Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lt. Gov. Takes a Pro-Rail Stand

Lt. Gov. Mike Fedele jumped on the pro-rail train, along with Dan Malloy and Ned Lamont. Wonder who will be next to see that taking a good look at the wisdom of spending almost half a billion dollars on a nine mile road between New Britain and Hartford is a good use of all those clams.
I wrote about what Fedele had to say about the rail and other things at this morning's chamber of commerce coffee chat. You can read all about it in The Bristol Press on Friday (www.bristolpress.com).
Steve Collins, who gets more comments than I do, not that I'm jealous of The Bristol Blog, wrote about Malloy. I wrote about Lamont's stand last week.
Momentum for rail is growing, which can only be good for Bristol and, dare I say, it the future of our state.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lt. Governor Coming to Bristol

Lt. Gov. Mike Fedele, who is hoping to be the Republican candidate for governor, is coming to Bristol tomorrow for the chamber coffee chat.
It's at 8 a.m. at the chamber and open to all.

This Volunteer Tops Them All

Today I met Barbara Eckstrom at Bristol Hospital. From what I could tell, I'm the last one in town to know her. She's been volunteering at the hospital for 14 years, six days a week, every week of the year. Read that again. Who does this?
"A people person," said her son, Dave.
She is clearly loved and appreciated at the hospital. It was nice to see the long line of fellow volunteers and hospital employees waiting to wish her well.
If I wore hats, I would tip mine today to Barbara Eckstrom. But I don't wear hats, at least not often, so instead, I wrote a story about her that will probably appear in Thursday's edition of The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com)

Bristol Schools Closed, Block Grant Meeting Postponed

Because city schools are closed today, the community meeting at Edgewood School for the Bristol Development Authority's community development block grant allocations (sorry for the redundancy... I didn't name these things!) is postponed until Wednesday, March 3rd at 7 p.m.
Just to be clear, there is also a community meeting for the same reason slated for Tuesday, March 2 at Greene-Hills School at 7 p.m. That meeting also had to be rescheduled because of weather.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Greene-Hills Block Grant Meeting Postponed

I just heard from Debbie Shapiro, the coordinator of the community development block grant program in Bristol. She wanted to let people know that the community meeting at Greene-Hills School scheduled for tonight is postponed due to weather. There are no after-school activities. The new date is Tuesday March 2, at 7 p.m.

Heartbreaker Joins ESPN as Baseball Analyst

This just in from ESPN: Aaron Boone will be their new baseball analyst. Boone broke the hearts of Red Sox fans in 2003 when, as a New York Yankee, he hit hit a home run in the 11th inning of the seventh game of the ALCS, ending the game, the series and the chance for Boston to play in that year's World Series. I'm not sure that Red Sox fans are going to want to watch or listen to this guy, but who am I to second guess ESPN? They seem to know what they're doing. Anyway, here's what they sent over:

Aaron Boone today formally announced his retirement from Major League Baseball after a 12-year career and his new role as an ESPN baseball analyst.
Boone will mainly be seen on Baseball Tonight (debuting in March), in addition to select appearances as a game analyst. He worked for ESPN Radio as a guest analyst during the 2009 National League Division Series.
“It is with a sense of pride, sadness, and enthusiasm that I formally announce my retirement after 16 years of professional baseball,” Boone said. “It has been a privilege and honor to have played in the Major Leagues for 12 seasons for six different clubs.
“While it's tough to leave the game as a player, I am eager to start my next career with my new team at ESPN. I am very grateful that I'll be able to stay in the game as an ESPN analyst and work with people who share the same passion for baseball that I do. I really appreciate ESPN giving me the opportunity to evolve in the sport that I love.
“Finally, I'd like to express my thanks to everyone that treated me so well throughout my Major League career.”
Jay Levy, ESPN senior coordinating producer, said, “As a player, Aaron was a tremendous competitor known for one of baseball's most dramatic postseason walk-off home runs. He offers an important perspective, being recently removed from the game and having deep baseball roots, which will make him a great addition to our team.”
Boone played 12 Major League seasons (Cincinnati Reds, 1997-2003; New York Yankees, 2003; Cleveland Indians, 2005-’06; Florida Marlins, 2007; Washington Nationals, 2008; and the Houston Astros, 2009). Boone had his best season in 2003, when he was an All-Star splitting time between the Reds and Yankees and amassing a combined 24 home runs, 96 RBI and a .267 batting average. That year, he famously hit a game- and series-clinching home run in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7 of the ALCS, giving the Yankees a 6-5 victory over their rival, Boston Red Sox.
Boone, as a member of the Houston Astros in 2009, is believed to be the first player to return to the Major Leagues after open-heart surgery. He underwent the procedure in March ’09, and returned to the field in September, only six months later when he made his Astros debut against the Chicago Cubs. He appeared in 10 games over the remainder of the season.
The Boone family has produced three generations of Major League talent – former All-Star third baseman Ray Boone (Aaron’s grandfather), former All-Star catcher and manager Bob Boone (Aaron’s father) and retired All-Star second baseman Bret Boone (Aaron’s brother).

Nicastro Offers Alternative Plan

Mike Nicastro, the president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, had a big op-ed piece in the Hartford Courant this morning. He's fighting, with a lot of residents and chamber members behind him and with growing support from political leaders in the state, to stop the $600 million busway that would connect New Britain and Hartford. Instead, Nicastro wrote, the limited transportation funds that Connecticut has should be used for the benefit of all the towns in the region, at a far lower price by restoring commuter rail between Waterbury and Hartford. The track would include stops in Bristol and New Britain, among other places. It would also offer a way to move freight. As Nicastro points out, the busway may take a few cars off I-84, but it won't do a thing about the trucks, while rail could.
Nicastro's piece on the opinion page is worth reading.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Opponents use LinkedIn to Fight Busway

Here's what Mike Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce posted on a LinkedIn chamber group. He's trying to get a discussion going, and is making a call to action. Thought I'd pass it along:

Say "no" to the Busway!
Central CT Chambers of Commerce Say "no" to the 9.4 mile, $573 million Busway and "yes" to a multi-city, lower cost regional rail system. With taxpayer's dollars needing to stretch farther and with the threat of $5.00 per gallon gas always looming we need to tell our elected officials at both federal and state level that we expect them, to make far ...better investments in our transporation infra-structure. While we waste time and precious capital on a 9 mile bus road, Massachusetts continues to pile up over $100 million in rail specific funding for rail renewal. Unlike what we have been told that such projects would take 10 years to do, the Massachusetts project in the Pioneer Valley was launched in June of 2008 and is already studied, deisgned and funded. All in 18 short months. Please see the attachments and links for more information and please contact our elected officials ASAP.


I didn't see any attachments, but if you contact Mike, I'm sure he'd send them to you.

South Side School Kids to Benefit from Program at Indian Rock

A nice collaboration between the Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut (that's the Barnes Nature Center and Indian Rock Nature Preserve, among other holdings) and the city school district is providing what looks like will be a great program for South Side School children.
For $10 to $20 a week, depending on income, parents of South Side children in grades first through fifth can enroll their kids in the program. For that, the kids get three extra hours of education and recreation under the supervision of some school teachers, retired teachers and the fine educational staff at Indian Rock.
I think kids should be able to go home after school and decompress, but a lot of children don't have that chance. This program offers them a way to be in a cool outdoor environment (Indian Rock) doing some educational activities two days a week and at the school for that time two other days. That sure beats all-indoor daycare programs -- education and fresh air, too.
Mostly, it's paid by a state grant, but parents do pay a small share.
Part of the reason they got the grant was the large number of children at the school who qualify for free and reduced lunches. It seems like a good investment to me.
I wrote about this program, which starts tomorrow, for Tuesday's Bristol Press. See details in the paper or online at http://www.bristolpress.com/.
By the way, if you didn't recognize it, that's Indian Rock in the picture, courtesy of the Environmental Learning Center's website: www.elcct.org.

Will Zoning Commission Give Church a Workout?

Hillside Community Church wants to move into the former Body Shoppe at the junction of Broad and Emmett streets. They need two special permits and a site plan approval. The public hearing is Wednesday, March 10 at 7 at City Hall.
I wrote about it for Tuesday's edition of The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com) so that's all I can say. I think you'll soon find the application on the city's website. The land use office is really good about that kind of thing. They often have the applications themselves up for anyone to see online, which is cool and very public-friendly.
By the way, I have no reason to think the zoning board will be tough on the church. I just couldn't resist a good headline.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stuff You Never Knew About Jennifer Janelle

I wrote a profile of Jennifer Janelle, who serves on the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., the Zoning Board of Appeals and the city's energy task force. She's an intelligent, interesting person and I learned a lot about her through the course of writing the story.
I don't always agree with her, but I like her.
The story is in today's edition of The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com). I can't police the comments on the Press website, but I can on this blog, so if you choose to comment, keep it decent. Kids might be reading.

