This Week: Thanksgiving Day Game, String-a-Rama Monday, Small Business Saturday

Photo: 2014 Thanksgiving Game between Belmont and Watertown. 

On the government side of “This Week”:

  • The Other Post-Employment Benefits Funding Advisory Group is meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall where members will report on what they are doing and the public can express its opinion.

• Music & Movement with Rubi, a movement and music program recommended for ages 3 to 5 (but 2-year-olds are welcome) will be held in the Belmont Public Library’s Flett Room on Monday, Nov. 23. There will be two sessions: 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

ESL Conversation Circle for beginners takes place on Monday, Nov. 23 from 10 a.m. to noon in the Belmont Public Library’s Flett Room.

• Help test a new product before it goes into production. WatchRx is holding a focus group meeting open to all, on Monday, Nov. 23 at 1 p.m. at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St. Their device, now in development, reminds wearers when they need to take medications. Give your feedback on how it works and how it could be improved. Please stop by to share your opinions with staff from the WatchRx company.

• The holidays are underway with the first of the “Rama”s as Belmont’s Fine and Performing Arts Department hosts “String-a-Rama,” the town-wide orchestra concert. The concert is being directed by orchestra director Margot Reavey. The concert begins at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 23, in the Belmont High School auditorium.

Wednesday, Nov. 25, is (yet another) Early Release Day for all grades in the Belmont Public Schools. Using a baseball term, Wednesday is a Getaway Day. But before closing, Belmont High School will be holding its annual shenanigans known as the Pep Rally with each class attempting to best (or embarrass) their peers.

• If you’re looking for a great book or a holiday movie to watch over the holiday weekend, remember the Belmont Public Library will close early Wednesday, Nov. 25, at 5 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 26, the annual Belmont/Watertown Thanksgiving Day Football game will this year take place at Watertown’s Victory Field with kick-off scheduled at 10:15 a.m. Also featured will be the 100+ member Belmont High Marching Band. And, yes, they do serve hot dogs at the Watertown concession stand.

• All Belmont town offices and the Belmont Public Library will be closed on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 26 and 27, for the Thanksgiving

Saturday, Nov. 28 is Small Business Saturday, the relatively new annual event – conceived and promoted by American Express – encouraging holiday shoppers to patronize small and local businesses in their hometown and surrounding communities. This is especially true this year in Belmont as all three business centers experience (or are continuing to experience) big construction projects impacting the bottom line.

Sports: Despite Blake-West, Kalavantis Double Firsts, Belmont Second Again in Swimming Championships

Photo: Belmont High’s Swimming and Diving with their Finalist Trophy.

Despite winning five events from a veteran superstar and a young phenom, Belmont High School Girls’ Swimming and Diving team could not match the depth of Bishop Feehan High School of Attleboro as the Marauders finished second behind the Shamrocks for the third consecutive year at the MIAA Division 2 Swimming and Diving Championships held at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool on Sunday, Nov. 22.

“I couldn’t be prouder of these girls and how they swam,” said Ev Crosscup, Belmont’s long-time coach at the end of the meet.

“Give all credit to Bishop Feehan, they have excellent swimmers and great coaches. I take the blame for not having the girls ready for this meet. I thought we could get some of the same times as in the sectionals but, I can’t think of it right now how we could have prepared any better than we did,” said Crosscup. 

Belmont’s 293 points total tops last year’s 239 points and the team’s previous high of 287.5 points in 2013. Bishop Feehan’s 21 point margin of victory, 314 to 293, is half the difference of 2014. It is the second time Belmont has finished second for three consecutive years, the first time in 1984-6, behind Acton-Boxborough.

“We had to swim an almost historic meet to win,” said Assistant Coach Gretchen Turner. “We just missed it.” 

While Belmont topped Bishop Feehan in overall event victories, five to one (the Shamrock’s only win was senior Hannah Phelan narrow victory in 1-meter diving), Feehan’s overall strength were swimmers who scored high in each event – coming in third six times and second once with two swimmers scoring in the top 10 several times – while Belmont and Reading, which finished third, did not score or only garnered a few points in a handful of events.

But this year’s meet will be known for the performance of two Belmont swimmers; senior powerhouse talent Jessie Blake-West and freshman sensation Nicole Kalavantis.

The most versatile and complete athlete seen in Division 2 in years, Blake-West stole the show with a pair of memorable victories in her final high school meet. 

