawerman 

Note: This letter was sent to the Mayor and Common Council on Sept. 1, 2015, by Jane Brawerman, Middletown resident, parent, environmental professional, and member of the Conservation Commission. As a point of clarification, the"organic" infill referred to in the letter is a plant-based infill made of coconut fiber and cork.