What to Do Today: Library’s Patriotic Story Time, the Benton is Open ’til 7 PM

• Story Time at the Belmont Public Library will have a 4th of July theme: “Red, White and Blue Storytime.” Celebrate America’s birthday with stories and a craft inspired by the colors of our flag in the Assembly Room from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

• Speaking of libraries, the Benton Library, the town’s independent volunteer-run library, will be open from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Come by to use the WiFi or just to get out of the heat.

• Town offices will be open until 4 p.m. today.

• If you haven’t heard, the Boston Pops 4th of July concert and fireworks show has been moved to today, July 3, to avoid any impact from Tropical Storm Arthur.

Plymouth Ponders Renting Its Steeple to House Cell Tower

Rev. Joe Zarro has been the spiritual leader of Plymouth Church on Pleasant Street coming on a year in the fall. The Harvard Divinity School grad said that he, his wife and nearly one-year-old son have enjoyed their time in Belmont.

“It’s been a great experience for us,” said Zarro as his family prepares to venture out to Cape Cod for the first time later in the week.

One thing Zarro would like to do increasingly is to spread the church’s message to people in Belmont and the surrounding communities.

“I would like to do more missionary work and outreach,” Zarro told the Belmontonian. But that would require a larger budget to accomplish that and other goals he has on his “to do” list.

Now, Zarro and the Plymouth congregation believe they may have found the answer to their wishes outlined in the sky.
But rather than heavenly intervention, it’s the church’s steeple that could provide the means to strengthen the church’s calling. A pair of telecommunication giants want to use the steeple’s interior as the home for a slew of antennas to boost cellular communications and data in a town with a well-earned reputation of having “spotty” reception for smart phones and other personal devices.

For the church, leasing their property would provide “a meaningful amount of revenue that others in town have benefitted from” that the church could use “to support our lofty goals of our mission,” said Myron Kassaraba, who leads the church’s Cell Antenna Committee.IMG_1428

As the church prepares to decide whether to move forward on an agreement, several neighbors are concerned that the radiation from a cell tower near their homes and looming over where many send children to study and play could prove to be a long-term health risk.

Their colorful posters, plastered on posts and poles in and around Belmont Center, pleaded for the church to “Please keep our neighbors healthy and happy” by saying “No to Cell Towers on Plymouth Church.”
“I think with all the studies so far (on radiation emanating from cell towers), I don’t think there is enough observation especially since it’s a very new technology,” said Marsh Street’s Zhao Gang.

“We only started using cell phones continuously recently so we don’t know if this will be harmful in the future. So it’s better to be on the cautious side,” said Gang.

On Monday, June 30, the church held a public meeting to provide neighbors with information on a possible tower inside the steeple – in fact, there is some talk of replacing the original structure with a fiberglass version.

“We feel that this is an opportunity for the church,” said Kassaraba, who stated the church’s view at the meeting.

Plymouth has been around since 1899 with more than 100 member families, a community run by a church council and a board of trustees, many “who are very active in local, civic and government,” said Kassaraba.

With each church an independent entity and self-funding, the church’s missions – whether in town to its globally aspirations – is dependent on raising available funds.

While Plymouth trustees have yet to propose a cell steeple to the congregation, the funds coming into the church’s coffers could be significant. According to the website wirelessestimator.com, the price of a leasing agreement is based on “location, location, location” and Belmont appears to possess prime residential and cellular property.

“The average cell tower rent is going to vary from county to county and state to state — and they also differ depending on which carrier you are dealing with, they amount of pain they have (bad coverage and tough zoning laws), and their budgets,” states the website of AirWave Management, which negotiates leases for landowners with telecom carriers and tower companies.

On average nationwide, the typical lease is about $1,500 a month or $18,000 annually. But lease rates can vary drastically, “from $400 a month for a paging company on a rural Tennessee site to $3,900 or more for a New England prime highway corridor for a PCS carrier, rates are based upon the location of the tower and the location and size of the antennas and lines as well as the ground space required,” according to the site.

Can you hear me now in Belmont Center?

For AT&T and Verizon – each contacted the church in October 2013 on placing a tower at the church – the area along Pleasant Street which the AT&T representative Peter Cook called by its Massachusetts highway name, Route 60, has been a trouble spot for its customers.

