John Buraczynski was back in a familiar place Wednesday, reciting a prayer at the Veterans Day ceremony in Hinsdale as he has done for nearly 50 years.
Buraczynski, 88, who served as an Army medic during the Korean War, missed the event last year after his wife, Alice, died several months prior.
On Wednesday, however, the lifelong Hinsdale resident returned to VFW Post 4234, where he previously served as post commander. In his remarks to a group of seven people that included local veterans and members of his family, Buraczynski recognized servicemembers who have died in battle and those who remain injured due to combat wounds.
“They gave so much so we can have our freedom,” he said.
Former service members from around the Monadnock Region offered similar reflections on Veterans Day. The holiday is observed annually on Nov. 11 and was originally known as Armistice Day, to mark the end of World War I on that date in 1918. (The world was mired in another pandemic, of the Spanish influenza, at the time.)
Despite Buraczynski’s continued presence, the Veterans Day ceremony in Hinsdale looked different this year, as attendees donned face coverings and kept some distance between each other as they skirted the VFW flagpole.
The group was also smaller than in previous years, according to Doug Stephens, who has been involved with the post for approximately 30 years and now serves as its quartermaster. He explained that some of the organization’s 65 members chose not to attend due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Stephens said the town is fortunate to learn from Buraczynski every year and emphasized the importance of continuing to hold Veterans Day ceremonies, noting that many VFW posts have discontinued them in recent years.
The events are a reminder that American troops are still involved in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Eric Adams, a Hinsdale resident and retired Air Force crew chief. Adams, who now commands a New Hampshire VFW district that includes Charlestown, Hinsdale, Keene and Winchester, said those servicemembers should be brought home after nearly two decades.
“Sometimes it seems like with all the other news, veterans are forgotten,” he said. “… They’re still in danger. There’s still people dying.”
Veterans Day ceremonies were also held Wednesday morning in Jaffrey, Keene and Swanzey.
Approximately 50 people, including nearly two dozen veterans, gathered in front of the veterans monument at the West Swanzey Community Church, according to American Legion Post 84 Commander David Stinson.
Stinson, a retired rear admiral and chaplain in the Navy, retired in 2010 after 31 years of service. He explained that attendees respected social distancing guidelines — even spacing out more than necessary at times — during the ceremony, which included an honor guard gun salute and a rendition of “Taps” by members of the Monadnock Regional High School band.
Most importantly, Stinson added, the ceremony was a display of civic unity that he said was largely absent during a turbulent campaign season.
“It’s a positive patriotic occasion, not what we’ve been living through for the last few months,” he said.
Members of Ruck Up, a Keene nonprofit that offers mental-health counseling and housing assistance to local veterans, began the day by dedicating a new flagpole and parking lot at their Upper Knight Street headquarters.
Attendees then proceeded to Central Square, where many of them, joined by their children and local Boy Scouts, kicked off Ruck Up’s fourth annual community walk to help suicide-prevention efforts, said A.J. Paige, a senior counselor with the organization. He explained that registration proceeds from the 3-mile community walk and a new 11-mile trek that Ruck Up planned to hold Wednesday night will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The night event aimed to replace AFSP’s annual Out of the Darkness Walk in New York City, which was canceled this year due to coronavirus concerns, according to Paige.
Gunnery Sgt. (Ret.) James Green of Groveland, Mass., was among the participants in Ruck Up’s community walk Wednesday afternoon. A Marine for more than two decades, he said afterward that he also planned to do the 11-miler that night.
Green explained that he joined Ruck Up nearly five years ago and that talking to veterans who, like him, battle post-traumatic stress disorder has helped him cope with depression. He added that Veterans Day is an opportunity for former servicemembers to reflect on the sacrifices they have made, which often include being absent from their family for long stretches.
“From the proper perspective, all veterans give up their life,” he said. “… This day [is to] stop being military, take time out and recognize what you did.”
As Keene prepares for a major reconstruction of Winchester Street, city officials say they may take part of two properties through eminent domain to complete the $4.27 million project.
According to a public hearing notice, “despite the City Manager’s reasonable efforts to negotiate” with the parcels’ owners, a deal to buy the land has not been struck. An official with the company that owns one of the properties said that the city’s offer wasn’t a good deal and that the reconstruction planned isn’t the right option for the area.
Two new Winchester Street roundabouts are included in the design rendering by the McFarland Johnson firm. One roundabout would be at the Island Street-Pearl Street intersection, while the other would be just up the road at the intersection with Riverside Plaza and Key Road. There is currently a two-lane roundabout at the Winchester Street-Route 101 intersection.
A public hearing is planned Dec. 17 on the city’s petition to take properties by eminent domain at 333 and 345 Winchester St.
The property at 345 Winchester St., which includes two parcels, is the location of the Sunoco gas station and Sandri convenience store and owned by RE Sandri TVE LLC, while 333 Winchester St., owned by Keene Retail LLC, is the home of Chipotle and T-Mobile.
