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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Longshore Halfway House Honoring Cliff Ross Breaks Ground

Longshore Halfway House Honoring Cliff Ross Breaks Ground
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – The project was years in development, long overdue and much needed, making the groundbreaking Wednesday afternoon a very anticipated and emotional moment for all involved.

The project was a new Halfway House – a shelter, bathroom and food station essentially – at the midpoint of Longshore Club Park golf course, 260 Compo Road South. The groundbreaking, attended by town officials, builders, planners, fundraisers and golf association representatives, signaled the achievement of a $200,000 fundraising goal set by the volunteer task force, the 9th & ½ Hole Committee. The new 750-square-foot, farmhouse-style structure will be dedicated to the memory of Cliff Ross, an avid golfer, longtime member of the Golf Advisory Committee and a key planner in the project who died two years ago from pancreatic cancer.

“The structure will be a place for golfers and users of the park to have something to eat, with a grill for breakfast fare, sandwiches, hamburgers, plus clean bathrooms,” said Mark Holod, chairman of the 9th & ½ Hole Committee. “The building will also be grounded against lightning, providing shelter for golfers.”

A former halfway house burned down in 2003 and, since then, a trailer and small, rundown bathroom facility has been used. “The useful life of the trailer was only supposed to be a couple of years,” said Holod. “You can only get hot dogs and prepared sandwiches and there’s no shelter. It’s dangerous when a storm hits.”

Holod said the new building honors Ross not only because of his planning efforts but because a generous donor stipulated the dedication as a condition. “We will refer to the site as Cliff’s Place, though it will not be officially named that,” he said.

Holod expected construction to begin in the next week or so and building to take approximately 12 weeks. “We’re hopeful to have a ribbon cutting and dedication at the beginning of June,” he said. “The project has secured all approvals – health, zoning and permits. We’re ready to go.”

Gus Papajohn of A. Papajohn is the general contractor and Jim Lothrop of Lothrop Associates is the architect.

Holod hopes the menu, which will be designed by Joey Romeo, the current concessionaire at Longshore, will include a Cliff Burger. “Cliff loved hamburgers,” he said. “He always wished he could have a burger here.”

Ross’ widow, Kathy, was among groundbreaking attendees and said, “I know Cliff would be so happy for this after all the meetings and prep. And the weather smiled on us today. I have a little conceptual drawing Cliff had done, hanging by my computer. Now the day is finally here.”

Had it not been for the help of Friends of Westport’s Parks & Recreation, a non-profit group, the day may not have come. “This has been a long process with a lot of twists and turns,” said Fred Hunter, co-chairman of the 9th & ½ Hole Committee. “We ran into walls and dead-ends until a year ago when the Friends group was formed, allowing us to go out to the public and raise funds.”

Jeff Mayer, President of the Friends group, explained, “We’re citizens doing what government has run out of money to do. There are more projects – schools, parks, beaches – that need our attention. We provide a means for creative citizen groups to fund their plans.”

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who thanked the numerous groups involved, suggested, “This is a great tribute to teamwork and keeping an eye on the ball – the golf ball in this case.”

Saugatuck Nursery Celebrates Move to First Church Space

Saugatuck Nursery Celebrates 
Move to First Church Space
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Literally out of the ashes has come a true spirit of community support that has carried Saugatuck Nursery School to a new long-term temporary space at The First Church of Christ, Scientist, at 55 Compo Road South.

Destroyed by fire on November 20, 2011, the school that had called Saugatuck Congregational Church home, relocated during the winter months to the Westport Weston Family Y. Now, ushered in by a ribbon cutting Wednesday morning, the school has moved to a more dedicated space where it will stay until its former home is rebuilt. Parents, teachers, children and staff all gathered at the entrance to the facility for the ceremony and enjoyed hot chocolate, coffee and pastries.

“After a brief stay at the Y, I reached out to a former parent, Marshal Root, who’s on the board of directors at First Church,” said the school’s Director Ellen DeHuff. “We met in late December and put the wheels in motion. Members of First Church have welcomed us with open arms and tons of hard work has been done to bring the space up to code for the nursery school. With a lot of support from Planning & Zoning, the Health Department and the Fire Department, we were able to open March 1. Today marks the grand reopening of our 44-year-old nursery school. This is a perfect marriage between the school and the church.”

Mary Flynn, the Superintendent of First Church’s Sunday School, said the older children in her program were excited to have the younger kids onsite. “I took a photo of the nursery school children and showed my group and they were like ‘awww, so cute.’”

DeHuff said she expects the original Saugatuck school space to be renovated within 18 months. The program’s current enrollment is 35 children ages 2 to 5.

Parent Margaret Neville was thrilled with the new location. “It’s great to have all the parents and teachers back together again,” she said. “This is a beautiful new space for us and all our own.”

The moment was especially meaningful for Pat Doolittle, a Saugatuck school founder and board member. “The program was founded in 1968 in response to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, as a way to bring area children together and experience their differences. Despite the recent fire, we’ve kept right on going.”

Neighbors Help Celebrate Reopening of Elvira’s Deli

Neighbors Help Celebrate Reopening of Elvira’s Deli
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Elvira’s Deli and Pizza in the Old Mill Beach area went dark for two months after a patron’s car came through an exterior wall and damaged the building. During that time, not only repairs were made, but extensive renovations conducted. Late Saturday afternoon, Elvira’s celebrated its reopening, inviting neighbors and friends to a party in the store.

Niki Yiovanakos, daughter of owners Stacey and Nick, said the family came from northern Greece in 1974 and that her grandfather Harry started a diner in Danbury. Niki’s parents then opened Tower of Pizza in Ridgefield. In 1994, Stacey’s sister Elvira was diagnosed with breast cancer – she passed in June 1997. The family moved down to Norwalk, saw the vacancy in Westport and started the deli, honoring Elvira.