Best of the Home Show, Sunday Edition

The Bristol Reunion Jazz Band, no question, was Sunday's highlight.
The band served up Satin Doll, I Just Can't Wait to Be King, Moonlight in Vermont, Teach Me Tonight, Orange Colored Sky, Birdland and Sing, Sing, Sing, among many other wonderful numbers.
Great show.
I hope the chamber brings back more of this kind of honest entertainment in future shows.
If you missed it, catch them at 7:30 p.m. at Marinelli's Supper Club in Burlington Thursday night. No cover; just buy a drink. And bring a few bucks for the band - new sheet music isn't free, you know.

Happy Birthday, Steve!

Here's a public Happy Birthday to my husband Steve Collins, who is also my co-worker at The Bristol Press and best friend in the whole world. Not to get mushy or anything.

This is not the best picture of him, but it's what I've got today.

So if you see us at the Bristol Home and Business Show listening to the Bristol Reunion Jazz Band this afternoon or just wandering around, say Happy Birthday to Steve. But give the guy a break. It's his day off. No stories. No notebook. And no Bristol Blog.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Best of the Home Show, Saturday Edition

The best thing today at the Bristol Home and Business Show, which I could have told you yesterday except I'm not psychic, is, hands down, I mean hands on, a chair massage offered (and gratefully accepted, especially by me!) from Kimberly Scholl Laurie, a licensed massage therapist with the Bristol Hospital Wellness Center. She spent a few hours on Saturday giving free chair massages out of the goodness of her heart -- and a little desire to drum up some business.
Anyway, anytime I can get a nice shoulder massage, my day is sooooo much better. So thanks, Kimberly! I'm sure she won a lot of friends today. She said a colleague will be at the Bristol Hospital booth on Sunday, so stop by and maybe you, too, can feel better.
The hospital booth, by the way, has some of the best giveaways.... bookmarks that are also magnifiers, lip balm, pens, really good magnets. I'm telling you, they go beyond the jar opener.
The Mum Festival Committee seemed to be a great draw. I have a medically restricted diet, so I can't eat any of what they were selling, but the nice folks there told me business was brisk. Hot dogs and salads were the big sellers, though probably not sold to the same customers.
I wrote about the show today in a story for The Bristol Press, which will be in Sunday's paper and probably online at www.BristolPress.com.
I'm going back to the show again Sunday to see the Bristol Reunion Jazz Band. If you love music, be there at 1 p.m. because these guys can play.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Best of the Home Show, Friday Edition

I go to the Bristol Home and Business Show every year, usually two or three of the three days it runs. I think I know the show pretty well, so let me tell you some of the highlights I encountered tonight:
1. The Tin Man (AWESOME costume made by Bill Fontaine, owner of Fontaine Mechanical Heating and Air Conditioning) If Bill shows up Saturday or Sunday, I hope some of you get a chance to check it out. It was the thing that truly made me feel like I wasn't in Kansas anymore. He gets my vote for Best in Show.
2. Cortlandt Hull's booth for the Witch's Dungeon, where he is drawing caricatures to raffle off or give away for free. It's fun to watch a talented artist at work.
3. Helen Lobaczewski in the Forestville Village Association's Duck Race booth, selling chances on a ducks for five bucks. Stop by and get your duckie!
If you go to the show, which is at Bristol Eastern High School, be sure to stop by the Bristol Press booth and tell them how much you love that reporter, Jackie Majerus. They have cool mini red flying discs, too. If you're not a subscriber, please stop by and sign up!
I'll be back at the show tomorrow, so I'll try to find some more highlights for you.

Jazz Band Gets Home Show Gig

The Bristol Reunion Jazz Band will play the Bristol Home Show on Sunday, starting at 1 p.m. They'll play two sets. The picture above, which Press photog Mike Orazzi provided to me, does not show the whole band, which measures about 16 or 17 people, including an outstanding vocalist. I wrote a story about it for The Bristol Press, but so far it hasn't appeared. Hopefully, tomorrow. Anyway, if you like Big Band, Swing, or Jazz, come to the home show on Sunday and have a listen. They'll be in the auditorium. The show is at Bristol Eastern High School. They're so good that I'll be there to hear them -- and it's my day off.

More Politicians

Yesterday I caught Ned Lamont at the chamber's coffee chat and today it's John Larson at the senior center at 11:30.
Ned said he'd hit the pause button on the busway if elected, among other things. See my story in today's Bristol Press (http://www.bristolpress.com/) for details.

I don't know what John's going to say. It's supposed to be a listening tour, so maybe he won't say much. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Politicians, coffee and dry cleaners


I spent the day with politicians. First, Tom Foley's little coffee chat with the chamber early this morning at the Tunxis Bristol Campus. It wasn't especially well-attended; 20 people in the room if you count Foley, 17 men and three women, for anyone who is interested in that sort of thing. Almost half, including all the women, are employed by either the chamber, the Press, Tunxis or Foley. (He had an aide there, a young man who was easily the only person in the room under age 40.)
I'm not sure why the turnout was so poor, but Foley didn't seem to mind.
Next I went to a little press conference staged by Tom Colapietro, Bristol's senator, and Donald Williams, the state senate president. It was at Bristol Custom Cleaners and Tailors on Main Street and focused on how the Senate Dems want to improve the economy through their jobs package.
The cleaners only has one job -- the one held by the owner, Mark Policki, and he's hanging on by a thread, if you'll pardon the pun.
He's a really nice guy with a sad story to tell. He gave up his home of 17 years, an apartment he loved, to save the business by saving expenses. That's commitment. Business has to increase by at least 30 percent for him to break even. He's trying to hold out for development across the street at the city-owned, former mall site.
Mark is not only a friendly, swell guy, but he has great music (usually jazz) playing in his shop every time I stop in to say hello. He works on his store window to make it attractive (sometimes he sits there reading and watching the city go by, he told me) and burns candles to make the place smell nice. I'm not kidding when I say the guy is trying.
Today he had on a nifty hat (to keep warm, since he keeps the shop pretty cool) and what's more, it was his 51st birthday. The picture above doesn't do Mark justice. And it doesn't show his cool hat. I think a better one will be in The Bristol Press. Thanks to Gregg Davis at the Capitol for the photo!
Tom gave Mark a big fancy birthday card signed by some of the folks at the Capitol, but it didn't have a tax break inside or anything like that, though Mark seemed tickled by it all the same.
To me, it seemed a card was the least they could do for Mark while they used his nice little shop as a backdrop for their press conference about the folks on "Main Street."
So happy birthday, Mark! I hope you get a present of some new customers in the coming weeks.
If you have some dry cleaning, laundry or tailoring to do, think about sending it to Mark, who is trying to keep his business alive on Main Street.
I'd sure rather have Mark a few doors down from the Press than a boarded up storefront, but that's an understatement if I ever made one. He's a great neighbor, so I hope we can keep him in business in this community. I know I'll be looking to see if I've got any other cleaning I can bring him and I hope other people will, too.
I wrote stories about all of this for The Bristol Press, but I'm not supposed to post them here anymore. Hopefully you can see them at www.bristolpress.com.
Tomorrow, I get started early again with Ned Lamont at the chamber.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Birthday Shout Out

It's Valentine's Day... but for two nice people I know, it's also their birthday.
So please join me in wishing a happy birthday to Don Soucy, king of the Little League in these parts, and to my friend Sarah Jordan, an alum of Youth Journalism International. I hope they both enjoyed a day filled with love and good wishes.

Friday, February 12, 2010

110 People Will Lose Jobs as Locknetics Closes

Locknetics is closing this year. More than 100 people will be put out of work. That's the gist. I hate writing stories like this. I remember touring Locknetics a number of years ago, marveling at the cool stuff they made there. They seemed very cutting edge to me. I feel sick to think of all these good people facing unemployment. Since we at the Press faced possible closure a little more than a year ago, my memories of those days are all too clear and I think I know how they must be feeling. If you know someone who works there, tell them I am thinking of them. If they'd like to contact me, they can write to jmajerus@bristolpress.com or call me at 860-523-9632. So here's the story I wrote for Saturday's edition of The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com):

BRISTOL – Locknetics, a Bristol manufacturing company, is closing by the end of this year, putting 110 full-time employees out of work.
“It’s related to the fact that we are discontinuing the product lines that are made at that plant,” said Paul Dickard, a spokesman for Ingersoll Rand, Locknetics’ parent company. “They’re just not part of the product portfolio going forward.”
Locknetics makes electronic locks, primarily for commercial use, said Dickard, and the company will no longer be selling them.
“It’s terrible news,” said Mike Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce. He said Locknetics is a chamber member, but that he only learned Friday about the closing.
The plant closing will be done in phases, said Dickard, starting this summer and finishing by the end of the year.
“There won’t be any jobs lost until July,” said Dickard. He said he didn’t know how it would transpire, but said employees would be notified.
Locknetics employees learned January 20 that the factory would close, said Dickard.
Factory workers will get outplacement career counseling, said Dickard, and if they stay as long as the company wants them, they’ll receive a severance package. Dickard would not discuss the severance package or the profitability of the Bristol factory.
Nicastro said the loss of Locknetics shows that the economic downturn isn’t finished. It could be connected to a drop in construction, he said.
It’s also possible that the plant fell victim to changing times, said Nicastro, adding that some security firms are using Bluetooth and other technology with locks.
“There’s new players out there,” said Nicastro, that are using new forms of locking and security devices different from what Locknetics offers. “They’re rendering some of what they do obsolete.”
While Dickard said the economy has something to do with the decision, Ingersoll Rand has been reviewing its holdings and the products it makes and sells, according to Dickard.
“It’s part of a larger strategy to reduce the number of plants we have in our portfolio,” said Dickard, who said the company has “too much manufacturing capacity.”
Ingersoll Rand, which acquired 60 manufacturing plants, including the one in Bristol, since 2000, has 90 factories worldwide, said Dickard.
In looking at its holdings and future plans, the company decided to eliminate some of them, according to Dickard.
“This was an unfortunate outcome of that analysis,” Dickard said. “This particular business is not part of that global strategy.”
Plants will close in Europe, Latin America and in the United States, according to Dickard. He said there may be more but wouldn’t say how many or where they are.
Ingersoll Rand acquired Locknetics in 2000 from the privately held Harrow Industries, said Dickard.
“Certainly at the time, it fit a niche for us,” said Dickard.
But over time, said Dickard, the Bristol factory and others became less efficient.

