Hopkinton Year in Review: 2020, you are muted!

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Year in Review collage
PHOTOS/JERRY SPAR/JOHN CARDILLO/CHRISTINE STRICKLAND

The year 2020 started out innocently enough, with a mild January, but when it hit the terrible twos, it did so with ferocity.

It was late in February when we first started hearing about the novel coronavirus, eventually to become better known as COVID-19. Then in March everything fell apart. Schools told students to stay home. Restaurants were shuttered. Businesses told employees to work remotely. Hospitals became overcrowded. Sports took a hiatus.

And what we all hoped would be a temporary situation — days or weeks — instead became the new normal for the rest of the year. Masks. Social distancing. Hand sanitizer. Zoom teleconferences.

Things improved slightly when the weather improved in the warmer months, but in the fall, as cold and flu season arrived, we saw another surge of cases.

Hopkinton dealt with the virus as well as could be expected. There were no major outbreaks in the schools or anywhere else in town. And unlike many other municipalities, the town’s finances remain in good shape and most business have managed to survive — at least so far.

All that said, life did not stop during the pandemic. There were other big stories. Among them: Residents supported calls for social justice, voters turned out in big numbers for local and national elections, officials attempted to rein in commercial solar developments, and the schools looked to deal with a continued rise in enrollment numbers.

Following is our top 10 list of the most impactful stories in Hopkinton this year. They were chosen by our editorial staff based on a number of factors, including page views at HopkintonIndependent.com.

10. Carbone’s announces it will close

In late August, owners (and siblings) Peter Carbone and Mary Ann Lorentzen announced that they were planning to shutter the family-owned Italian-American restaurant after an 87-year run. They put up the building and surrounding land, which totals about 12 acres (much of it undeveloped), for sale and said they received a lot of interest, although as of early December no announcement had been made about when the restaurant would serve its final meal.

9. Main Street project moves forward

The project to improve the Main Street downtown corridor went out to bid in the spring. Then in May town manager Norman Khumalo announced that the project, expected to cost around $13 million, was fully funded. Also in the spring, abutters were officially notified and compensated for easement-taking. Earlier this month the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announced that Worcester-Based A.F. Amorello & Sons was selected as the contractor. Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2021.

8. Bennett takes over as police chief

Edward Lee tendered his resignation after a six-year tenure in late March, right when the pandemic was starting to hit hard. The town moved quickly to hire his replacement, staying in-house to promote Deputy Chief Joseph Bennett, a veteran of more than 25 years with the department. Pandemic or not, Bennett said he was ready for the challenge. “With this happening now, there is no other place I would rather be than here, doing this job, during these times,” he said.

7. Schools start expanding

In a special election on Feb. 3, residents voted to allocate funds for modular classrooms at Hopkins and Elmwood as well as a permanent addition to the back of the high school, to address the continued surge in enrollment. This might only serve as a temporary fix, as families continue to move to town, bringing more and more schoolchildren. Meanwhile, after being passed over in January — for the sixth time in 12 years — the district again applied for state reimbursement to replace Elmwood. There’s a reason families keep coming: In November, the website Niche rated Hopkinton as having the No. 1 school district in Massachusetts.

6. Elections become testy

This headline applies nationally, but also locally, most notably when Amy Ritterbusch handily defeated incumbent Republican John Coutinho for a seat on the Select Board, giving Democrats three of the five seats on the town’s most powerful board. Coutinho held Ritterbusch responsible for what he said were “vicious attacks” online by her supporters, while Ritterbusch said she was not aware of any personal attacks.

In the lead-up to the presidential election, there were accusations of people stealing or vandalizing signs on residents’ lawns. In the end, the town supported Joe Biden overwhelmingly, helping the Democrat capture the White House. Donald Trump refused to accept the national result, claiming fraud despite lacking any lawful evidence. Select Board member Brian Herr, a former Republican who now is independent, ripped the president for his “endless ignorance.”

5. Select Board revises rules after public comment controversy

During the public comment portion of the Aug. 18 Select Board meeting, four individuals called for Planning Board member Muriel Kramer to step down due to her volunteer work with the Massachusetts Bail Fund. Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone allowed the commenters to remain anonymous, whereas normally speakers are asked for their name and address. This did not sit well with the three Democrats on the board and it infuriated some residents, one of whom filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office.

Town counsel eventually determined the chair did not violate the open meeting law, as there was nothing in the Select Board Rules of Procedure requiring speakers to identify themselves. But this led to the board updating and revising the regulations, and a rule was inserted requiring a name and address before public comment.

4. Town tries to slow commercial solar

The ongoing saga of commercial ground-mounted solar in Hopkinton continued throughout 2020. In the early part of the year it appeared the Planning Board had a strategy to gain better control of future proposals, but confusion over the most appropriate method — via a zoning map — and then the postponements and eventual shortening of Town Meeting led to the issue getting pushed into 2021.

