The death of the first North Adams native to be killed in combat since the Vietnam War saddened and united the residents of north county. The overwhelming turnout of residents to welcome home U.S. Army Spc. Michael DeMarsico II and to support his family during his funeral not only touched his platoon mates, who visited the city in mid-December, but also have made it one of the most memorable stories of 2012.
Among the other headlines drawing attention this year were the need to relocate the remaining tenants of the Spruces Mobile Home Park in Williamstown, which sparked a still on-going debate over whether or not the Lowery property should be considered by the town as a viable option. The opening of the newly renovated Hoosac Valley Middle and High School in Cheshire was also a prominent story of 2012.
Outpouring of support
From a vigil in his honor to a massive gathering outside of the First Baptist Church for his funeral, county residents turned out to support Spc. Michael DeMarsico's family as threats of a protest emerged from one of the country's most controversial religious groups.
DeMarsico, 20, was killed Aug. 16 in Panjaw'l, Afghanistan after being wounded by an enemy improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
A 2010 graduate of Drury High School, he enlisted in the Army after graduation and was deployed to Afghanistan in February. Family and friends said joining the military had been a goal of his since childhood.
Thousands of individuals lined the streets, from Greenfield to North Adams, to pay their respects to DeMarsico as a motorcade carrying his body, brought him home. Local, state and federal officials, including Gov. Deval Patrick, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown and U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, turned out for his wake and funeral.
On Veteran's Day, the Mayor Richard J. Alcombright honored DeMarsico during the city's annual ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Park, following the first annual "Up Front for DeMar 5k Run and Walk," which raised $4,115 for scholarship in his name. The event drew 125 runners and 35 walkers.
A need for a new home
A little over a year after waters from Tropical Storm Irene swelled the Hoosic River and flooded the Spruces Mobile Home Park, destroying a majority of the homes in the tight-knit community, town officials announced they were seeking a roughly $6.25 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation grant to purchase and demolish the remaining park and relocate current residents to new permanent replacement housing.
At a Nov. 16 meeting, Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin identified the 30-acre Lowry property, off of Stratton Road, as an alternative site for the some 66 residents who have re-inhabited their homes since the storm. The plan, he said, would call for the town to purchase the Spruces and demolish the remaining structures. The 114-acre site would then be set aside for agriculture, recreation, sports fields and conservation.
The idea of removing conservation restrictions from the Lowry property didn't sit well with some town residents, who have organized as the Friends of Williamstown Conservation Lands, aimed at offering an alternative voice for town residents. Since the formation of the group, town officials have expressed the need to relocate the remaining residents of the park, which once had 225 units.
Public Works Director Timothy Kaiser recently explained to the town's Affordable Housing Committee that regardless of whether or not the FEMA grant is awarded, that the Spruces property is not feasible for housing. He said the damage done by Tropical Storm Irene was only small in comparison to what a 100-year storm would cause. The 114-acre site is in a 100-year flood plane.
The town is proposing to build 40 units on about a third of the 30.6 acre Lowry property, leaving about 12 acres of open land and eight acres of wooded area.
A new era begins for the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District
After a year-long $40 million renovation of the 40-year-old Hoosac Valley Middle & High School, the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District opened the newly refurbished building, complete with an addition, at the start of the academic year in September. The building, which now houses middle and high school students, offers a new modern design, including an atrium, as well as new technology -- from computer and science labs down to motion-activated water fountains.
In addition to a new building, the school also welcomed a new principal, Vinnie Regan. Former principal and current assistant principal Henry Duval, was joined by Brook Kamienski, as another assistant principal.
The completion of the project also brought about the retirement of Superintendent Alfred Skrocki, who had refrained from leaving the district until the building opened. Upon his retirement at the end of October, former C.T. Plunkett Elementary Principal Kristin Gordon stepped into the role of superintendent.