Here's a Worthy Valentine's Date

This is a photo from the rehearsal of the Nutmeg Symphony Orchestra, which is playing a Valentine's concert Saturday night at Chippens Hill Middle School. Wish I could give you a sound clip, because this is a very lovely sounding orchestra. If you're not busy, I recommend it! Here's the story I wrote for Saturday's edition of The Bristol Press about it:

BRISTOL – Music lovers – or any kind of lovers – without plans tonight may find a Valentine’s concert by the Nutmeg Symphony Orchestra to their liking.
The concert, “Romantic Winds,” is at 7:30 p.m. at Chippens Hill Middle School, is the Bristol performance by the regional orchestra for this year’s series.
“It’s not romantic music in the sense that it’s Romeo and Juliet,” said Marshall Brown, orchestra conductor and musical director. But he said he can’t think of anything better for Valentine’s Day than attending a concert of beautiful music.
The music program comes from the Romantic period, said Brown. It will include woodwinds and French horns, but no strings or percussion this time.
“We have 16 players, all virtuosos,” said Brown. “They’re all fantastic players.”
They’ll be performing “Serenade for Winds” and “Symphony for Winds,” both by Richard Strauss. The second portion of the program is “Sionfonietta” by Joachim Raff.
“Sionfonietta” is “a charming piece for 10 players,” said Brown, and the first piece of music to be named ‘Sionfonietta,’ which he said means ‘little symphony.’
Brown said it is a “very lovely” piece, with a particularly moving slow movement.
The evening’s music is demanding and filled with intricacies, said Brown, and the orchestra is playing it well.
“It’s going to be a wonderful program,” said Brown.
Music students or anyone playing in a band would benefit from hearing the performance, according to Brown.
“It’s a rare opportunity,” he said, to hear these particular pieces.
The performance, sponsored by the Barnes Group Foundation and the Clinton S. Roberts Foundation, opens the orchestra’s 2010 concert series.
Other concerts will be at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 7 at the Christ Episcopal Church in Avon, and Saturday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church in Torrington.
The symphony is getting some help from Tunxis Community College. Graphics arts students are taking photos and designing the program book, said Brown.
“We have some fantastic interns from Tunxis Community College,” said Brown. He said Tunxis President Cathryn Addy is on the symphony advisory board and helped arrange for the interns.
Brown said the symphony performs one of its series in Bristol each year. The symphony board is committed to Bristol as one of the communities it focuses on.
“Romantic Winds” offers about an hour of music, with an intermission, said Brown.
The symphony is planning for its children’s concert, scheduled for March 24 at Lewis Mills High School. They’ll be performing Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” said Brown, as well as the world premiere of the orchestral version of “Evensong,” a work for trumpet and orchestra by Farmington composer Stephen Gryc.
The children’s concert is sponsored by the Parker Trust of the Main Street Community Foundation, The Sky Bight Foundation, Farmington Bank Foundation and the Greater Hartford Arts Council. Brown said the Main Street Community Foundation was especially helpful in securing the grants.
Brown said they’re also planning for the annual Celebrity Maestros Gala on April 18 at the Farmington Country Club.
Tickets to tonight’s concert will be available at the door. They are $22 for adults and $10 for students. Adults who purchase the series get a discount; three performances for $55. Chippens Hill Middle School is at 551 Peacedale St. in Bristol.
For more information, see the symphony’s website at http://www.nutmegsymphony.org/.

Locknetics

Anyone know anything about Locknetics closing this year? I'm working on a story this afternoon and would appreciate any help or insight.
My number is 860-523-9632.
Thanks!

Tunxis Expansion Plans Taking Shape


Here's a story I wrote for today's edition of The Bristol Press (http://www.bristolpress.com/) about the expansion plans at Tunxis. If you've been impressed by the school's new look along Route 6, you'll be interested to know that it'll be extended a little further into Farmington. The view is of the new addition, seen from the east side. On the far right side of the picture is the corner of the building, at the junction of Routes 6 and 177.


FARMINGTON – Tunxis Community College is preparing for the next phase of its expansion, with a newly designed classroom building.
Tunxis President Cathryn Addy said they now know what the building will look like and are in the process of selecting the public art that will be part of it.
“It’s quite a ways down the road,” she said. “I’m really excited about it.”
Addy said the school is at capacity.
“We desperately need the space,” she said. “I’m very grateful that we’re even getting to plan a building right now.”
John Lodovico, the director of facilities at the college, said the 50,000-square-foot addition will extend the newest building – the face of the college – further east along Route 6.“It’s a good-sized building,” said Lodovico.
The project will be ready to go out to bid early this summer, said Lodovico.
“Then, it’s out of our hands,” he said, until the State Bond Commission allocates the money for construction.
Under the best possible scenario, Lodovico said, construction could start in the fall. The project will take 600 calendar days, he said, so in theory, it could be occupied by July 2012.
But he said, “I doubt that’ll happen.”
The new structure, which will be known as the 600 building at Tunxis, will have three stories above the ground. The eastern portion will also have a basement, said Lodovico, offering about 11,000 square feet of space.
The mechanics and custodians will have a work area in the new basement, said Lodovico, and there will also be storage space there.
The first, second and third floors will each have about 13,000 square feet each.
The first expansion phase at Tunxis completed two years ago added a new 33,000-square-foot library, student meeting space, labs, an art gallery and a half dozen classrooms. In all, it was a 100,000-square-foot addition.
“We still fell short of classroom space,” said Lodovico.
The second phase is half the size of the first one and is designed by the same architectural firm, Du Bose Associates in Hartford, in a matching style.
The building will have LEED environmental certification, based on design and materials. They’ll have flooring made of recycled rubber tires, he said, more glass and natural light to reduce electrical use. He said they’re looking at the mechanical system to see what can be done to make it more efficient.
Lodovico said the second phase adds nine 40-seat classrooms, six 30-seat classrooms, two laptop-compatible classrooms that accommodate 24 students each and two 20-seat classrooms for the first and second story.
The third floor will be reserved for future expansion, and probably used as office space at some point, according to Lodovico.
“We will wait until we can afford it,” said Addy.
Tunxis has 4,480 students, Lodovico said, which is 9 percent higher than this time last year.
Even after the first phase of the expansion, said Lodovico, the school was too small. He said he hopes the second phase meets the current needs of the school and said he expects it will, unless enrollment spikes again.
Having enough space for parking remains a big problem, Lodovico said, one that will likely require land acquisition to solve.
Originally, the budget for the second phase was set at about $35 million, according to Lodovico. But it has since been scaled back to $12 million, he said, not enough to do the original project.
The project initially had included the renovation or demolition and replacement of two of the original buildings on campus, an early-1960s-era former strip mall and a former grocery store. But that’s been put off indefinitely, Lodovico said, and the third floor of the new building won’t be finished right away, either, to save money.
It’ll be insulated and heated, he said, and pipes will be brought up there and capped.
If the bids come back low enough, Lodovico said, it’s possible that something could be done soon with the third floor. Otherwise, he said, it’ll be ready for expansion later.
If the economy improves or federal stimulus money is available to the school, Lodovico said, the project could move more quickly and more of it could be finished.
“The need is here and it starts with education,” said Lodovico.
Lodovico said a state traffic study showed the college needs a traffic light on Route 177 at the southern end of the property.
When classes let out, it can be difficult to make a left turn out of the parking lot, Lodovico said.
“It’s a busy place,” Lodovico said. “There’s a lot going on here.”
It’s possible the new traffic light may be a caution light, he said.
“That’s still in design development,” he said.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How You Will Never, Ever, Be Without ESPN (at least not if you have internet access)

What next from ESPN? TV on your computer, that's what. They've been doing it in a less than high profile way for a few years, but now they're making it official, renaming ESPN360.com to ESPN3.com. They promise more interactive stuff online, better video and more. Here's what I wrote about it for The Bristol Press (http://www.bristolpress.com/):

