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Christmastime in our cities: Watertown and Ogdensburg

First published: December 20, 2014 at 12:24 pm
Last modified: December 20, 2014 at 1:01 pm
JASON HUNTER N WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES
Lights illuminate the shapes of horses on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Ogdensburg. Lights from Prescott, Ontario, can be seen in the distance.

It’s Christmastime in the city.

With a nod to the classic song “Silver Bells,” we’d like to take a break from work, school and busy schedules — in general, the daily grind that is life — to celebrate Christmas by featuring pictures from our region’s two cities: Watertown and Ogdensburg.

There’s always a special feel in cities during the holidays, with lampposts, buildings and homes decorated, and with colorful lights overpowering the daytime gloom or illuminating the nighttime sky.

So enjoy the pictures on this page, and see more from other communities at www.watertowndailytimes.com. And take comfort in the fact that soon it will be Christmas Day.

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Jefferson County Family Court Judge Richard V. Hunt set to retire

First published: December 20, 2014 at 10:31 am
Last modified: December 20, 2014 at 12:23 pm
JUSTIN SORENSEN N WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES
Jefferson County Family Court Judge Richard V. Hunt, who will retire after serving since 1985, is shown here in the Family Court room at the Watertown Court Complex.

WATERTOWN — Some of the mechanics of the job may have changed in the 30 years since Jefferson County Family Court Judge Richard V. Hunt first sat on the bench, but few of the essentials have.

The job still entails protecting children, dealing with families in crisis and resolving domestic differences while maintaining a level of empathy for the people involved.

“Every case is different because every family is different, every child is different, every parent is different,” Judge Hunt said.

Judge Hunt, who was first elected as judge in 1984 and who won two subsequent 10-year seats, has reached the state’s mandatory retirement age for judges — 70 — and will retire Dec. 31. When Judge Hunt took the bench in January 1985, Family Court had a staff of three or four and handled about 3,000 cases. It now has more than 20 employees and handles more than 6,000 cases. The state Office of Court Administration had not yet been created and there was no court security. There also were no computers.

“Everything was by hand,” Judge Hunt said. “Now, we’re printing orders in the courtroom.”

Judge Hunt, a Syracuse native, graduated from Hamilton College, Clinton, in 1966 and from Albany Law School in 1969. Upon receiving his law degree, he served as a VISTA volunteer on an Indian reservation in South Dakota and then worked for Legal Services in Onondaga County, two experiences that he said gave him valuable insight that would later serve him as judge. He came to Watertown in 1973 to become regional attorney for the state Department of Environmental Conservation before becoming legal secretary for the Court of Claims. He then worked two years for a local law firm before opening his own practice in 1978. While not a native of the north country, he said he and his wife of 40 years, Elizabeth, decided to make Watertown their home.

“It was when I started laughing at Danny Burgess’s jokes that I knew I was in trouble,” he said, referring to the longtime WWNY-TV7 weatherman.

The couple raised two sons and a daughter, but Judge Hunt said the demands of being a private practice attorney took their toll.

“I had one week’s vacation in five years,” he said. “My kids were growing up and I wasn’t around.”

Looking for a position that offered more regular hours to accommodate his family life, he announced Feb. 23, 1984 — his birthday — that he was running for Family Court judge. Judge Hunt, a Republican, defeated Democratic attorney Robert J. Hanrahan for the seat.

“This is hard work, not only because of the type of work, but because it’s people work,” he said. “You don’t always know what people are going to do. Two and two doesn’t always make four.”

He said the most difficult cases he has faced involved “two, really good, separated parents” who have each acted appropriately toward their children, but one of whom wants to move out of the area, with the judge having to decide whether it should be allowed.

“These in many ways are the toughest decisions,” Judge Hunt said. “The most heartrending are mostly the abuse and neglect cases.”

On the other hand, Judge Hunt said, his most enjoyable cases typically have been adoptions.

“One of the most pleasurable things is when you see a family united,” he said. “The security of an adoption is so important for a child and so important for the families.”

He said that while being a judge comes with considerable power, he tried never to wield his authority needlessly over the parties in court.

“I always tried to care about my primary responsibility, which is the law, but I always tried to care about the people that appeared in front of me,” he said.

Judge Hunt said he has always enjoyed his job and would continue it had he not bumped up against the state’s mandatory retirement age.

“After 30 years, I enjoy the work I do and I enjoy the people I work with,” he said. “I would have gone on for a few more years if I could have. But, it’s one of my favorite sayings: It is what it is.”

Although he never discussed specific cases with his wife, he said her career as a social worker gave her an innate insight into the tribulations of being a Family Court judge.