“We do have problems on 60 and in Belmont Center,” said Cook, noting that his company has been “looking for several years for an ideal location to serve a lot of customers and businesses.”

And it’s not that Belmont is bereft of cell towers. The Town of Homes has nine existing cell towers; two in Belmont Center (at Belmont Police headquarters and on top of Belmont Savings Bank), a giant tower adjacent to the new Highland Cemetery on Concord Avenue and one atop of 125 Trapelo Road in Cushing Square which handles the four largest cell providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint).

“It’s not as if this is new technology to Belmont,” said Kassaraba.

If the church does decide to move forward, the would only need approval from the Planning Board to secure permission to place the cellular equipment into the steeple.

But for several in attendance, the cell tower on Pleasant Street is unnecessary and potentially harmful to those who will live within the most concentrated areas.

While saying she is for “progress,” for Elfriede Anderson, who has lived for 40 years on Pleasant Street, added “that I am also for health.” She contended that the cellular service is very good around Belmont Center – she conducts a great deal of business overseas with her mobile phone from home – and if the problem is calls being dropped in other parts of town, “they should put [a tower] up there.”

“I don’t think as a congregation that your mission should be above the health of the community,” said Anderson, who has been successfully treated for cancer.

Kassaraba countered by citing international, US and the town’s Health Board to claim that in the 15 years cell phone towers have proliferated, “there have been no adverse health impact.”

“We would not have considered this move if we had concerns of health issues,” said Kassaraba, noting that one is on the roof of a large and populated apartment building at the Hills Estates in east Belmont.

But critics point to a study that reportedly established a direct link between 7,000 cancer deaths in Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city, with that city’s cell phone network.

Noting that there is a significant number of children who use the church for after-school studying and as a preschool, Annie Wang said that 15 years are likely too short of a time to determine if “many chronic diseases” will be triggered by the radio frequency fields used to transmit the data and calls to personal devices.

“It’s not enough time to determine the potential harm, in particular for children,” said Wang.

Dr. Don Haes, a radiation safety consultant working for the church, said the level of radio fields transmitted from the steeple tower – directed towards Belmont Center and along Pleasant Street – would be, at .08 watts per kilogram, less than 1 percent of what is allowed under current safety guidelines.

While few minds were made up by the end of the meeting, Kassaraba said the church’s objective for the meeting was to show the community “that we want this to be a transparent decision, that we did not want to exclude anyone who has concerns with the process.”

Belmont’s Gun Buy Back Provides Help to Town’s Food Pantry

The first-ever Belmont gun buy back event held on Saturday, May 31 not only took unwanted guns out of homes around town but also provided funds to help feed local residents in need.

An important part of the buy back – sponsored by the Belmont Police Department in partnership with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, Belmont Religious Council and individual Belmont houses of worship – was giving away gift cards to local grocery stores in exchange for the firearms. Donations from residents, local businesses and religious communities raised nearly $5,000 in gift cards.

After the end of the event, the sponsors had $3,117 in surplus gift cards.

Last week, a check for that amount was presented to the Belmont Food Pantry to provide those residents in need of food and sundries who find it hard to make ends meet.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 8.49.34 AM

A check for $3,100 provided to the Belmont Food Pantry from the sponsors of the first-ever Belmont Gun Bay Back event. Bottom L-R: Patty Mihelich and Nancy Morrison Top L-R: Dr. David Alper, Jean Dickinson and Chief Richard McLaughlin

Belmont Savings Serves Homer House a Cupola of Loving Care

The Belmont Savings Bank Foundation recently provided a $2,000 grant to the Belmont Woman’s Club to help restore the cupola on the roof of the historic William Flagg Homer House.

The small dome’s damaged state was first noted in a building survey conducted in 2013, with falling structural elements that could have threatened the safety of visitors to the house. The Foundation provided the grant, which will cover half the cost for the restoration, to prevent further damage and keep the house open to the public.

“The Belmont Savings Foundation is thrilled to be offering our support of this critical restorative project,” said Bob Mahoney, President and CEO of Belmont Savings Bank and an officer on the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation.

“The Homer House is a cornerstone piece of our town’s rich history, which is why we felt compelled to ensure its public programming was being maintained during this period.”