BRISTOL – Whether sports fans are away from home or merely “lose the battle for the remote control,” ESPN wants to provide them with the games they want to see, said Damon Phillips, a company executive overseeing the launch of the new ESPN3.com.
Beginning April 4, just in time for the Yankees-Red Sox opening game, ESPN will debut ESPN3.com, an online network that will offer fans hard-to-find games as well as an alternative means of watching other events.
“We’re doing some new things,” said Phillips. He said ESPN3.com will “bring the best of the web and television together.”
In addition to major sporting events that viewers could also see on ESPN, the online network will offer a lot of college sports that can’t be seen anywhere else, as well as “out of market” games and sports that aren’t often shown extensively on television, such as cricket, soccer and tennis.
Phillips said ESPN3.com will show 3,500 live events every year.
ESPN3.com falls into the company’s “best available screen” philosophy and the promise to deliver sports to the fan wherever the fan may be.
If given a choice, Phillips said, fans will gravitate to watching their favorite sporting events in their home on a big television screen.
But if that’s not available – because the game is on in the daytime and they’re at work, because they’re out of town and can’t see the local team or lose the TV to family members watching something else – they’ll be able to tune in on the computer instead, Phillips said.
“There’s a large percentage of fans who don’t get the sports they want on television,” said Phillips.
For these people, watching online is an alternative.
“We treat it just like a TV network,” said Phillips. “This is a very important priority for our company.”
On the computer screen, viewers can choose to watch in a little box in the corner of the screen – up to five events at a time – or enlarge one of them to full size.
“A good percentage of our users go to full screen mode,” said Phillips.
The initiative isn’t new. ESPN3.com is the new name for ESPN360.com, but the change in name will be accompanied by improvements for viewers, said Phillips.
Phillips said viewers will get “even sharper video quality” along with the interactive features. He said people who are now using ESPN360.com will notice a difference starting April 4.
The company plans a big marketing push next month for ESPN3.com, said Phillips.
The name change follows ESPN’s naming patterns and is a “clearer promise to our viewers,” said Phillips, that they’ll get the best content possible, the same as they do on ESPN and ESPN2.
And there will be more to do online, said Phillips, who promised that fans will be able to watch and check stats and scores and take part in or keep tabs on polls and fantasy leagues.
“It’s true interactivity for fans,” said Phillips. “We’re really excited about it.”
ESPN3.com can show as many as 20 events at one time, said Phillips, and viewers can watch as many as five at a time.
ESPN3.com will be available from any internet service provider that is affiliated with ESPN, including Comcast, AT&T, Cox, Verizon and many others. ESPN360.com is currently in 50 million households.
Company spokeswoman Amy Phillips said most of what will be seen on ESPN3.com won’t be available on cable television.
Games, matches and other sports contests will be archived for 24 hours on ESPN3.com, she said, so fans can catch up if they missed the live broadcast.
And like a digital video recorder, she said, viewers can pause the live action and rewind to see something again, then fastforward to catch up with the action.
As with anything else, what’s broadcast online on ESPN3.com will depend on the ownership rights.
Some of the events that fans will be able to watch online include the NBA, college basketball, football, baseball, hockey, softball and lacrosse; the FIFA World Cup, European soccer games, Major League Baseball, the Little League World Series, the US Open and The Masters golf tournaments and the X Games.

Larson Plans Bristol Senior Center Stop

Congressman John Larson's coming to Bristol next Friday morning. If you're available and interested, his "listening tour" is open to all. Here's what I wrote for The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com) about it:

BRISTOL – As part of an effort to listen to the concerns of his constituents, Congressman John Larson will visit the senior center in Bristol next week to share information, field questions and hear comments.
Larson, an East Hartford Democrat whose district includes Bristol, will be at the Beals Senior and Community Center at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 20.
Paul Mounds, a spokesman for Larson, said the event is open to the public, not just seniors, and will last an hour, or more if necessary.
“The congressman loves to go out in the district and hear from his constituents directly,” said Mounds. “He’s very much looking forward to coming out to Bristol.”
In a prepared statement, Larson said he could best serve seniors and other district residents by listening to their comments and applying it to his work in Washington.
In Bristol, Larson will give a legislative update, Mounds said, of new laws and pending legislation of particular interest to seniors.
One key issue that Larson may discuss is the economy and the federal stimulus program, which increased the federal match for Medicaid, which helps low-income seniors in long-term care and gave $250 to everyone who receives Social Security.
Mounds said Larson might also talk about the new law, the “Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights” that protects consumers by banning certain rate increases, fees and penalties and another new law protecting consumers from financial fraud and mortgage scams.
Mounds said Larson may also talk about a bill passed in the House, the Medicare Premium Fairness Act, that would prevent a rise in the 2010 Medicare Part B premiums.
Initially, Larson had been scheduled to visit Bristol on Monday, Mounds said, but instead he will be at a funeral for Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, who died February 8.
Mounds said Larson is looking forward to seeing as many constituents as possible and is interested in hearing their comments and questions.
“The whole forum will be dedicated to that,” said Mounds.
The Bristol stop is part of a “listening tour” that Larson is doing in the district, specifically for seniors. He will bring his “Seniors Update” pamphlet with information on how his office can help with Social Security and Medicare issues. It also includes an update on legislation of interest to seniors.
The senior center is at 240 Stafford Ave., Bristol.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bristol Schools Closed Wednesday

Snow day!
Those kids get all the breaks.
Sadly, newspaper reporters never get snow days. So watch this space for news tomorrow.

Let it Snow... Foley is Staying in Greenwich

If anyone was thinking of coming to the chamber in the morning to have coffee with Tom Foley, one of the Republicans who wants to be our next governor, you'll have to wait a week.
Mike Nicastro, the chamber president, wisely checked the radar and decided to postpone Foley's informal coffee chat for a week, given the expectation that we're getting a decent sized snowstorm starting late tonight.
Look for Foley at 8 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 17 on the Bristol Campus of Tunxis Community College -- the chamber will be full that morning, so Tunxis is opening its doors. That's in the North Side Square plaza near SuperNatural.
The next morning, Thursday, Feb. 18, Democrat Ned Lamont is scheduled at the chamber at 8 a.m. for his informal coffee chat.
That's two mornings of free coffee next week! You don't have to register or be a chamber member to attend. But you have to show up to get the coffee.

Good News on the Economy

I love listening to economist Nick Perna. He's got a doctorate in economics from MIT, but he talks like a regular person and makes listening to a lecture on economics both informative and fun. Every time the chamber's economic forecast luncheon rolls around, I get happy if the speaker is Nick because I learn something and it's definitely not boring. He didn't disappoint this time, either. He came bearing mostly good news, which is nice to hear after living with this stupid recession. Here's what I wrote for The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com) about what he had to say:

The worst, said economist Nick Perna, is over.
“The recession did end in August or September,” Perna told his audience at the annual economic forecast luncheon of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce. “The overall economy stopped declining.”
The stock market, Perna said, is “clearly recovering,” but isn’t all better yet.
He said the national gross domestic product will grow about 3 percent each year – lower than an optimum growth of 4 to 4.5 percent.
Expect interest rates to go up about a point by the end of the year, Perna said, but told his audience not to worry about inflation.
“To me, what you should worry about is rising interest rates,” said Perna.
He said he does not think inflation will be more than about 2 percent over the next couple years.
Banks have a lot of federal money sitting in “idle reserves,” said Perna. “You can’t get inflation from idle reserves.”
Perna said it still could be years before the economy is fully recovered, but said things ought to be looking a lot better in about six months.
With national unemployment at 10 percent, Perna said, it will be five or six years before it comes down to half of that. One point a year, he said, would be a “major accomplishment.”
Introducing Perna, Rick O’Brien of Webster Bank said that the economist’s message isn’t always what people want to hear.
“He tells the truth,” said O’Brien, but “he says it in such a way it won’t hurt quite so bad.”
O’Brien said Perna, who delivers the chamber’s annual economic forecast nearly every year, has a doctorate in economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
During the last recession, Connecticut fared far worse than most of the rest of the nation, Perna said, but the same isn’t true this time around.
From 1989 to 1992, the state lost 10 percent of its jobs, while the nation lost 2 percent, he said.
During this recession, Perna said, “We’re not doing any worse than the national economy.”
So if the national economy rebounds the way Perna expects it to, “so should we,” he said. Manufacturing output in Connecticut, he said, is growing.
The bloodletting of job losses – which had been 750,000 a month nationally – is substantially less, now down to 75,000 a month, according to Perna.
“Stability is not that far away,” he said.
The number of newly unemployed, said Perna, is also slowing down. Companies haven’t started hiring yet, he said, but they’ve stopped firing and are moving workers who had been cut back to normal hours.
For small businesses, Perna said, “We’re at the point where things are getting better.”
President Barack Obama’s biggest mistake after taking office a year ago, Perna said, was not having a big enough jobs package right away and veering off of that issue.
“It should have been just jobs, jobs, jobs and maybe reforming the financial system,” said Perna, to ensure that the problem didn’t recur.
Health care, he said, is a political problem that can be solved, but it should have been left to another time when the economy was in such dire straits.
Perna said though he and other economists “did blow it when it came to predicting the financial crisis,” the predictions he made last year for when to expect a recovery– at a time when things looked really rough – were on the money.
Things are looking better now, Perna said.
“We’re not in the same degree of unknown territory as we were two years ago,” said Perna.

