Mascot selection, the hiring of full-time firefighters in Norridgewock and economic developments within the town of Skowhegan were among the Morning Sentinel’s top stories of 2020, but overshadowing all was the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and in particular the devastation that struck the Maplecrest nursing home in Madison.

The beginning of the year kicked off with the selection process for the Skowhegan-area school district’s new nickname, with the months-long process resulting in a final vote on Oct. 8 favoring the River Hawks.

When the coronavirus pandemic closed businesses and schools statewide, local organizations teamed up to help local entrepreneurs stay afloat, and one business saw success throughout the year and received praise for its efforts.

There have been 39 cases of COVID-19 and seven deaths at Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison since an outbreak in August. State officials announced Aug. 19 that a corrective response plan submitted by Maplecrest did not meet all the criteria for approval. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

 

THE MAPLECREST OUTBREAK

The outbreak at the Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center, however, brought home just how dangerous and insidious COVID-19 could be as it was announced in September that at least 39 cases had been recorded and seven people had died at the facility. Where the infection originated and how it had spread became a textbook example of the pandemic’s means of attack and grim vindication of public health warnings to mask up, maintain social distancing and stay at home.

State health officials linked the outbreak at Maplecrest to an Aug. 7 wedding in Millinocket where crowd restrictions were ignored and masks were not required. None of those who died at Maplecrest attended the wedding, but an adult wedding guest later came into contact with a person who came into contact with a staff member at the nursing home.

Documents provided by Maine Department of Health and Human Services after a survey of the facility indicated Maplecrest was not in compliance with federal requirements for infection prevention and control practices. A staff member failed a coronavirus screening questionnaire yet was allowed to work a 10-hour shift.

Maplecrest was directed to develop a plan to correct its deficiencies, hire an independent consultant to ensure the health and safety of residents and a temporary manager to ensure compliance with requirements.

The community rallied to support staff and patients with a drive-thru parade and donations of food.

Maine School Administrative District 54 Board of Directors members Kathy Wilder, center left, and Derek Ellis, center right, celebrate Oct. 8 after River Hawks was selected as the Skowhegan school mascot during a meeting in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

MASCOT SELECTION

The selection process for School Administrative District 54’s new mascot started in January with suggestions from the community and students. A multi-step selection process was decided in the fall of 2019, months after the Indians nickname was retired.

The process was temporarily halted shortly into 2020 with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but was revisited in the summer when administrators tasked the board to shorten the list of suggestions that students would vote on.

Students weighed in on nine options — Phoenix, River Hawks, Sturgeon, Badgers, Thunder, River Drivers, Trailblazers, Fishercats or to just remain Skowhegan — and the board confirmed Phoenix, River Hawks and Skowhegan as the final selections with River Hawks prevailing in the end.

Superintendent Jon Moody said on Monday that students and staff at Skowhegan Area High School are working on imagery for the new River Hawks name in collaboration with the digital graphics program at Somerset Career and Technical Center and Bromar Printing, a local business that the district works with to print its newsletter.

Students will then give feedback on designs and Principal Bruce Mochamer will share updates with the Board of Directors early into the new year, Moody said.

Joshua Corson, 32, left, and Andrew Dexter, 19, are the first two full-time firefighters to be hired at the Norridgewock Fire Department. The men are shown Nov. 12 with the department’s newest engine. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

FULL-TIME FIREFIGHTERS

In Norridgewock, voters decided at the beginning of the year to allow the town to hire two full-time firefighters, and by the end of the fall, Joshua Corson, 32, and Andrew Dexter, 19, filled the positions.

The positions were approved by voters at the March 2 annual Town Meeting, where a portion of the $2.2 million budget was designated to hire two full-time firefighters.

The article on the town warrant called for voters to authorize two full-time Norridgewock Fire Department firefighters to begin no sooner than July 1 and for $50,000 to cover the cost of the new positions through the six months remaining in 2020.

With the positions approved, the request from the Fire Department in fiscal year 2021 is expected to be a minimum of $100,000, but more likely in the range of $120,000 to $130,000 per year to fund the positions, Town Manager Richard LaBelle has said.

Having two full-time firefighters in Norridgewock’s department takes pressure off the on-call force, who often leave their jobs to respond to emergency calls, and ultimately improves the department’s response times.

Amber Lambke, left, and Jeff Hewett on Oct. 15 show off the lot where the historic Kennebec Valley Inn once stood in downtown Skowhegan and where Maine Grains is planning to expand. The Maine Grains building at 42 Court St. is at left and the county building is pictured at right. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The year brought economic development to town, despite the negative effects of the coronavirus on the local economy.

In October, Maine Grains announced the expansion of its business to the lot adjacent to the grist. The business plans to expand operations to meet continuing demand, give entrepreneurs an opportunity to start up their businesses and offer additional housing opportunities with the goal being to begin construction within the next four to five years.

During the pandemic, Maine Grains saw several successes, including a tremendous increase in sales, hiring a full-time, in-house baker and housing a start-up pizza dough company, The Good Crust.

Local organizations stepped up this year to support local communities and families impacted by the pandemic. Among those are Main Street Skowhegan, Skowhegan Savings Bank, Franklin-Somerset Federal Credit Union, Franklin Savings Bank, Hight Family Dealerships, New Dimensions, Skowhegan Economic Development Corp., and the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation.

Together, through Main Street Skowhegan’s Technical Assistance/COVID-19 Relief Grant program, $20,000 was awarded to 23 businesses.

In separate efforts, a group of development leaders teamed up to shift the focus of the Community Economic Resource Council to provide assistance to businesses dealing with issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. More than $25,000 was raised by the team.

Main Street Skowhegan was awarded the Spirit of America award by Skowhegan’s Board of Selectmen for its efforts to engage the community through the organization’s programs, including the Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area.

In a Facebook post on Monday, organizers said that the environmental permitting process of the project had begun. Main Street Skowhegan worked with a designer to create new renderings and worked to strengthen relations with Maine’s whitewater community for future in-river events in Skowhegan.


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