Meanwhile, Seaboard Solar was granted a special permit to build an array in the wooded area off Frankland Road (the former Liberty Mutual property). A couple of abutters sued the town after the permit was granted. Another resident proposed the town look into purchasing the land, but Seaboard Solar has declined to meet with the town manager about it.

The Zoning Advisory Committee has been discussing the matter at recent meetings and is expected to offer the Planning Board some fresh ideas in the coming weeks.

3. Schools, teachers lack agreement

Teachers were not satisfied with the proposal from the district regarding the pandemic-related strategy for the 2020-21 school year. The primary objection was related to a plan to livestream certain in-person classes for some remote learners.

“The district’s desire to utilize widespread use of livestreaming classes to students in remote settings was a final component to an overall flawed approach to safe and effective learning during the pandemic,” stated Hopkinton Teachers Association chair Becky Abate.

Leaders for both sides appeared to have an agreement in place a week before school began on Sept. 16, but the HTA did not vote in favor of supporting the deal. So, teachers went to work without a contract. And there is another contract negotiation coming up. It remains to be seen if there will be a carryover effect.

2. Social justice rises to forefront

As the Black Lives Matter movement grew nationally, Hopkintonians took note, showing up at the Town Common to protest racial bias and social injustice. Then some incidents brought the issue home.

In one notable stretch in late June there were “offensive and racist comments on social media” by some students from Hopkinton Middle School and Hopkinton High School, according to the district. Racist and homophobic graffiti was found at Sandy Beach. And a Hayden Rowe Street resident received a written lecture for having an LGBTQ+ sign in her yard.

In August, during an India Day event at the Town Common, a resident drove his motorcycle around the common repeatedly in order to create a distraction, leading to accusations of racism in town. While this story had a generally happy ending — the motorcyclist apologized for what he said was a misunderstanding about how the American flag was to be treated and had a positive meeting with one of the event’s organizers — other issues were not resolved as amicably.

More recently, some residents pushed for the town to adopt the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) pledge to address systemic racism, but there was pushback by two board members due to concerns about offending the police. Eventually references to the police were removed — in some cases replaced by the more general “municipal services” — and the revised pledge was supported unanimously by the Select Board earlier this month.

1. Pandemic changes everything

The COVID-19 pandemic was the top story of the year in the town, state, country and world. It changed our lives dramatically, primarily for the worse. But we found ways to adjust.

When high school graduation was postponed, the schools organized a caravan through the center of town that proved so memorable there was talk about making it an annual event. Town meeting was twice postponed and then moved outside and shortened, and it went off without a hitch. Road races — including the Boston Marathon — and other charity events went virtual, allowing for people to still be involved in some way. Police and fire personnel joined residents for drive-by birthday celebrations.

Hopkintonians did their part to make the situation more bearable not just for themselves but for others. Residents produced or purchased masks to be donated, provided free meals to first responders and health workers, and found other ways to make sure those in need were able to benefit from their generosity in the form of financial, emotional or other kinds of support.

Said Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone after one such show of community-wide support: “Our faith in our town is as high as ever.”

HONORABLE MENTION

Below are some stories that did not make the cut for our top 10 list but were deemed worthy of acknowledgement.

LOCAL NEWS: A fire damages a Main Street apartment/business building. … Residents express concern about the MassDOT 1-90/I-495 Interchange Improvement Project, which includes replacement of I-495 Fruit Street bridge. … Unemployment fraud cases surge in town (and nationwide). … The Conservation Commission votes against using herbicides in Lake Maspenock; eventually a drawdown is approved. … A naked couple out walking the dog early one summer morning is arrested after allegedly becoming combative when approached by police.

COMMUNITY: Hopkinton is voted the No. 2 safest city in the nation. … Baypath Humane Society announces plans to eventually relocate to a new home off Fruit Street. … Start-up Lykan Bioscience opens a new state-of-the-art facility in Hopkinton. … Legacy Farms Road North gets early acceptance as a town road so school buses can use it. … Marie Smith is named Women’s Club of Massachusetts Clubwoman of the Year as the Hopkinton organization celebrates 100 years. … Residents place blue balloons around town in memory of 13-year-old Mason Lee, who died Sept. 1.

EDUCATION: Hopkinton is rated as the top school district in the state by the website Niche. … Hopkinton High School robotics/engineering/technology teacher Doug Scott receives the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. … HHS students Sreeja Bolla and Archita Nemalikanti take first place overall at the Massachusetts Science & Engineering Fair.

SPORTS: The Hopkinton High School girls indoor track and field team wins the MIAA Division 3 championship. … HHS boys ice hockey sets a school record with a 19-1 regular season. … HHS boys basketball coach Tom Keane returns from a hiatus to battle cancer and leads to the Hillers to the sectional championship game. … Hopkinton native Sean Farrell is selected in the fourth round of the NHL draft. … The Boston Marathon goes virtual for 2020 and postpones the 2021 event. … The International Marathon Center project moves forward.

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