MingleStick Ho!

I bet you've all been on pins and needles to know what happened when the chamber unleased the provocatively-named MingleStick on Tuesday. I got one and trying it out was the most exciting thing I did that entire minute, honest. I can see where this is going, however, and soon we'll all be mingling like maniacs. I don't believe it will completely replace the business card, but soon we'll all be toting electronic/digital/techno gizmos like the MingleStick or something similar to get our discounts at the grocery store, gas pump, you name it. Maybe it'll be the new library card or driver's license, too, in the future. Who knows? Too bad we can't ask Madam Marie.
Anyway, here's what I wrote for The Bristol Press (http://www.bristolpress.com/) for Wednesday's paper:

The MingleStick hit Bristol Tuesday amid much fanfare and some skepticism.
Introduced by the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, the small handheld device – which later plugs into a computer USB port – is for collecting and trading contact information.
Proponents say the MingleSticks, which use infrared technology to transfer data from one to another, will eliminate the need for business cards.
“You simply meet, click and connect,” said Eric Shadd, a self-described MingleStick evangelist for Mingle 360, the company that sells the device.
Chamber President Mike Nicastro, who wants to develop the MingleStick as a loyalty program similar to the chamber card, said his organization is only the third chamber nationally – and the only one in New England – to get the MingleStick.
“We’re excited to launch this,” said Nicastro, urging members to use it as much as possible and bring it to future chamber events.
The chamber handed out MingleSticks to everyone attending the annual economic forecast luncheon, and many there took advantage of the situation to try it out, using the device to collect contact information from each other.
Shadd spoke briefly at the event. He said the device does not store any information, so losing it does not put a user at risk. The information is stored in the company’s database, Shadd said, and is kept private.
“We don’t sell your information, ever,” said Shadd. Users can download their own contact information, he said, or just access it online, similar to a LinkedIn account.
Some people embraced the idea.
“With this, I don’t have to worry about misplacing a business card,” said Susan Warner, who works in marketing and sales for the Lauretano Sign Group. She said she liked the fact that the MingleStick information includes a photograph along with the contact information like name, company, phone number and email address because she can remember faces better than names.
But some weren’t so sure and others didn’t know what to make of it.
“It’s quite different,” said Bud Funk, owner of Fourslide Spring and Stamping.
“It seems very unnatural,” said attorney Karen Gallagher, who arrived at the chamber event with a pocketful of business cards that went unused.
Though everyone at the chamber event could get a MingleStick, they’re not common, at least not yet.
“The question is, how many other people will have them,” Gallagher said.
Accountant John Letizia was blasé about the potential for his MingleStick.
“The problem is, I know most of the people I mingled with,” said Letizia, scanning the room. Letizia said the device is like so much new technology in that it reduces interpersonal contact.
“I miss that part of communication,” Letizia said.
Ed Pelkey opted to leave the luncheon without a MingleStick. He said he has enough trouble keeping his computer operating.
“I’m with the Stone Age,” Pelkey said, joking, “They wouldn’t let me.”
Getting basic information might take on a whole new meaning using a MingleStick instead of asking a new contact for a business card. It could be awkward.
“Now you gotta ask ‘em if they have a MingleStick,” said Funk.
“That opens up a world of possibilities,” observed Steve Collins, a Bristol Press reporter.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Time to Carve the CDBG Pie, and Good Luck With That

Each year, I listen as board members of the Bristol Development Authority try to figure out how to divvy up a shrinking pot of money that makes up the community development block grants, amid ever-increasing requests for help. It's not an easy task. Here's what I wrote after the initial public hearing, held Monday night at City Hall. This was for Tuesday's edition of The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com):

BRISTOL -- The human service agencies that help care for the city’s children, shelter its homeless and feed its hungry lined up Monday to ask the Bristol Development Authority for help with a federal Community Development Block Grant.

The grants, which come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are federal funds administered by the Bristol Development Authority, and the BDA board members are those who determine how the money is spent.

There are always more requests than there is funding, of course, and this year is no exception, said Howard Schmelder, who chairs the Policy Committee of the BDA, which makes the recommendations on grant allocation.

“We’re going to have a real job on our hands,” said Schmelder.

In all, the committee received two dozen outside requests for funding, primarily from non-profit organizations, most of which apply for the grants every year.

The programs that are funded are supposed to meet the city’s stated goals of meeting the needs of the homeless, caring for those with special needs, housing, public housing and non-housing community development. Grants are supposed to primarily benefit low to moderate income residents, including the elderly and disabled.

Fran Pangaro, executive director of the Bristol ARC, asked for $43,000 for new vinyl siding for the agency’s Jerome Avenue building. The wood siding is rotting and infested with bees and bugs, she said. New siding would eliminate those problems and help save energy, she said.

The Bristol Historical Society asked for $17,595 to restore its front porch.

Ellen Zoppo spoke for the society, saying the work would be for safety as well as aesthetic reasons.

Ingraham Manor asked for $75,000 to add a third elevator to help move food, staff and equipment and leave the other two for residents and visitors.

Several agencies asked for help providing services to children, some for facility improvement and others for aid directly to youth.

The Bristol Community Organization asked for $18,465 for renovations to convert the bathrooms at its Lake Avenue building from adult to use specifically for children. Doing so would enable BCO to expand its Head Start program because the bathrooms are a requirement.

BCO also asked for $16,958 to put up sunscreens at its Head Start playgrounds on Lake Avenue and at its South Street address.

The Family Center asked for $7,500 to get a rubber roof on the newer part of the building repaired, and for $48,000 to upgrade the playgrounds on Upson Street and at the Imagine Nation children’s museum, where childcare programs are held.

Dan Casey, director of business development at the Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut, asked for $6,000 to provide scholarships for educational summer camps at Indian Rock Nature Preserve.

Linda Rich, director of the Family Resource Centers at O’Connell and South Side schools asked for $1,800 for emergency intervention for families in dire need of the most basic things.

“It makes a tremendous difference with our families,” said Rich.

The Bristol Boys and Girls Club and The Family Center also asked for funding for summer camp and for the outreach program at Cambridge Park.

Requests also came in from the St. Vincent DePaul Mission of Bristol to operate its transitional living center for women with children, and from organizations that do outreach programs in Bristol, including the Literacy Volunteers, the Prudence Crandall domestic violence prevention center and the YWCA of New Britain, which handles sexual assault crisis services and prevention education.

The committee did not make any decisions Monday, just listened to these and other pleas for grant aid. They will meet later in the month to determine which agencies will be funded.

Cemetery Commission Will Join in Bristol's 225th

There's a good group of people looking after the city's graveyards. I checked in on the Cemetery Commission tonight and wrote this for Tuesday's edition of The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com):

BRISTOL -- The Episcopal Diocese is looking for help with its ancient cemetery on Stearns Street, according to Ellen Zoppo, who chairs the city Cemetery Commission.

Zoppo said when she spoke with representatives from the diocese, she suggested they might be able to affiliate with a neighborhood organization or neighboring church.

She mentioned St. Joseph’s Church, which has a nearby cemetery, and the Federal Hill Association, Zoppo said, adding that she believes the dioceses will pursue “partnership possibilities” with both of them.

“They seemed very interested in those ideas,” Zoppo said.

Zoppo said she hasn’t heard from diocese officials since letting them know that for financial reasons, the city wouldn’t assume responsibility for the cemetery.

She said the diocese had assured her they would put a plan in place to care for the cemetery, but that she didn’t know yet what it would be.

The commission, which intends to participate in the city’s 225th birthday celebration, is planning an event at the Lewis Street cemetery, which at the time was known as the Old North Cemetery, said Zoppo.

When the commission met Monday, members talked about plans for the event, slated for April 18.

Commissioner Marjorie Budge said Bob Merriman has agreed to talk about his family’s history for the occasion.

Hap Barnes has also agreed to participate, representing his family, which has many members buried there.

Deanne Levesque, who also serves on the commission, said she’d identified 34 soldiers from the American Revolution who are buried in the cemetery.

Mike Saman, another commissioner, said the cemetery also has seven Civil War soldiers buried there.

“That’s quite a bit,” he said.

The commission plans to mark the soldiers’ graves and possibly have volunteers available to speak about the individuals.

More than 50 members of the Lewis family are buried there, including Josiah Lewis, the family patriarch. Budge said his was the first burial there, on May 1, 1772.

In addition to family members and volunteers to speak about the soldiers, the American Clock and Watch Museum may get involved, said Zoppo, contributing information about early Bristol clockmakers who are laid to rest in the Lewis Street burial ground.

The program on the Lewis Street cemetery will be presented first at the Bristol Historical Society and Museum, then for the general public at the cemetery, said Zoppo.

The program may include a guide to some of the more interesting gravestones.

Saman said the inscriptions are detailed, almost telling a story.

“Some of them are really different,” said Saman. “The sayings are really unique.”