Blake-West’s most impressive performance was her solo swim in the 100-yard butterfly, where she was the two-time defending champion, winning in a season’s best 54.66 seconds, destroying the previous meet record by nearly two seconds and solidifying her automatic National Scholastic All-American status, the only swimmer who came close to that honor at the event. 

“It’s a challenge when you’re out-in-front, and you have to race the clock and yourself rather than people next to you,” said Blake West.

“But it’s a lesson that I’ve learned throughout all my [state championship] races and I’ve definitely learned to race myself. So it was great, I definitely going for my own record from last year and I got it! I’m really happy with that,” she said.

What made Blake-West’s accomplishment even more impressive is it came less than 30 minutes after the state’s most dominant swimmer took apart a veteran field to win the 50-yard freestyle sprint in 23.85 seconds, defeating season leader Lily Gribbel of Wellesley by .40 seconds. Blake-West, who is expected to attend and swim for Brown next year, declined to defend her 200 Individual Medley title in a strategic move to allow her to have something left in the tank for a possible deciding final relay. 

Championship Sunday was also the coming out party for potentially Belmont’s next great swimmer. Kalavantis took her first title in dramatic fashion, storming from behind in the final 50 yards to shot by the leader, Central Catholic’s Kylee Dion, to win by two lengths, dipping under two minutes with a 1 minute, 58.91-second mark. 

“I was seeded first and I knew I was really far behind so I said, ‘I got to win this for Belmont so I kinda like sprinted and I won,” said Kalavantis.

If her first victory was close, Kalavantis’ second, the 500-yard freestyle marathon, was a runaway as the 9th grader left fellow freshman standout Molly Williams of Melrose after 100 yards and put together a command performance as she took the title in 5:17.97, just off her season’s best of 5:16.45 set last week at the North Sectionals. 

“It was really exciting, I was a thrill,” said Kalavantis of her duel victories.

Belmont started the meet behind the eight-ball after the first event when Reading defeated the defending champions Marauders, 1:51.76 to 1:52.04, with seniors Emily Quinn (breaststroke) and Blake-West – both were seeking to be on the victorious relay for the third time – could not bridge the gap and provide enough of a lead to allow Belmont to take the title. Coming in second saw Belmont give up six valuable points.

In the 100 breaststroke, co-captain Quinn broke 1:10 (1:09.57) to finish third behind freshman Olivia Mozoki from Marshfield, who was the only other winner of two individual events, going along with the 200 IM. Quinn was joined by junior Dervla Moore-Frederick, who took sixth (12 points) in 1:12.17 and freshman Angela Li in 13th (4 points) in 1:14.12. Sophomore Caroline Daskalakis rounded out the field in 21st.

While giving back a bit of time from sectionals, Belmont’s swimmers took the challenge and swam with a lot of guts as they faced a steep climb against two talented teams (Reading defeated Belmont at Higgenbottom Pool last month).

Freshman Sophie Butte swam backstroke in the medley relay, scored 7 points each time finishing 10th in both the 50 and 100 yards free (25.89 and 56.78). Sophomore Julia Bozkurtian also swam on the medley relay and finished 16th in the 50 yard free.

Senior captain Sara Noorouzi and Elizabeth Levy scored in the 200 free in 13th and 14th while Moore-Frederick took 9th in the 200 IM in 2:20.80 with Li in 14th (2:24.36) in the same event. Quinn took a 13th in the butterfly (1:03.51).

Joining Kalavantis in the 500 with points were Levy in 9th (5:35.15), and Noorouzi (5:40.70) and junior Allie Beecroft (5:40.93) in 14th and 15th.

Junior Molly Thomas placed 12th in the 100-yard backstroke (1:03.90) joined by sophomore Stephanie Zhang and junior Grace Newberry in 17th and 19th.

Belmont’s freshman-laded 200-yard relay of froshs Butte, Li and Kalavantis with senior Solvay Metelmann (who also swam the 50 free) swam under its qualifying time by nearly half-a-second to claim 5th in 1:44.73.

By the final event, the 400 freestyle relay, Belmont was seeking to place its own explanation point on the night while nailing down second place. Bozkurtian led off with a stellar swim keeping up with a pair of strong swimmers from Reading and Bishop Feehan. 

Levy in second held the gap to a reasonable distance in third as Kalavantis entered the pool for the fourth time having gone nearly half-a-mile in the water against two fresh swimmers. 

As with her earlier races, it took some time for her to get up to speed but was able to touch off to Blake-West even with Reading and Bishop Feehan. 

