Category Archives: Elmwood

$500K coming for Science Center move

From this week’s State Bond Commission agenda: 


REQUESTED: An Allocation and Bond Authorization (to agency) $500,000

FROM: Sec. 32 (j)(20) Acct. No. 12052-ECD46000-43090

Total Earmarking $500,000

Previous Allocations – 0 –

Balance Unallocated $500,000


These funds are requested to provide a grant-in-aid to the Town of West Hartford for site acquisition, and necessary renovations and improvements to allow for the relocation of the Children’s Museum formerly known as the Science Center of Connecticut into the Elmwood section of the town.

Total Grant-in-Aid, This Request $500,000



Filed under Elmwood, Science Center of Connecticut

Monster rats in West Hartford?!?

“Lots and lots of rats” are invading the Charter Oak neighborhood in Elmwood, according to today’s Hartford Courant.

“A rat problem that resulted in occasional complaints to health officials has spread over the past 18 months, leading officials to step up efforts to contain the rodents, which Mayor Scott Slifka called a public health risk,” the story said.

“As many as 400 homes in the Charter Oak neighborhood in the South End of town are facing a rodent invasion and residents, running out of solutions, are pleading with the town for help,” the story continued.

Some residents told town officials last night “they were afraid to walk out at night because of the rats. Others said their pets were growing afraid of the rodents – largely brown Norway rats that can measure up to 18 inches from head to tail,” the story said.

Health officials cited 88 “serious offenders” whose failure to keep their garbage secure has helped draw the rats to town, a number that’s frighteningly high. I mean, do you really need inspectors to tell you to keep your trash contained when there are monster rats about?

“To help eradicate the rats, the town is looking to stage a ‘mass-kill’ in mid-September. Town Manager James Francis said the project could cost the town roughly $250,000 and residents may have to pay between $100 and $200 – which could be reimbursed – as part of neighborhood-wide project. Specific costs, dates and details of the mass-kill plan are pending,” the story said.

You have to love it. We have no money for Middle School Quest but we’re devoting a quarter million to killing rats. So much for our image, eh?


Filed under Charter Oak, Elmwood, Health, News, Public safety, rats

Put the elms back in Elmwood

I know the town doesn’t have any money. I know people want to spend, well, nothing.

But here’s a program that we can still somehow do together: Put the elms back in Elmwood.

Since Dutch Elm Disease wiped out 100 million American Elm trees during the 20th century, including most of the tree-lined streets in our cities, the trees are hard to find. But that’s changing thanks to disease-resistant varieties that are on the market now.

USA Today, for example, recently had a story about the return of the elm tree. Even Home Depot is selling the new version of the famous old trees.

It’s time that we jump on the bandwagon in this town and start planting trees again, beginning with new elms in Elmwood.

Not long ago, Rick Liftig posted in one thread here that the “Elmwood Business Association will be sponsoring an elm planting program over the next several months. We will be starting with a small project and hope that things will ‘blossom’ from there. Despite the elm tree moniker, the program is meant to be a town-wide (and likely species diverse) effort that will hopefully continue for many years.”

That’s terrific news, which the Courant oddly hasn’t jumped on yet.

But it doesn’t need to be “a small project” that one business group is sponsoring. This should be a townwide initiative that aims in the long run to plant more trees everywhere to make sure West Hartford in 50 or 100 years looks better than it does today, with giant, native trees dotting the landscape.

Perhaps the town could buy elms in bulk and sell them at discounted rates to residents who promise to plant them in West Hartford. Or perhaps a tree tax break is possible somehow. Or maybe we could just get a fund going to buy the trees and give them away in areas that most need more trees. I’m fuzzy on the details, only certain that the idea has merit.

Liftig wrote on a comment on this blog that “informal discussions have shown us that the Town is very interested in pursuing these avenues by partnering with the communities and community organizations.” That means there’s already something afoot. I just hope it’s not stamped under foot by the budget debacle.