Zoppo said some of the presentation may also discuss the materials used, including brownstone and marble as well as the idiosyncrasies of the stones.

“Everybody’s been in a cemetery, whether willingly or not,” said Zoppo, who said the public may find it interesting.

Though there was some discussion about cleaning the stones before the event, it could prove problematic because the commission would have to secure permission from the probate court first.

Budge said cleaning the stones isn’t the crucial part.

“We’re focusing on the history,” she said.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

At the Middletown Power Plant Explosion

At least one Bristol man is at the scene of the horrific Kleen Energy Systems plant explosion on River Road in Middletown today.
Jeff Merrow, business manager for the Laborers Local 611, is as close as he can get to the property -- which isn't very close -- and trying without much success to get information.
I reached him on his cell phone about 2 p.m.
One thing he was able to confirm with a foreman, he said, is that his union members were able to get out alive. One had to go to the hospital, Merrow said, but has been released.
"I had six people working today. My Laborers are all out," said Merrow. "It's been an ongoing, seven-day-a-week job up there."
Merrow said he's stuck with the press corps who are there, waiting at the perimeter, watching and hearing all kinds of things.
"We're just standing here on stand-by," said Merrow, who said he can't see anything on the property from where he is. "Everything we hear is all rumors."
He has seen emergency crews come and go, including a LifeStar helicopter a few times, he said.
Merrow said the state police aren't letting anyone on or off the property except those who are hurt.
"They're taking the injured out," said Merrow. But he said, "Most of the ambulances are going out of here empty."
-30-

Here's a little bit more that I found out about the projects from the website of a subcontractor, High Steel Structures, Inc.

Project Owner: Kleen Energy Systems, LLC.
Contractor: O&G Industries
Architect: WorleyParsons
Steel Fabricator: Berlin Steel
Steel Subcontractor: High Steel Structures Inc.

Berlin Steel of Massachusetts took the lead bidding the complete steel fabrication package, which totaled approximately 5,000 tons. Berlin involved High Steel early in the budgeting phase, and the two companies worked closely together through the bidding process. Contractor O&G Industries, Inc. awarded Berlin the fabrication contract, with High Steel as a subcontractor. High Steel’s scope involved large roof girders, crane girders, and several very large transfer girders for a total of 750 tons of built-up sections.
Kleen Energy Systems, LLC’s new 620 MW Combined Cycle Electric Generating Facility is located in Middletown, Connecticut. Unlike older power plants that are less than 30 percent efficient, the new gas-fired, combined cycle power plant is designed to operate at over 60 percent efficiency. The combined cycle process achieves this increased efficiency by sending waste heat from the gas turbine generator, that would normally be lost, to a steam turbine to generate even more electricity.
The plant is expected to come on line by June 1, 2010.

If I hear anything more, I'll update.




Saturday, February 6, 2010

MingleStick -- It's Not What You Think


Never heard of a MingleStick? Don't worry, chamber Prez Mike Nicastro will soon get one into your hands and you'll be mingling like mad. Confused? Read the story I wrote for Saturday's Bristol Press (http://www.bristolpress.com/) about the latest gizmo coming next week to the Mum City:

BRISTOL – Look out folks, the MingleStick is coming.
The latest in techno-cool, the MingleStick will be unleashed for the first time in Connecticut on Tuesday at the economic forecast luncheon put on by the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce.
“It’s a very simple little device,” said Mike Nicastro, the chamber president.
But Nicastro has high hopes for the MingleStick, which he said may replace the use of business cards and brochures in many instances and offer new opportunities for the chamber and its members.
The MingleStick resembles a key fob for a car and a computer jump drive.
It works like a jump drive in that it stores information, but beyond that, it can exchange information, too. That’s where the “mingle” part comes in.
On one end of the device is infrared technology that, when it meets another MingleStick, copies the information from it.
“Your business card is all in there,” said Nicastro. He said the MingleStick includes whatever information a person would want to exchange, such as name, phone number, email address and even a photo.
After collecting information at a business gathering, the owner of the device would then plug it into a computer port and go online to download the information through the MingleStick website. They then have it in their computer without any need to retype information.
Nicastro said the MingleStick is being marketed primarily to chambers and for use at trade shows, where people are networking. He said the device can be used to transfer pamphlets, brochures, even entire presentations, reducing the need for paper copies.
“It’s got huge potential,” said Nicastro, but it will take awhile to get members actively using them.
Everyone who attends the forecast luncheon will get a MingleStick as part of the deal, said Cindy Scoville, an organizer of the event.
But the luncheon is only the first stop for the MingleSticks.
“We’ll start deploying the sticks now at every event,” said Nicastro, who said he’ll sell them to people at the Bristol Home and Business Show later this month. He said they’ll cost about $5 each.
Once a critical mass of chamber members are using the MingleStick, it can be used as a loyalty program similar to the chamber card, said Nicastro, but in a more beneficial way.
If a business had a “station” that read MingleSticks, it could entice customers by offering a discount for those who use the device. Then, it could easily track the names and affiliations of its customers.
At a chamber event, members could wave their MingleStick in front of the station, which would then collect the information about who attended. That information is valuable to sponsors, Nicastro said, who want to know who came to the event.
“It has ties to both LinkedIn and Facebook,” said Nicastro. “You’re really speeding up the process of connections with people.”
It’s got infrared on one end, which is used to read someone else’s MingleStick.
There’s a cap on it that, when removed, can be inserted into a computer USB port.
The luncheon ,which features economist Nick Perna as the keynote speaker, is at the AquaTurf banquet hall in Southington, said Scoville, because the facility has wireless.
Though tickets will be available at the door, Scoville said people who register in advance will have a MingleStick waiting for them with their information already on it.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty cool tool for everyone to have,” said Scoville, who said she’s eager for “Mingle mania.”
-30-

Thursday, February 4, 2010

First Dispatch From the Busway Meeting -- No Decision Yet

Steve sent this two minutes ago. He wrote it for the Herald's earlier deadline. The Press story may have more and I'm sure he'll post more on the Bristol Blog (http://www.bristoltoday.com/) later tonight. I'm just trying to fill in the gaps for those of you on the edge of your seats.

By STEVE COLLINS
STAFF WRITER
BRISTOL – Regional planners listened intently late Thursday to pitches for both the proposed busway and the potential for commuter rail.
Rail backers spoke first and then the proponents of the 9.4-mile busway between New Britain and Hartford got their turn.
Members of the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency questioned the plans in preparation for a possible vote on whether to give their blessing to shifting $116 million in state transportation funds to the busway.
As of deadline, no decision had been made. Some urged postponement of the decision until March to give planners time to review the material.
Others pushed for quick approval.
“The busway has been studied. The busway is now. The busway creates jobs,” said Joseph Marie, the state’s transportation commissioner.
With the federal government “behind us on this project,” Marie said, it makes sense to proceed as planned.
New Britain Mayor Tim Stewart said it is important to note how close the project is to construction, which could begin next year.
That stands in sharp contrast to the commuter rail option pushed by many Bristol officials.
Commuter rail “is an idea, not a project,” Stewart said, and would take eight to 10 years to come to pass at best.
If the agency backs the busway funding, it’s not clear that the $573 million project will face no further troubles.
“This thing has miles to go,” said Mike Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce.
Nicastro said rail backers will carry their fight to the General Assembly and elsewhere to keep the heat on the project.
But Bristol Mayor Art Ward, another rail backer, sounded resigned Thursday.
“The eggs are all pretty much in a basket for the bus route and we need to move on,” Ward said. “It’s very, very unlikely there’d be any roadblocks.”
He said the state and federal officials who have looked into the issue have essentially made the decision “to move forward with the busway.”
Adding some weight to the opposition to the busway was a letter written tis week by West Hartford’s mayor and four legislators stating that if the town had to choose, it would prefer rail.
“If building the busway will eliminate the opportunity for a commuter rail stop” in Elmwood, the letter to U.S. Rep. Johnson Larson said, “we must come out even stronger against the busway.”
Marie said that a station in Elmwood could handle both buses and trains.
Michael Sanders, the DOT transit manager, said the assumption has been the joint station would be at Flatbush Avenue, but it could be moved to Elmwood if that’s what West Hartford wants.
Rail advocates said that trains would tie the region into a network that offers more long-term potential for growth.
But Sanders said the busway benefits are immediate, including faster travel time for commuters who continue to use I-84. There would also be more buses and routes to service the region, including buses every 12 minutes between Hartford and Bristol during commuting periods.Sanders said the design is 90 percent finished and all but two of the property purchases needed have been completed.He said the project will create more than 1,000 jobs annually during the construction period through 2013.State officials said the bureaucratic process allows regional officials to approve any federal funding within their regions. The state can’t spend the money without the agency’s green light.

9:55 p.m.
I just revised the story to reflect an updated version. Only the last few paragraphs have changed -- Jackie
10:30 p.m.
Nothing new.
11 p.m.
No word.
Watch the Bristol Blog... www.bristoltoday.com. He'll probably leave something there later tonight and if not then, certainly in the morning.

