Brockton 2023 year in review, looking forward to 2024: Top storylines

BROCKTON — It’s that time again, when news outlets recycle the year’s biggest headlines. As we did last year, we’re taking a different tack by looking forward. Here are 10 storylines The Enterprise will be following in 2024.

One theme that jumps out is new beginnings. Barring fresh disaster, Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital should reopen in 2024. The city’s new homeless facility — no longer downtown — is also scheduled to open. And Brockton should see the return of pro baseball as Campanelli Stadium hosts the inaugural season of the New England Knockouts.

The new year also marks a milestone as Brockton celebrates its 150th anniversary.

And there’s no doubt Brockton’s biggest story of 2023 will stay in the spotlight: The crisis of cash, confidence and safety in the Brockton Public Schools. Let’s look at those storylines:

1. When will Brockton Hospital reopen?

Brockton and the surrounding region suffered a gut punch when a 10-alarm fire forced the evacuation of Brockton Hospital. Since then, crews have been working to rewire and renovate the massive complex. No date has been announced for when the hospital will reopen fully, but authorities have said it will be in 2024.

When patients return, much of the hard work done won’t be visible. Possibly the single biggest job has been rewiring the whole facility, an arduous labor that will be hidden behind fresh plaster and paint. But residents will see an entirely new emergency department among other upgrades.

2. Will new homeless facility take pressure off downtown?

The nationwide crisis of homelessness has hit especially hard in Brockton. The new year could be a turning point, as a new $19.5 million facility is scheduled to open in fall 2024 on Manley Street, next door to Brockton’s VA Medical Center. As the new Father Bill’s and MainSpring campus comes online, the city’s 128-year-old emergency overnight shelter on Main Street downtown would close. The new housing center will offer not only a traditional shelter, but also 32 apartments for permanent housing.

While Brockton arguably does more for the homeless than other cities its size, the consequences of having so many homeless persons downtown has pushed some residents and business owners to the breaking point. In theory, the new facility should mean fewer chronically unhoused people on downtown streets and better services to help people get back on their feet.

3. When does pro baseball return to Brockton?

Opening Day is May 10 for the New England Knockouts, a pro baseball squad scheduled to play 48 home games in their inaugural season. Back in the day, minor league ball regularly filled then-new Campanelli Stadium. Those days could here again. The team, which plays in the Frontier League, aims to offer family friendly, affordable entertainment. That’s something that, year after year, residents complain Brockton has too little of.

The Knockouts share a home stadium and ownership with the Brockton Rox, an already established amateur baseball operation.

4. How will Brockton celebrate its 150th birthday?

History-minded Brocktonians have been busy behind the scenes making plans for the 150th anniversary of Brockton. What is now the city of Brockton was incorporated as the town of North Bridgewater on June 15, 1821. Residents changed the name to Brockton in 1874 and Brockton became a city in 1881, according to the Massachusetts Historical Association.

The celebrations will follow the established calendar of annual city events, organizers say. Observances of the sesquicentennial are scheduled to take place during Summer Fest Brockton, the Brockton Fall Festival, Holiday Parade and the like.

5. Will students be safe in Brockton Schools?

Arguably no challenge facing the Brockton Public Schools is more urgent than safety. Students, parents and educators will be looking to Brockton High School’s new principal, Kevin McCaskill, to implement existing reforms and make the sprawling school a safe place for learning. One measure of just how bad the situation has become is that Interim Principal José Duarte called an abrupt early dismissal in October so school leaders could regroup.

6. What will the audits of Brockton finances show?

Could 2024 be the year that residents get answers on the schools’ deficit spending crisis? No fewer than two audits are underway, one by the city and another by the schools, to document how the district over spent its budget by what was originally announced as $14.4 million and now appears to be more like $20 million. And that’s just for fiscal year 2023. Further deficit spending, maybe as much as $10M, has already been identified in fiscal 2022.

7. Will fallout spark reforms?

Under pressure from the state to balance the city budget or face a state takeover of finances for the Brockton schools and possibly the whole city, city councilors voted on Wednesday, Dec. 20, to bail out the schools’ fiscal 2023 deficit by tapping reserves that won’t be easy to replace as part of a package worth $18.25M.

City councilors and school committee members have played “hot potato” with who is to blame for the fiscal mismanagement. In 2024, we’ll be watching closely to see if city council and the mayor’s office tries to curb the authority of the school department. That’s exactly what City Councilor Jack Lally called for. “To be frank, for a little over $18M the school department just sold a significant portion of their autonomy,” the Ward 6 councilor said. “They cannot operate independently as they have been, as evidenced.”

8. Will the Public Safety Building project stay on time?

2023 brought the spectacle of the old high school being torn down to make way for a $98M public safety complex. The entire large block along Warren Avenue between Highland and West Elm streets is being reborn as the new home for Brockton police, fire, emergency management and information technology.

Taxpayers can count their blessings that city officials locked in a low interest rate by securing financing before rates rose again. But any big project like this is bound to have curveballs. Will the project stay on track for a spring 2025 opening? Will it stay in budget? We’ll be watching.

9. What elections will be held in 2024?

It will be an even year, which means no elections for city council, school committee or the mayor. But the election calendar will be busy. On March 5, as voters statewide choose their parties’ presidential candidates, they’ll also have Brockton politicos on the ballot for the Democratic and Republican City Committees, plus ward committees.

In September, Brocktonians will have the chance to shape state primaries for U.S. Senate, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) seeks reelection. Also on the September primary ballot will be the 8th U.S. Representative district seat held by incumbent Stephen Lynch, also a Democrat. Brocktonians will have a say in who sits on the 2nd District of the Governor’s Council, a vestigial colonial board with limited powers.

Closer to the local level, the September primaries also include Brockton’s delegation to Beacon Hill for both state senate and state house. The register of deeds and clerk of court will also be on the ballot.

The general election for all of the above will be Nov. 5, plus town-by-town votes for the board that runs Southeastern Regional School District.

10. What will happen with the Fairgrounds?

Last on our list of storylines to watch is a holdover from 2023: The future of the last and largest undeveloped property in Brockton. Before the school deficit scandal sucked all the air out of the debate, Mayor Robert F. Sullivan had proposed a city takeover of the Carney family property in exchange for $55M.

The proposal has laid dormant since August. But now that voters have put in place a new city council, the issue will likely come to a head in 2024. After all, the Carneys still own the land and could say “yes” to development proposals like turning it into a warehouse hub for Amazon or a competitor.

What’d we miss?

Any list like this is bound to be incomplete. If there’s an issue you’d like to make sure The Enterprise keeps tabs on in 2024, please email CHelms@enterprisenews.com or connect on X, formerly Twitter, at @HelmsNews.


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