The Belmont Woman’s Club is the steward of the 1853 Homer House, a site associated with 19th-century artist Winslow Homer. Tours of the Homer House continues on Fridays and Saturdays in July and August. On view will be the new Homer House exhibit, “Winslow Homer’s Civil War.”

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 8.43.34 AMWrapping of the deteriorated roof was an emergency preservation measure taken after harsh conditions this winter rendered the house unsafe for visitors. Investigation and securing of the roof was overseen by Wolf Architects consulting architect Gary Wolf, and Belmont resident and consulting structural engineer, Arthur MacLeod.  John Veale of Vealco Restoration led his crew in the successful repairs to the Homer House.

Since 2012, the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation has given more than $225,000 to non-profits and educational institutions in Belmont, Watertown, Waltham, Newton and Cambridge. The mission of the Foundation is to provide financial support to non-profit groups, institutions, schools or other organizations operating in the communities in which Belmont Savings Bank operates.

Belmont Savings Bank is a $1.2 billion, full-service Massachusetts savings bank dedicated to quality, convenience, and personalized service.

The Reminisants Performing Oldies at Payson Park Music Festival

While the weather is “iffy” this afternoon, if the stormy weather holds off until tomorrow, The Reminisants will be performing at the Payson Park Music Festival tonight, Wednesday, July 2 at 6:45 p.m. at Payson Park playground at the corner of Payson Road and Elm Street.

The group, which has been a PPMF favorite for several seasons, has been entertaining audiences of all ages throughout New England since 1973. The band specializes in music from the 1950’s through the 90’s, playing a collection of great music for all kinds of musical tastes and generations.

The concert is sponsored by East Boston Savings Bank and Sikellis Realty & Business Brokers

What to Do Today: Happy Midpoint! Drop-In Crafts at the Library

• July 2 is the midpoint of a common year because there are 182 days before and 182 days after it in common years. The exact time of the middle of the year is at noon

• The Belmont Public Library is providing two one-on-one Digital Library Help session on Wednesday, July 2 from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Reference Room. Learn how to download eBooks from the library and set up a device. Get started with Zinio to read free digital magazines. E-mail and Internet basics, social media, or basic computer skills. Registration is required; register online or call 617-993-2870 to register by phone. Some services require downloading an app.  Please come prepared with your Apple ID, Adobe ID, Amazon Account information, or other password and log in information for your device.

• Duplicate Bridge Club meets from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Beech Street Center at 266 Beech St. Every Wednesday the club holds American Contact Bridge League-sanctioned games. All are welcome to play. Cost is $7. Phone: 339-223-6484 for more information.

• The Belmont Public Library will be holding a “Drop-in Crafts for Children” from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Assembly Room. The library provides the supplies, you’ll have all the fun!

Last Day, Final Advice from ‘Interim’ Superintendent Kingston

Dr. Thomas Kingston’s final day in charge of the Belmont School District was a leisurely one.

Wearing a seasonal pink Polo shirt at the School Department’s Administration Building on Pleasant Street, Kingston had completed the bulk of “clearing out my desk” on Sunday when he could have a day of “quiet resolve.” So by Monday, June 30, the Arlington resident had little left to do but for a few minor tasks as well as writing a note to his successor, Milton’s Assistant Superintendent John Phelan, which he left on the desk in his now empty office.

After three years of what many residents considered a highly successful tenure at the head of a highly-regarded school district, the former head of the Chelsea Public Schools, who accepted what was to be a one-year appointment in June 2011 will turn to coaching new superintendents for the state’s superintendents association.

Before he departed in the early afternoon, Kingston granted the Belmontonian a few last minutes to ask about his time leading the district and some final thoughts.

Belmontonian: What surprised you of the community?

Kingston: What surprised me initially was that Belmont was so economically conservative for such a high performance district. The investments to the schools were very carefully monitored, successfully so. I don’t consider that a negative.

Q: In the past decade, Belmont schools have seen an ever increasing influx of children of immigrants or those whose native language is not English. Will this be an important change to education in Belmont?

A: I don’t think it’s going to be important. I think it is since it’s already here. I read where 15 percent of the Massachusetts population is foreign born and 14 percent in the US, which is the highest rate of immigration in the hemisphere or perhaps worldwide. We are an immigrant nation.