According to a proposed resolution to move forward with the eminent-domain process, the city is seeking the permanent rights to a combined 1,060 square feet between the two parcels at 345 Winchester St. and 605 square feet at 333 Winchester St.
Keene Mayor George Hansel said the roundabout at Key Road would require taking parts of the Winchester Street properties to widen the road to accommodate the traffic circle. He said that, now, Key Road and Winchester Street intersect at a 90-degree angle, but a roundabout would require space for vehicles to veer slightly to the right as they enter the circle, rather than simply drive straight into the intersection.
“The impacts are relatively minor,” Hansel said. “The approaches to this intersection require 5 or so feet on one side leading into the roundabout.”
Hansel said the goal of the project, which has been in the works since 2016, is to improve traffic flow on Winchester Street. He said it would also include replacement of the Island Street bridge, which was installed in 1979 and originally meant to be temporary.
He noted that the project will be completed in partnership with the N.H. Department of Transportation, which is funding 80 percent of the project. Keene will fund the remaining 20 percent.
Once the project begins — a date hasn’t been set yet since the city needs the two remaining properties to get started — the main effects should be to traffic, Hansel said.
“The businesses will be able to operate as they are operating now,” Hansel said. “But there are proposed impacts to the driveway entrances that are closest to where this roundabout is going in.”
He said the city has done a great deal of legwork over the past few years, starting when his predecessor, Kendall Lane, was in office, to work with affected members of the community to mitigate concerns and issues that might arise due to the project. He said much of the public process has been completed and gaining access to 333 and 345 Winchester St. is one of the last steps.
City Manager Elizabeth Dragon, who has been negotiating with the property owners, could not be reached Wednesday for more information about the status of that process.
Mike Behn, president of Sandri Companies and manager at RE Sandri TVE, LLC, a subsidiary of Sandri Companies, said he believes the city’s offer for the portion of the land was not sufficient and that the roundabout is not the right fix for the traffic issues at Key Road. Though he said the city has been cooperative and understanding during the process, he’s not optimistic he’ll be able to get officials to change their minds.
Behn also said he has concerns about what the project would do to the gas station’s bottom line, saying a study the company commissioned showed it could cost Sandri somewhere between $165,000 and $175,000 a year due to changes the project would create on Winchester Street for traffic coming in and out of the gas station. Behn worries the new roundabout would lead the business “to go from a convenience store to an inconvenience store.”
He said there are no plans to take legal action against the city if eminent domain proceedings move forward but also said he intends to plead his case to the council at its next meeting.
“Once they decide it’s for the public good to take land, we can’t stop it,” Behn said, “even if it’s not the right solution.”
He said he believes the cause of the traffic congestion is that shoppers at the two commerce centers on either side of Winchester Street have no way of getting back to a main route without traveling through the Key Road intersection. Instead of a roundabout, he suggested looking for alternative ways to get traffic off Key Road or out of the Riverside Plaza.
A representative from the other property owner, Keene Retail LLC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Members of the public can submit written comments about the project to the city clerk’s office at city hall, or they can address the council directly at its Dec. 17 meeting, Hansel said.
The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District will transition entirely to remote learning for at least three weeks after multiple people at one of the district’s campuses were diagnosed with COVID-19.
The Jaffrey-Rindge School Board made the decision in an emergency session Wednesday evening, Superintendent Reuben Duncan told the district’s families in a message on its website later that night.
After having informed families of two cases since Tuesday, Duncan also announced Wednesday night that a third member of the Jaffrey Rindge Middle School/Conant High School community had tested positive for the coronavirus. The schools share a campus in downtown Jaffrey.
Beginning Monday, all students at the district’s three campuses — which include elementary schools in Jaffrey and Rindge — will attend classes remotely through Dec. 7, Duncan said. JRCSD schools have canceled classes Friday so staff can prepare for the transition to remote learning.
Duncan notified families Tuesday evening that he had learned of a positive COVID-19 case in the Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School community earlier that day.
He announced Wednesday evening that he had been informed of another case in the JRMS/CHS facility that afternoon. The second positive case did not appear to be related to the first case, he added.
However, Duncan said some of the school’s staff would need to quarantine and the cases, combined with a rising infection rate in Cheshire County, prompted him to call an emergency school-board session — as directed by a COVID-19 “decision-making matrix” the district implemented this year as part of its reopening procedures.
The Jaffrey-Rindge School Board decided unanimously Wednesday night to transition the entire district to remote learning, according to Duncan’s message to families that night. He announced the third positive case in the same message.
Duncan said JRCSD will work with the N.H. Division of Public Health Services to conduct contact tracing and notify people who may have been exposed to the virus.
JRMS/CHS students were attending school remotely Thursday while elementary school students continued to attend in-person classes. In December, the district will revisit its decision to go fully remote, according to Duncan.