Swimming against 100 yard free specialists who finished third and fourth in the event, Blake-West separated from the pack early and hammered home in 3:40.84, defeating Bishop Feehan by a three-and-a-half seconds, giving her and Kalavantis their third title of the afternoon. 

“I loved going out on a high note with a third win. High School season is definitely has been one of the best experiences I’ve had so I’m really excited to take these successes and take them to college and see how I’ll do with them there,” said Blake-West, just before joining the team and Crosscup for photos with the state finalist trophy.

Sports: Brams Takes 14th in All-States X-C Championship, Belmont Girls’ Race to 14th

Photo: Belmont’s Leah Brams in the lead pack early in the Div. 1 All-States meet. 

Belmont High four-year star Leah Brams finished her brilliant high school cross-country career running to a 14th-place finish in a stacked field in the MIAA Division 1 All-States Cross Country Championships held at Stanley Park in Westfield on Saturday, Nov. 21.

The three-time Middlesex League champion led Belmont to a 14th place finish with 312 points, the first time Belmont has been in the championship in more than a dozen years. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 8.20.32 AM

Belmont’s Sara Naumann.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 8.22.40 AM

Belmont senior Sophia Klimasmith.

Brams’ time, 18 minutes, 32.56 seconds over the 5 kilometer (3.1 miles) course, is a personal best in the state championships for the senior. The race was won by Lincoln-Sudbury senior Ariel Keklak in 17:25 with Needham taking the team title. 

Following Brams in second was junior Sara Naumann (who also finished her career at Belmont High School with the championship race) who scored 41 points for Belmont racing in at 19:.37.8.

Running her strongest race of the year, senior Sophia Klimasmith once again scored top points for the Marauders with 64 points finishing in 20:10.3.

Finishing up Belmont’s scoring was freshman Audrey Christo in 20:23.8 (81 points) and senior Meredith Hughes in 21:15.8 (114). Sophomore Camilla Carere (21:44.2) and senior Emma Chambers (22:16.6) rounded out the effort. 

Now the top runner in the state can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they don’t have to worry about Brams’ day-glo socks tracking them down as the Belmont resident transititions to her strongest sport, nordic skiing, and an opportunity to seek national recognition in cross country skiing. 

Sold in Belmont: Somerset Street’s Shooting Star Flares Out

Photo: The drone view of 240 Somerset. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 4.13.17 PM

240 Somerset St. Failed modern residence (2010). Sold: $2,300,000.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 4.33.04 PM

17 Hammond Rd. Side-entry Colonial (1925). Sold: $930,000.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 4.37.26 PM

97 Channing Rd. Side-entry Colonial (1935). Sold: $654,500.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 4.45.41 PM

39 Sharpe Rd. Split-level Ranch (1955). Sold: $800,000.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 5.04.13 PM

6 Stella Rd. Brick and shingle Tudor (1931). Sold: $1,000,000.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 4.55.00 PM

65 Bow Rd. Garrison Colonial (1932). Sold: $1,154,000.


A weekly recap of residential properties sold in the past seven-plus days in the “Town of Homes.”

240 Somerset St. Failed modern residence (2010). Sold: $2,300,000. Listed at $3,450,000. Living area: 4,166 sq.-ft. 12 rooms, 4 bedrooms, 4.5 baths. On the market: A year-and-a-half.

17 Hammond Rd. Side-entry Colonial (1925). Sold: $930,000. Listed at $999,000. Living area: 2,481 sq.-ft. 10 rooms, 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths. On the market: 82 days. 

97 Channing Rd. Side-entry Colonial (1935). Sold: $654,500. Listed at $699,000. Living area: 2,481 sq.-ft. 7 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. On the market: 77 days.

6 Stella Rd. Brick and shingle Tudor  (1931). Sold: $1,000,000. Listed at $1,095,000. Living area: 2,560 sq.-ft. 10 rooms, 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths. On the market: 105 days.

39 Sharpe Rd. Split-level Ranch (1955). Sold: $800,000. Listed at $799,000. Living area: 1,485 sq.-ft. 7 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths. On the market: 77 days.

65 Bow Rd. Garrison Colonial (1932). Sold: $1,154,000. Listed at $1,125,000. Living area: 2,732 sq.-ft. 10 rooms, 4 bedrooms, 3 baths. On the market: 57 days.

Do you smell smoke on Somerset Street? Oh, don’t worry, it’s only the owners’ hoped for sales price for an ever-so-hip manse that crashed and burned around them. The mansion that was described as “look[ing] like a space capsule” fell more than $1 million short of its original list price after taking nearly a year-and-a-half to find its actual value. 