No Word Out of the CCRPA Yet

Steve's at the meeting of the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency, which was supposed to start about a half hour ago. I haven't heard from him, but if I do, I'll post something here. I'm sure it's a hot spot this evening. There was even talk that the meeting might be postponed if there were too many people and no way to accommodate the crowd, but since I haven't heard anything, that probably didn't happen.
If anyone is reading this and wants to go, it's at 225 North Main St., 3rd floor. If you're already there, let me know what's happening! I hope there are people there sticking up for Bristol and also for the hardworking taxpayers of Connecticut and the nation, of which I am one.

Printer Weathers Economy

I wrote this last week for The Bristol Press and forgot to post it. Maybe you'd still like to see it if you didn't see it in the paper this week. I thought it was worth checking on Thirteenth Floor Graphics, a business that moved to Bristol two years ago with help from an economic development grant. Given the lousy economy, I wondered how they were doing. I was happy to learn that they're holding their own:


BRISTOL-- When Stephen Rejniak moved his print shop from Rocky Hill to Bristol two years ago, he didn’t know the business would soon be entering one of the nation’s worst economic downturns.
But despite the recession, the move has worked out pretty well for Rejniak, owner of Thirteenth Floor Graphics at 375 Lake Ave.
“I’m very pleased,” said Rejniak.
Rejniak had been renting space in Rocky Hill for 14 years when he bought the property in Bristol and moved his business here.
The city helped him with an economic development grant, a boost that Rejniak said helped convince him to choose Bristol.
The grant was a $10,000 package -- $5,000 for moving costs and $5,000 for job creation. The company hasn’t created any new jobs yet, but has a couple more years to do so and collect the grant money, said Jonathan Rosenthal.
“They’ve pretty much remained about the size they came in at. Given the economy, it’s just fabulous that they’ve done that,” said Rosenthal. “They’ve managed to hold their own in a tough economy.”
Rosenthal said his office has used the printer for some design and printing work.
‘They did a nice job and they did it quickly,” Rosenthal said.
Rejniak said he wasn’t sure how well he’d be received in the Mum City, but since relocating, he said he’s kept 90 percent of his old clients and added a lot of new ones.
“People are willing to try new things,” said Rejniak.
Rejniak said he tries to build personal relationships with customers to maintain their business.
About half his business, he said, is in business cards.
A new, four-color digital press he bought -- a $350,000 investment -- Rejniak said, makes printing small runs faster and cheaper.
Because of that, Thirteenth Floor Graphics has a natural market in small and mid-sized companies who don’t need huge printing orders.
“There’s no shortage of four-color work,” said Rejniak. “We’re not a big operation, but we do some pretty good work here.”
Press operator Steve Anthony, who has worked at the company three years, said instead of the four or five printing jobs that a regular press could handle in a day, the digital press can do about 14.
“It’s almost photo quality,” said Anthony.
Anthony said he stays pretty busy every day with customer orders.
“They like the quality we give them,” Anthony said.
And some of the bigger printing houses aren’t getting as much work, which means more for shops like Thirteenth Floor Graphics, Rejniak said.
Through business networking, Rejniak said he’s picked up some larger clients since moving to Bristol.
When he moved to Bristol, Rejniak said he had seven full-time workers. Now he’s got six, and one part-time worker after laying off one pressman.
Though it hasn’t always been easy keeping the business going in the recession, Rejniak said that the timing really worked to his advantage.
He sold his stock to help buy the building, said Rejniak, just before the market collapsed.
It was “a stroke of luck,” he said, “I had no information.”
And he got a loan, he said, something he might find much more difficult to get in today’s banking climate.
“The move happened at such a phenomenal time for me,” said Rejniak.
After those lucky breaks came the recession, which wasn’t easy. But Rejniak said he feels good about this year.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I think that things are going to turn around in 2010. It can’t stay like this forever. I think people are ready.”
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New Health Center to Serve Uninsured, Underinsured

If you ever visit City Hall and enter via Laurel Street, you've probably seen the sign for the new Community Health Care Center across the street. It's actually part of the CVS plaza on North Main, but the door faces Laurel Street. It's a non-profit primary care medical office, aimed at serving the uninsured and underinsured. Today I met the director, a nice woman named Yvette Highsmith-Francis. After an interview with her, I wrote this for the Friday edition of The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com):

BRISTOL – A new medical practice that specializes in treating uninsured and underinsured people is opening this month in downtown Bristol.
Director Yvette Highsmith-Francis said she will open the Bristol office of Community Health Center Inc. with a physician, nurse and receptionist.
“We’re really a safety net organization,” said Highsmith-Francis.
She said the center, which primarily serves people on Medicaid, SAGA and other similar programs as well as people without any insurance, is a family practice office that will begin seeing patients on Feb. 15.
It is by appointment only and not an urgent care center or walk-in clinic, she said. It is also not a surgery or specialty center, but a primary care office.
“We take anyone who needs a medical home,” said Highsmith-Francis. “If you have a doctor somewhere else, you can’t see us.”
Anyone who already has a primary care physician and wants to use Community Health Center instead has to transfer their records, she said.
Those without insurance pay a fee according to a six-tiered sliding scale based on household size and income, she said. Fees can be as low as $10 for the poorest patients.
Self employed people make up many of those served, she said.
The small office – in the CVS plaza at 59 North Main St., facing Laurel Street and City Hall – is one of a dozen non-profit Community Health Centers in Connecticut, said Highsmith-Francis. The organization started in 1972 in Middletown, she said, as a free dental clinic and now provides dental work in 140 Connecticut schools.
Dr. Melanie Rausche will be the primary care physician staffing the Bristol office, according to Highsmith-Francis.
They provide a scope of services that includes primary medical care, dental care and mental and behavioral health care. Not all offices offer everything, and at least initially, the Bristol office will not offer dental or mental health care.
The Community Health Center has an office in New Britain that serves 12,000 patients, said Highsmith-Francis. She said 900 or more are Bristol residents.
Many of the Bristol residents will probably stay with the New Britain practice rather than switch doctors, she said, but she still expects about two-thirds to transfer to the new Bristol office.
“Transportation is an issue for people,” she said. “We hope to be able to grow based on the needs of the community.”
The Community Health Centers are under federal oversight, she said, and qualify for higher reimbursement rates for services to Medicaid patients and low cost prescription drugs for uninsured patients.
In order for her organization to set up an office in Bristol, Highsmith-Francis said, the city had to qualify as a medically underserved community without enough primary care physicians for its residents.
The Bristol office will at times offer the services of a nutritionist, a diabetes educator and a podiatrist to serve diabetics, she said.
The office will help uninsured people file directly to the state Department of Social Services for assistance, said Highsmith-Francis.
For those who are income eligible, the lab work is free through Quest and prescriptions are at wholesale, or government rates, she said, at Walgreens.
Highsmith-Francis said the office will begin making appointments next week. Anyone interested can call at (860)585-5000.
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Need Increasing, But Cuts in Funding Expected

The Bristol Cares committee met today, exchanging information on what is still a tough time for social service agencies and the people they serve. Here's what I wrote for Friday's edition of The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com):

BRISTOL – Human service agencies in Bristol are bracing for more cuts in state funding, even as the number of people in need of help continues to climb.
“There’s going to be cuts. We all know that,” said Thomas Morrow, chairman of the Bristol Cares committee. But the cuts are coming at a time when the demand for services is great, he said.
“The shelter’s full,” said Phil Lysiak, executive director of the St. Vincent DePaul Mission of Bristol, which operates three homeless shelters in town.
Last year, Lysiak said, they were hit with a $7,000 cut in aid from the state Department of Social Services and he expects another this year.
To cope, Lysiak said, his board is planning a new fundraiser every month that they hope will grow. They’ve had a family night event at a health club and next will have a wine tasting at St. Gregory’s CCD Center on Saturday, Feb. 20.
“We’re going to have a classical guitarist,” said Lysiak.
Mayor Art Ward said that while he keeps hearing “little glimmers of hope,” he knows that the reality is that citizens continue to struggle with lost jobs and reduced hours.
Ward said “the need is as great, if not greater” than when he started the committee more than a year ago, then called Winter ’09.
“People are being affected by the economy,” said Morrow. “We’re all feeling it.”
Morrow, who is the executive director of the Bristol Community Organization, said unprecedented numbers of people are coming for help with home heating costs.
BCO energy assistance caseworkers are seeing three or four people every 15 minutes, said Morrow.
“It doesn’t stop,” he said. “People are looking for every opportunity to stretch what dollars they have.”