“Her understanding and background has always helped me,” he said. “Family dynamic may be a trite phase, but it’s always been there.”

The judge said he is recuperating from recent triple-bypass and hip replacement surgeries, and he faces another hip surgery in the spring, but he intends to spend time in retirement traveling and spending time with his children and grandchildren in Pittsburgh, Pa., Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C. He also enjoys reading, stamp collecting, cross-country skiing and walking his two Labrador retrievers.

Judge Hunt said he is certain that Eugene J. Langone III will “do a great job” replacing him. Mr. Langone, a Watertown attorney who was elected to the position in November, will be sworn in Jan. 1.

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Indian River CSD to build 10 new classrooms, possibly phase in universal pre-k

First published: December 20, 2014 at 10:53 am
Last modified: December 20, 2014 at 12:22 pm

PHILADELPHIA — The Indian River Central School District Board of Education approved the construction of 10 classrooms at the Evans Mills Elementary School, which could make room for full-day universal prekindergarten classes.

“Indian River is eligible to receive $2.25 million to phase in a full day pre-K program over four years,” District Superintendent James Kettrick said.

Mr. Kettrick said the district applied in October for a $2.25 million U.S. Department of Education grant for full-day prekindergarten. He said the four-year grant would be used to implement 18 full-day, high-quality pre-kindergarten classrooms to be phased in over four years. He said the district, if granted the funding, would be able to start with six full-day prekindergarten classrooms with certified teachers and qualified teacher’s aides. He said this would not replace the existing half-day prekindergarten right away. The district would hope to add four full-day prekindergarten classes after the first year and five the third year, and strive to have 18 full-day prekindergarten classrooms at the end of the four-year phase-in.

Mr. Kettrick said if the funding is granted, district officials would look at moving third-grade pupils from the elementary schools to the intermediate school.

“The elementary schools would have the same number of grade levels in the school, but we would be adding students at the lowest grade level and eventually be advancing the third-graders into the intermediate school,” Mr. Kettrick said. “If we received the grant it would provide the opportunity for every district resident to access voluntary, high-quality UPK (universal pre-kindergarten).”

The construction of the 10 classrooms was part of a $33 million capital project approved by district voters in January. Mr. Kettrick said the project is still in its planning phase; now that all projects are approved, the district can have designs made and put the projects out to bid and potentially break ground this spring.

Mr. Kettrick said the Board of Education was holding off moving forward with classroom construction because it was approved in anticipation of the construction of a 304-unit housing complex in LeRay. District Business Manager James R. Koch said Linda W. Luther, principal for Fidelity Holdings Corp., has not announced when the ground-breaking for the project will take place.

Board member Donald L. Brumfield said regardless of the development’s progress, the district needs more classroom space to grow.

“All buildings are filled. We’re essentially landlocked in what we can do in all of our buildings without expanding,” Mr. Brumfield said.

Mr. Koch said because of the district’s population there is a higher need for classroom space at the lower levels. He said this year there are 355 children enrolled in third grade and more than 448 enrolled in kindergarten.

“What those figures immediately show you is we have a very young population,” Mr. Koch said. He said the demographic of the military population has a lot to do with the age of the students. “The 10th Mountain Division is the youngest population of soldiers in the country; by proxy, young soldiers typically have young kids,” he said.

District voters rejected a proposal to move third-graders two years ago. Mr. Kettrick said at the time parents and teachers were concerned the removal of third-graders from the elementary schools was a first step to closing any of the five community elementary schools. He said the district would not be doing this to eliminate students from the schools; on the contrary, once the 18 full-day prekindergarten classes were added there would be more children in the elementary schools than before.

“We’re going to be adding a class at the bottom and taking from the top,” Mr. Kettrick said. “We’re not letting go of students. We’re adding to the overall number of students.”

Mr. Koch said the additional prekindergarten classes could add more than 400 students to the district, and that could positively affect applications for federal impact aid. To move the students to the Intermediate School, the district would have to build 18 to 20 classrooms, which Mr. Koch said could be paid for with the $4.43 million the district was awarded through a state Smart Schools Bond.

Mr. Koch said the district doesn’t have any immediate plans for constructing additional classrooms at the Intermediate School. He said if the school were to get the funding for the full day pre-K, the district wouldn’t have to move the third-graders immediately. By the second year of the phase-in, preparations for new classrooms at the intermediate school would have to begin, he said.

Indian River Assistant Superintendent Mary Anne Dobmeier said students aren’t required to attend prekindergarten or kindergarten in New York, but when children are put in an environment with other children their age and trained educators, it helps further their development. Also, the younger a student is introduced to educational services, the earlier he or she can receive important intervention services for learning, speech or hearing disabilities, Mrs. Dobmeier said.

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