Tree planting programs are catching on all over. But let’s be a leader in this and make West Hartford even more green. And let’s start by bringing the elms back to Elmwood.

 Elm-lined street in Washington, DV


Filed under American Elm, elm, elms, Elmwood, Environment, trees

Ideas for improving school diversity

The story in today’s paper mentions a handful of ideas for correcting the racial imbalance in our schools, all attributed to unnamed officials:

* Establishing longer school days and longer school years for Smith and Charter Oak.

* Expanding student supervision from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. by creating more before- and after-school programs.

* Launching a new magnet theme at Charter Oak. Officials say the global studies theme is outdated now that most schools offer expanded language education.

* Changing Charter Oak to a K-8 school whose appeal would be smaller class sizes and programs for gifted and talented students. The school, like Smith, currently serves pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

* Working with the state and the Children’s Museum to build a new, regional magnet elementary school that would reserve a majority of its spots for West Hartford students, but also draw pupils from the whole Hartford region. School officials say the state would pay 95 percent of the costs for such a project.

* School officials also must weigh what to do with Norfeldt. Several officials questioned how much longer the north-end school, which serves a nearly 80 percent white population, and a significant population of special-needs students, will continue to offer its magnet program.

I’m especially intrigued with the Children’s Museum option, given that it needs to move and putting the new building in Elmwood would serve a variety of useful purposes. If it could be tied to a new school, so much the better (though I wouldn’t want to see the existing Charter Oak School abandoned because it’s a gem).


Filed under Charter Oak, Children's Museum, diversity, education, Elmwood, K-8, News, Schools, Smith, West Hartford

Children’s Museum gets new director

An Andover resident has been appointed interim director of The Children’s Museum in West Hartford.

AOT 2007

Hank Gruner of Andover was named to the post on Friday following the recent retirement of Edward J. Forand Jr., who was the museum’s president and chief executive officer, a news release said.
Gruner has been with the museum, formerly known as the Science Center of Connecticut, since 1984. He most recently served as vice president of programs and exhibits and had the responsibility for leading the museum’s future planning efforts, the release said.
“Hank Gruner is the heart and soul of the museum, with many years of experience in museum management and programming,” said Howard Shafer, museum board chairman. “We are fortunate to have a professional of his caliber on staff to continue the ongoing operations of The Children’s Museum.”
Along with Gruner’s leadership skills and the talented expertise of the staff, the museum is in a strong position to move forward, Shafter said.
He also said that the museum is commencing a search for a new executive director.
Gruner is a renowned Connecticut biologist and has more than 20 years of experience as a herpetologist conducting field research and working with local, state, and regional planning agencies on the conservation of amphibians and reptiles.
Gruner serves as the biodiversity coordinator for Connecticut programs under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society. He also serves as coordinator for the statewide Connecticut Amphibian Monitoring Project.
Gruner has been recognized by the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Connecticut chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and the Garden Club of America for his contributions to conservation and education.
He received his bachelor of science degree from the University of Connecticut.

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Filed under Children's Museum, education, Edward Forand, Elmwood, Environment, Hank Gruner, museums, West Hartford

Elmwood Gazette has kind words

The new April issue of the The Elmwood Gazette gives a nice tip of the hat to The West Hartford Blog, which is something like Lou Gehrig saying the rookie shortstop might have a future. Rick Liftig’s publication, which I started reading long ago, has been a great guide to the town for years. So I’m glad to get a thumbs-up from him.

Anway, here’s what he had to say:

West Hartford Blogs

With all of the todo in the media about blogs, it’s amazing that West Hartford has not generated more of them. There have been many short-lived blogs revolving around town issues. Some were centered around elections and some were ‘one trick ponies’ focusing on one cause or another. One blogger felt that he was the ‘Matt Drudge’ of the town and attempted to expose the high crimes and misdemeanors that were lurking at 50 South Main Street. The small group that participated in this blog all agreed that this town was no better than biblical Sodom. Reading it was a chore.