Niki was just graduating from college and jumped into the business. Her brother John also joined in, working there for the first seven years, before going to work in Manhattan for Citibank. “During the renovation, I decided to come back to work here and keep the family business going for years to come.”

Close to $100,000 was dedicated to the renovation work, to install new floors, cabinets, kitchen equipment and coolers, according to Nick.

The business actually reopened last Monday, according to Stella Yiovanakos, John’s wife. “We wanted to have an official grand reopening and invite the community to participate,” she said. To mark the occasion, colorful balloons were strung up around the place and pastries, gyros, souvlaki, wings and more were prepared and offered to visitors.

Since its founding 15 years ago, Elvira’s has become a beloved landmark. All in attendance had only positive things to say.

“I love coming here and all the people are so nice,” said Samantha Pacilio, 10, stopping in with teammates after a basketball practice. “We love seeing our friends.”

Stacie Curran, who has lived across the street since the business opened, said, “We’ve been to all their kids’ weddings, showers and other family celebrations. At Christmastime, everyone sends cards, which they hang up in the store. All the local moms pick up lunch here as they put their kids on the bus. We were shocked about the accident but glad they made the best of it.”

Teri Alein lives on nearby Danbury Avenue and comes down to Elvira’s most mornings for coffee. “I remember when they bought the place,” she said. “A lot of people chipped in to help and they paid everyone back. When my kids and grandkids visit, the first thing they want to do is come to Elvira’s.”

The secret to the family’s success, besides their tasty menu and convenience, is the relationship they have formed with the area. “Everyone knows each other and is very friendly,” said Stella.

Added Nick, “We have moms coming in here with kids, who were little girls when they first started visiting.”

Earthplace Sap to Sugar Program Taps into Family Fun

Earthplace Sap to Sugar Program Taps into Family Fun
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – While the ground was wet from morning rain, the afternoon could not have been more perfect Saturday for families to gather at Earthplace Nature Discovery Center. They were drawn to a “Sap to Sugar” program, the highlight of which was a look at how sap is extracted from maple trees.

Naturalist Becky Newman led the event at the 10 Woodside Lane site. Typically, she said, big sugar maples close to the main facility are tapped, but the trees were sick and had to be cut down. An inventory of remaining sugar maples on the property determined there were no others mature enough, though Newman wanted the group to at least see one.

Newman led the group along Swamp Loop Trail, where she found a specimen. “This tree is far too skinny,” she explained. “It needs to be at least a foot wide to tap, otherwise I take too much sap out.”

The group followed her to the opposite side of the property, to a red maple. “The red maple sap is not as sweet as the sugar maple, but still produces good syrup,” she said. As she made a hole with a portable drill, hammered in a tap and then hung a collection bag, she added, “It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. And the syrup will be lighter at this time in the season due to fewer nutrients being available.”

The sap harvesting season spans from February to mid-March, and ideal conditions are warm days and cold nights to produce the best flow. While tin pails are frequently used to collect sap, Earthplace uses three-gallon plastic bags. “These keep squirrels, leaves, bugs and sticks out of the mix,” Newman said.

Newman guided the group back to the main grounds where a campfire had been set and Earthplace Nursery School Teacher Mary Ann Hood stood waiting to read children an event-themed book, “Sugarbush Spring.” As the kids listened in, Newman visited each with a large bottle of pure Canadian maple syrup, of which she offered samples.

Children were also treated to hot chocolate, served from large containers. And when they weren’t taking part in scheduled activities, they were racing around the grounds, playing on a swingset and climbing on a statue of a bear.

“I wanted my daughter and her friend to understand about nature and where some of our wild foods come from,” said parent Alexandra Horsky. “We were a little nervous about the weather this morning, so glad to see the sun this afternoon. Some snow actually would have been nice, because it ties in better with the sap tapping.”

The weather didn’t seem to be a concern to seven-year-old Helen Ramachandran, who was enjoying a cup of chocolate. “It was fun to taste the maple syrup, though I’ve had it before,” she said. “We go maple sugaring every year.”

Soggy Start to Par 3 Golf Season

Soggy Start to Par 3 Golf Season
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – The rain tipped down Saturday morning making the opening day of the season at the Carl Dickman Par 3 Golf Course on Old Dam Road a soggy one. Only the hardiest golfers made an appearance, like Doug Politi, a mason from Easton who really just stopped in to say hello to Cashier/Starter Bob McMahon.

Politi has played the course for the past seven years, typically appearing on Fridays with about 15 other guys to play a round. Despite the rain, he thought the course looked good. “I’m going to call the guys and see if they want to play today,” he said. “I played Short Beach in Stratford last week, and the conditions were good there, too.”

McMahon said the groundskeeper, John Johnson, had inspected the course at daybreak but hadn’t reported to him yet. “If there’s no significant standing water on the greens or in the cups, I’m free to open it,” McMahon said.

“This is the earliest we’ve opened up in probably three or four years,” McMahon added. “We usually open mid-March or April 1. The decision to open was made by the Golf Commission, Golf Pro Jim Alexander and the head of the Parks and Rec Gerry Lombardo.”

McMahon expected the day’s turnout to be light, because of the weather but also because there wasn’t a lot of word given about the opening. “It’s takes a little while for the buzz to get around,” he said.

Politi shared that the course is a great one for beginners, and not as long a walk as other courses in town. McMahon said that pros from other courses often send beginners to the Par 3 once they have some driving range experience and a few lessons.

The course was a salt marsh before being converted in 1969. A NIKE missile site, erected post WWII, had once stood nearby.

The Par 3 is currently not taking tee time reservations, but will after Daylight Savings Time, in about a week. For more information, call 203-256-3173.