So in terms of our educational enterprises we have to be more sophisticated on how to work with second language learners and children who come from varying cultures.

The first key is to acknowledge this shift in demographics and the increasing international population. That requires teachers to be that much more intent to their ability to work with second-language students and understand how learning a second language occurs. That’s why Belmont is putting our teachers through sheltered English immersion training because we are assuming that at some point soon in their careers, they will be a teacher of just those students.

And remember, this change in population enriches the opportunities and certainly enriches the stature of the district to have an international reputation. It’s an achievement.

Q: For the past year, you have called for an operational override to allow Belmont to “continue providing the best education to … students.” if passed, how should the town and schools use the new revenue?

A: The use of any additional revenue from an operational override will be dependent on the long-range plans [decided by the town.] You can’t use the funds as a Band-Aid because that is a cliff that you fall right off.

I don’t know the precise amount that is needed; the lesson for Belmont is see how Arlington constructed its long-term override [passing a $6.5 million, multi-year override in June 2011 in an effort to restore core instruction in Arlington schools]. But even then, schools can be hit by a huge influx of student so you could be facing some deficits that you have to close with reserve cash transfers. You can’t allow those to be drained prematurely.

There is a list of priorities for using any additional money starting with hiring another English Language Learner teacher at the Chenery [Middle School] that will help reduce class size there. Then there is the auxiliary support to teachers such as with district aides. But those can only be accomplished with available funds.

There are instructional needs [Kingston has advocated the return of foreign language at the Chenery] for sure but those are add-ons. The priority list is to ensure that you can meet the needs of an increasing student population.

Then you want to restore some of the services that have been defunded over the years, for the social and emotional needs of students by hiring counselors and then restore the instructional opportunities cut in the past such as 5th grade foreign language and fine arts at the High School.

Q: What should parents and residents do to keep Belmont a top-level school system?

A: Parents need to be involved citizens and be aware of the natural tension that there always is between very high property taxes and very high service demands not just coming from the school system. The schools must be linked arm-to-arm and leg-to-leg with the town. We can not be in conflict with town needs and can not be trying to steal the money away from the infrastructural issue that the town faces. Priorities must be made jointly. I’m happy to say that Belmont understands this.

Musicians! Join the Belmont Community Summer Band!

Attention woodwind musicians or percussionists! How about enjoying the summer being both outside AND performing with some of your musical neighbors?

Now you can have that chance with the Belmont Community Summer Band for a one-night only blow out performance at Payson Park.

According to Arto Asadoorian, the Belmont Public School’s Director of Fine & Performing Arts, the band is open to wind and percussion players ages 14 to “too old to ask.”

The BCSB will rehearse three times in late July:

The culminating performance will take place at Payson Park on the evening of Thursday, July 31 at 6 p.m.

Anyone interested in signing up can do so by completing this Google Form or go to the link below:


For information about the Belmont Community Summer Band, contact Asadoorian at aasadoorian@belmont.k12.ma.us.

Stormy Fourth: Belmont Could See Wet Independence Day

While fireworks and cannons are what many are expecting this coming Friday Fourth of July, the weather could be just as explosive early on this holiday weekend. 

But while much of the talk has been directed southward with the possible development of the season's first tropical storm, a major cold front sweeping from the Midwest is likely to disrupt your holiday plans.

At 5:35 a.m. today, Tuesday, July 1, The National Weather Service has issued a hazardous weather forecast for eastern Massachusetts beginning Wednesday night, July 2 with "a few strong thunderstorms are possible late Wednesday into Friday afternoon. 

"These storms could approach severe levels" with the main threat being "isolated damaging wind gusts with a secondary concern for large hail."

The NWS said the most likely place for this weather to occur is west of Worcester.

Yet forecasts are indicating that July 3 and Independence Day will be wet in the area with rain anticipated for both days. "There is the potential for widespread heavy rain and localized flash flooding Thursday into Friday night," according to the NWS. 

The latest news from down South is that the tropical depression now lingering off the east coast of Florida will strengthen and head up the Eastern Seaboard but will be pushed out into the Atlantic by the cold front that will be bringing the rain into Belmont. But it will likely increase the surf and tides along the New England coast beginning on Saturday.