In short, most of the blogs have had a narrow audiences and been poorly written. This newsletter could have become a blog, but the delay in writing and publishing inherent in a newsletter (even an electronic one) makes me a little more cautious. The immediacy of blogs often leads to inflammatory statements and hyperbole. I feel that if you say or write the words, you should own them.

Now there’s a little hope on the horizon and we’ll see where it goes. Check out the blog at So far, the comments have been well written and the replies balanced. One downside of this blog is that participants are allowed to use screen names which makes it easy to hide your identity. But refreshingly, real names are startingto be used.


Filed under blogs, Elmwood, Elmwood Gazette, News, Rick Liftig, West Hartford

Let’s integrate West Hartford’s schools

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that something’s dreadfully wrong with the racial balance in West Hartford’s schools.

In a town where minorities make up a third of the student population, Smith School’s minority enrollment is just shy of two-thirds of the total and Charter Oak counts four out of five students as minorities.

Those numbers come despite the designation of both as magnet schools that should, in theory, attract students from across town. Smith is focused on science, math and technology while Charter Oak calls itself an “Academy of Global Studies.”

Clearly, the magnet isn’t proving particularly attractive.

According to Robert Frahm’s recent story in The Hartford Courant, West Hartford hopes to reverse the dwindling enrollment of white students in both elementary schools by hiring a magnet school liaison official who would publicize their existence so that both schools would have more appeal to parents.

That’s nice.

But after talking with some parents who would presumably be the targets for any public relations effort, I’d be stunned if the numbers change much.

The reality is that people generally want their young children to go to the same school that other kids in their neighborhoods attend (even in middle school many families oddly turn down the chance to go to Bristow because they’d rather stick with the neighborhood’s mainstream option). Public relations alone can’t make the difference.

School officials are dreaming – and wasting money – if they think otherwise.

And I’m pretty sure they’re not deluded enough to think that the problem is PR. They know the problem is rather more alarming: the neighborhoods around Smith and Charter Oak are becoming increasingly filled with minority families, many of them poorer and less educated than the norm in this town.

Hence, not only are Smith and Charter Oak racially imbalanced, they also have students that need more help than what’s generally true at Bugbee, Norfeldt, Morley, Aiken and the rest.

The truth is that the schools in West Hartford won’t be integrated until district lines are adjusted so that more white students are bused into Charter Oak and Smith and more minority children who currently attend those schools are sent to one of the other elementary schools.

This shifting can be done carefully to try to keep neighborhoods together as much as possible. I’ve looked at the current maps enough to see there are discreet areas that are probably mostly white that are bused now and could be sent a little further to Charter Oak or Smith.

Why don’t we do that?

Because there’s no political will to integrate our schools. It’s not a priority to almost anyone anymore.

But as someone who attended public schools that were quite mixed, I can say that it matters. It makes a difference in this world if you have genuine friends of other races, incomes and outlooks. It matters whether people are educated within an insular mindset or a broad one.

We can teach all the global studies we want. But what’s really needed is to live it, because the world our children are going to inherit is going to be ever further from the days of white privilege.

Even more than the issue of how to jigger the school makeups to make all of our schools more reflective of the community as a whole – and the world that’s coming – is the issue of why these two areas are so much more apt to have minority students than the town in general.

I recognize that housing prices play a role, of course, since if I were buying a house in West Hartford today, it would almost certainly be in one of those school districts unless it was falling apart.

But it’s not just costs. There’s something attractive about that area for minorities and perhaps repellent about other parts of town. We need to take a good, hard look at this whole issue.

West Hartford can’t afford to divide along racial lines. It will cripple us in the long run.

In the meantime, though, let’s at least get serious about integrating our schools fully.

White kids as well as black and Hispanic kids deserve to go to school to learn together, and from each other.

We need to do more to create the kind of world we should live in.



Filed under budget, Charter Oak Academy of Global Studies, Charter Oak School, education, Elmwood, housing, integration, News, racism, Schools, town council, Town government, West Hartford