Chamber Prez Blasts Press for Busway Editorial

I just got this from Mike Nicastro at the chamber, asking for it to be posted on this blog:

As the executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce I have state how disappointed the Chamber was this morning to see the Bristol Press editorial staff endorsing a Busway project that is out of control with costs and will provide no tangible benefit to Bristol or any of the communities that make up the Central Connecticut Chambers.
Since saving the Press and Herald from the “mouth” of bankruptcy the paper’s management has repeatedly told the Chamber that they were going to “complete change the newspaper” and that coverage of Bristol and the Bristol region would be better than ever. Evidence of this change has been minimal at best. The Busway issue provided maybe the greatest opportunity for a breakout from the status quo and leap into a new day.
The Press editorial board missed the opportunity. They could have worked hand in hand with the two largest communities of Bristol and New Britain to push our federal leaders to adapt to the changing environment and work with us to evolve the limited and costly Busway project into transit solution that could service hundreds of thousands of residents providing a bidirectional rail solution to New York and Hartford with the potential in future to service Bradley International and Boston. Instead they chose to protect that status quo. Instead of demanding to know why this project is in reality a 60/40 (new federal money/state) split and not the 80/20 that we have been told all along that it was they stayed silent. Instead of leading, they chose to follow.
If we are going to change the future of our region we need to be happily accused of being “dreamers” and we need to fight to reverse ridiculous bureaucracy that works to force through bad ideas simply because they’re “too far along.” We have to work by the adage that “good enough is not good enough.” This was the opportunity to make that statement and they just plain missed it.

Michael D. Nicastro
President & Chief Executive Officer
Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce/Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

High Noon for Train / Busway Collision

The Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency is gearing up for a doozy of a meeting Thursday. Steve drew the short stick, so he'll be there until the cows come home. It could be a long night. I don't know if he'll be live blogging, but if I get any updates from him, I'll post them. I'm sure he'll put something on the Bristol Blog at the end of it all. You can see that at http://www.bristoltoday.com/. Cheeze, with all the free publicity he's getting from me and Extra B.S., you'd think I'd at least get a mention in the Bristol Blog!

In unrelated but still important news, I'll be at the Bristol Cares meeting early Thursday, so I'll be reporting on that later in the day.


No Mention of Bristol in Rell's Speech

The governor gave her annual budget address today, and by all accounts, it was a bit skimpy on specifics. Steve and I squeezed the local delegation for their thoughts and came up with this story for Thursday's Bristol Press (www.BristolPress.com):

BRISTOL – If there’s one thing lawmakers and Gov. Jodi Rell agreed on Wednesday, it was the need to set politics aside and work together for the benefit for Connecticut.
Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat, said he agrees with Rell, whom he called “a nice lady,” about the need for everyone to work together to get the state's books in order.
“Enough of this finger-pointing and name-calling,” Colapietro said. He said he sees signs that the legislature and governor may do a better job of working together this year.
“Everybody's gotten beat up so much” for all the problems this year that they are more willing to sit down and cut a deal now, Colapietro said.
“It’s obvious it’s going to take a lot of hard work on both sides,” said Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat, who said it is not a time to play games, but to do what’s right for everyone in the state. “If there was ever a time to put politics aside, this is it.”
Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose district includes Bristol, said it felt different at the Capitol on Wednesday. This could be the year for bi-partisan effort, he said.
“Big decisions and difficult decisions of how to literally restructure state government cannot be made by one party or the other, nor should they be,” said Hamzy. “Everyone acknowledges the problems, but there’s very little follow through on doing something about it. I hope this year’s different.”
Rell’s budget does not specifically mention Bristol, its schools or courthouse. The only reference to Bristol is in a list of every town’s municipal aid.
“She really didn’t say that much,” said Nicastro, who said he received three thick budget and economic reports only after the governor completed her speech.
“It's just everybody's wish list,” said Colapietro, whose district includes Bristol, Plymouth and Plainville.
Hamzy said the speech contained few specifics and the only surprise to him was the governor’s proposal to establish a commission to look into streamlining government.
“I don’t think we really need a commission,” said Hamzy. He said that’s what the General Assembly is for.
“You establish a commission to pass the buck,” said Hamzy, unless it is created to deal with an unusual issue that is unfamiliar to most lawmakers, such as stem cells.
Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat, said it’s going to be a difficult session because of the ongoing budget crisis.
“In a year like this, I don’t know how much is going to be in it for anybody,” said Wright. “We’re going to be having to tell people no. We’re going to have to cut programs. It’s tough to do, but we have to do it.”
Worse than raising taxes, said Wright, is cutting programs.
“You think it’s tough to vote for a tax increase? Try voting for a spending cut,” said Wright, who said he is always “flooded” with mail and email when a program is threatened or cut.
Colapietro said the simple reality is that everyone who comes in can make a good case for more funding.
“We just don't have the money for everybody,” said Colapietro. “That's the hard part.”
Hamzy said Connecticut lawmakers are “looking at a whole bunch of red ink.”
New legislation would have to be passed in order to close the Bristol courthouse, Wright said. He said he’s not sure where things stand with efforts to close it.

Gov. Rell's Budget Speech

There weren't any specific references to Bristol and the local delegation didn't have much in the way of reaction, either. Everyone is promising to play nice.
Steve and I are trying to make something interesting out of it all.

Don't Miss the Train... Stories Today

Don't miss all of Steve Collins' stories in today's Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com) about the train and busway battle. He's doing his best to outline the issue before the hot potato lands with the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency Thursday night. You can find some, if not all of it, on the Bristol Blog (www.bristoltoday.com)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

They're Not at Liberty to Wave Anymore

Here's our beloved Statue of Liberty, attracting a friendly gull. This story isn't about her. It's about someone who is using a costumed character of her to sell tax services and is now in a tussle with the city.

You know those poor folks who stand next to the road, wearing some silly costume and waving at drivers, trying to get people into the store? It turns out they're called "wavers" and a woman who owns the Liberty Tax Service franchise on Route 6, the one near the Eblen's store, says without these employees dressed like the Statue of Liberty, her business would be bust. But they violate zoning regs, says Zoning Enforcement Officer T.J. Decrisantis. I wrote this about it for Wednesday's edition of The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com). But the question I still have is, do people really pull in and have their taxes done because someone is wearing a Statue of Liberty costume and waving at them? I don't know about you, readers, but this would not compel me to stop, though Devine says it is her only way of getting customers.

In case anyone is interested, Devine's the one who alerted the media on this one, sending press releases to newspapers and television stations and who knows who else. Decrisantis says that when he showed up today for a scheduled meeting, in walked Channel 3. I'm not sure if that was pure happenstance or not. Devine says she didn't tip off the TV crew, but Decrisantis says he felt "ambushed."

Here's the story I wrote:

BRISTOL – Erin Devine, who owns a Liberty Tax Service franchise on Route 6, says her employees who dress as the Statue of Liberty and wave to passing drivers bring in all her customers.

Zoning Enforcement Office T.J. Decrisantis said the costumed people are out there to grab attention and violate the city’s zoning regulations.

“Based on what I see, it could be interpreted as a moving sign,” said Decrisantis.

Devine disagreed.

“They’re people in costumes,” she said, not signs.

Decrisantis said he first visited the tax service because of an anonymous complaint about the traffic sightline. There were many American flags between the sidewalk and the highway, he said, and a waving person dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

He gave Devine a zoning inspection notice, Decrisantis said, and asked her to “tone it down” with the waver until he could talk to zoning commissioners about the intent of the regulations.

He said he asked her to move the flags to the other side of the sidewalk – about four feet back, so they wouldn’t block drivers’ view.

Devine, who opened only a month ago, said her business will fail without the wavers. She said it is the only marketing strategy used throughout the company.

“This is our branding. This is how we’re recognized.”

Of the 25 people who work at her tax office, 12 are wavers, working part-time, Devine said.

“These are people who are trying to earn a living,” said Devine, who refused to say how much they are paid to stand on the street and wave.

They’re out there Monday through Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays, she said, working in shifts of about four hours each.

Decrisantis said he’s not trying to put anyone out of work or otherwise hurt the tax service.

“They’re doing everything they can to get business in the door,” Decrisantis said, but asked, “If they can do it, can other businesses do it?”
If every business on Route 6 employed a costumed waver, said Decrisantis, “it would look like a circus or Las Vegas.”

City Building Official Guy Morin said the costumed character qualifies as an “attention getting device.”

“The regulations are pretty clear about it,” said Morin, who was the zoning enforcement officer before taking his current position.

Decrisantis said he visited both Liberty Tax Service offices on Farmington Avenue on Tuesday to deliver each an inspection notice, this time with a notation that they stop using the wavers within 10 days.

He said it is not a cease and desist order. That would come if the wavers are still there in 10 days, he said.

A cease and desist order gives the business 10 days to comply or appeal. An appeal must be filed within 30 days of the issuance of the cease and desist order, and is heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“I certainly will appeal it,” said Devine.

Until an appeal is heard, the city won’t enforce a cease and desist order, so the business can continue the alleged violation until a ruling is issued.

It’s possible, said Decrisantis, that the entire tax season will be over before the issue is decided.

“It’ll probably start all over again next year,” said Decrisantis.

Ted Parke, a part-time tax preparer for Devine’s business, called the city’s action “typical bureaucratic nonsense.” He said the practice of using wavers is “huge” in Southern California.

“It’s not some deadbeat out there,” said Parke. “We say they are advertisers using their First Amendment rights.”

Decrisantis said he couldn’t stop someone from walking up and down the street dressed as the Statue of Liberty, but he said this is clearly different.

Wavers work 15-25 hours a week, said Parke, and sometimes, there are two on the job at once.

Two people waving “does garner a lot of attention,” said Parke.

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