2012's best news stories
Neglected neighborhood overcomes inequities
After more than 30 years living off unpaved Amado Lane near the Maitland Boulevard overpass on U.S. Highway 17-92, Martha Bryant-Hall is an expert on the literal and figurative pits and peaks of living in what was once called the Woodbridge subdivision, annexed into Maitland in 2003. For 30 years she’s fought for equality between the area’s ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ The Observer followed her fight from January to July of this year, as she watched what she thought was impossible — progress — eventually unfold. Read of the area’s pits and peaks in ‘Black area suffers service inequities’ here: tinyurl.com/MarthaBryantHall and read of the progress made as of July in ‘Underserved Maitland residents see progress’ at tinyurl.com/UnderservedinMaitland
Winter Park celebrates 125 years
Much of the month of October this year was spent celebrating the city of Winter Park’s 125th anniversary. From historical reenactments to a photo gallery to the past, and a runway show recreating 125-year-old fashions — the city made a lot to do about looking back, and the Observer was there to report along the way. Visit tinyurl.com/125anniversary for a wrap up for anniversary events, and tinyurl.com/AnniversaryReenactment to relive the history revisited this year.
City Hall celebrations
After nearly a decade of planning, Maitland saw the unveiling of its brand new three-story City Hall in August of this year. With a big red ribbon tied out front, and then cut by the Maitland City Council on Aug. 30, the city declared its new home open for business. The building allows the city to house all of its employees under the same roof for the first time, and is hoped to be the first installation in the new downtown district of Maitland. Visit tinyurl.com/MaitlandCityHall to relive the historic celebration.
August of 2012 also brought renovations to Winter Park’s City Hall for the first time since 1964. The $2.2 million renovation brought the building back to the future, with more modern décor and high-tech conference room equipment. Visit tinyurl.com/WPCityHall for a recap.
Obama visits Rollins
Central Floridians packed the Harold and Ted Alfond Sports Center at Rollins College to hear from President Barack Obama on Aug. 2. The grassroots campaign event for his eventual reelection in November fell two days before the president’s birthday, leading to a rousing round of “Happy Birthday” performed by the crowd. After cancelling his first scheduled visit on July 20 following the Aurora, Colo. shooting, his Aug. 2 speech marked the first time a sitting U.S. president spoke at the school since Harry Truman in 1949. Read highlights of the event at tinyurl.com/ObamaatRollins
Maitland firefighters get new home
On Thursday, Jan. 19, exactly two years and two months after the old station closed, and more than a decade after the plan for a new fire station was conceived, Maitland’s new state-of-the-art facility finally opened. The $3.8 million, 15,500-square-foot, three-story fire station is “the personification of what a traditional station should like,” now-retired Fire Chief Ken Neuhard said. Hundreds of residents and many officials gathered to celebrate the decade-in-the-making unveiling. Take a look back at how the station came to be at tinyurl.com/MaitlandFireStation
Alfond Inn rises at Rollins
Since its groundbreaking late last year, construction of the Alfond Inn at Rollins College has steadily continued through 2012. The 100,000-square-foot hotel is set to serve as both a four-star stopover for visitors to Winter Park as well as a new nighttime lounge just east of Park Avenue. It’s also designed to help raise funds for scholarships for Rollins students. The Inn is slated to open in summer 2013.
Park named for MLK
In June, after a public vote and City Commission approval, Lake Island Park in Winter Park was chosen to be renamed for America’s most celebrated civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. The park’s ties with the city’s historically black west side community go back to the 1950s and beyond, when the land upon which Lake Island Park stands was a predominately black neighborhood. The city purchased the area to make it a park. A decade later, King was marching for the rights of black sanitation workers when he attained martyrdom in the wake of his assassination in Memphis, Tenn. The park will formally be dedicated to MLK on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 21. For more history on how the park was chosen, and the perils went through in the process, visit tinyurl.com/WinterParkMLK
Election year blowouts and upsets
From January to November it was election season in Winter Park and Maitland. The year kicked off with a mayoral election that ended in blowouts in favor of both cities’ incumbents. Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley defeated challenger Nancy Miles with 71.71 percent of the vote, to her 28.29 percent. And in Maitland, reigning Mayor Howard Schieferdecker defeated former-Mayor Doug Kinson, earning 68 percent of the vote.
Noteworthy in November, Dommerich Elementary School teacher Karen Castor-Dentel came through to upset Rep. Scott Plakon in a hotly contested local Florida House race. Dentel followed in the footsteps of her mother and sister, both well-known faces in Florida’s political scene, to win District 30 in her first bid for public office taking 53 percent of the vote. Read the Observer’s profile on Dentel at tinyurl.com/KarenCastorDentel
Maitland restarts K-9 program
After falling unfunded for two years, the Maitland Police Department’s K-9 program came back to life this year with Officer Taylor Stitt and Dutch Shepherd Bosco at the helm. The department secured money to restart the program from 2011 forfeiture funds, and after months of training, the city’s K-9 cop hit the streets this October. Trained to sniff out narcotics and patrol city streets, Maitland officials say having the tag-team of Bosco and Stitt on their side greatly increases they security of residents and police officers in our community. The Observer tagged along for a night out with Maitland’s new canine cop in October, which you can read about here: tinyurl.com/MaitlandK9. In December, an anonymous donor donated $5,000 to the police department to keep the K-9 program going strong into 2013.
County teacher of the year finalist from Dommerich
In Lisa Rotenberger’s Dommerich Elementary kindergarten class, no day is a boring one. There are the calming stretches before sitting on the reading mat, tracing shadows with fifth-grade science buddies or tending to their garden, full of the ingredients needed to make most kids’ favorite food — pizza. And that’s what makes Rotenberger special, her colleagues said. Special enough to be named the Maitland school’s Teacher of the Year, and one of five finalists, out of 188 nominees, for Orange County Public Schools’ (OCPS) Teacher of the Year. The winner was announced Tuesday, Feb. 21, and it wasn’t her, but that doesn't change her mission. Read more about Rotenberger’s award-winning teaching philosophy in the Observer’s Feb. 16 article about her honor, at tinyurl.com/DommerichTeacher
Farewell to Brookshire Elementary
A walk down the hallways of Brookshire Elementary School in its last few days conjured feelings of sadness and excitement, saying goodbye and welcoming new beginnings — and the not-so-faint smell of paint. The students and staff spent their last couple days of the 2001-2012 school year saying farewell to their old school by painting on all the walls and throwing a giant party on June 5. Brookshire Elementary opened in Winter Park in 1960, and while the school had tried to keep up with more students and new technologies, this year was its time for a face-lift. The school is set to reopen for classes in the fall of 2013. Visit tinyurl.com/GoodbyeBrookshire to read the full story of a new beginning for Brookshire.
Two stories on Rollins nab state editorial awards
The Observer and its sister publications won big at the Florida Press Association Awards July 7 in Destin, winning awards for seven stories in three newspapers. Two stories about Rollins College won awards. Isaac Babcock’s “Rollins resurrects a legacy,” following the rebirth of the college’s football team after 62 years, won first place in the Sports Feature Story category. Brittni Johnson’s “Photographic memories,” about a Rollins program that helps seniors overcome memory disorders through photography, won second place in Health, Medical and Science Reporting. Visit http://tinyurl.com/Observerwins for links to all of the award-winning stories.