So how did a house designed by a signature Boston architect and built on Belmont Hill across the street from the Habitat – that itself cost seven figures to purchase – take such a dive, falling from an asking $3.45 million to sell at the bargain of $2.3 million? Well, how about a little history.

Before 2005, there was a modest house owned by the artist Elizabeth Archer on an acre-and-a-half at the tip-top of Somerset Street. Looking at the site and calculating all the money he could make developing the site, developer Ed Fay of Belmont Builders Trust gave Archer an offer she could not refuse: $2,250,000 for everything, building and land. No fool, Liz took the money and Fay kept the property in his back pocket looking to sell the property for a quick profit down the road.

But Fay waited a bit too long as the real estate market for upscale homes softened considerably with the financial meltdown of 2008. By 2009, Fay was only too happy to unload the site for $2.5 million ($1.3 million for 240 Somerset and $1.2 for 250) to a pair of “long-time friends who desired residencies in proximity to each other, and who intend to reside in these new homes with their families.”

The two were Dr. Alexandra Vacroux and Andrea Rutherford, besties since the time they were working finance in the Wild West known as post-Soviet Russia when oligarchs ruled the land and money flowed like Tovaritch vodka in a Moscow nightclub. Since Vacroux was at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian & Eurasian Studies and Rutherford was attending THE Law School, why not plop down a little over a million each and the pair can be a real life Rhoda Morgenstern and Mary Taylor Moore.

While Vacroux, at 250 Somerset St., went with a more traditional semi-Colonial/Farm House design (which, in itself, is quite interesting and aesthetically pleasing), Rutherford and her husband, former Wall Street Journal journalist, author and Pulitzer Prize winner David McClintick, decided to build with a concept in mind; the heavens and the road home. As a rock album in which all the songs relate back to a central story (re The Who’s “Quadrophenia”), this house’s narrative would be the North Star.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 1.33.34 PM

250 Somerset St.

And talk over the top: dubbed the “Polaris House,” the 4,000 sq.-ft.-plus abode was designed by Boston architect Robert Augustine (you can see another of Augustine’s designs – and wonderful success – on the Cambridge-side of Grove Street at 219 Grove) is a modern-day manse representing “New American Architecture” in three parts, a pair of stubby wings centered by a zinc-clad silo. You open the front door and just hope a cascade of corn doesn’t bury you. To get to the living quarters, you need to hike up a not-so-special metal circular stairway up into the circular room with the 19-foot high ceiling. Getting dizzy?

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 9.07.56 AM

Robert Augustine’s-designed house at 219 Grove Street in Cambridge.

Upstairs, one bedroom has the North Star skylight, there are large windows that overlook the Habitat and a kitchen finished in “a burnt orange, metallic, automobile-quality paint.” To each, their own.

The couple spent about $2 million building the home, completed in 2011. All totaled, think at least $3.5 million for the land, construction and landscaping the one-acre.

But it didn’t appear living in the ‘burbs – where your closest neighbors is the stray pack of Eastern wolf-coyote hybrids – in a big ol‘ house where you had to descend Somerset St. (last paved in the middle of the last century) to get to Belmont’s single renowned restaurant made it for the couple. Like the reverse of Green Acres:

Darling, I love you,

But give me Park Avenue!

Which for the couple, it was decamping to Andover (Belmont North, with better roads). 

So, what to do with Polaris? And here’s the issue for any salesperson: when it comes to custom homes: one couple’s concept and vision are a potential buyer’s deal buster. Whenever the term “eccentric” and “quirky” are used describing a house, you’ve got your work cut out for you.  

Just take a look at the big feature: the skylight aligned with Polaris. It’s all well and good that you can peer out to see the North Star, but unless you’re an astrophysicist, after the first dozen times most people could care less as it’s covered with three feet of snow and ice for four months of the year. For the select number of buyers who are looking for a multi-million home on a road that resembles a cow path in the Swiss Alps, you want some practical features along with the unique. And how many times did the salesperson hear, “How much is it going to cost to have some beautiful wooden cabinets put in the kitchen? We’re not into auto parts.”

Not that the seller didn’t pull all the stops, going so far as getting Boston Magazine – the Hub’s version of Tatler for the smart set – to run an ad/article last year.

But nothing seemed to help. And the fall was brutal: It went on the market on Memorial Day weekend in 2014 and sold a week before Thanksgiving, 2015. It must have felt like being in a meat grinder. 

May 27, 2014: $3,450,000

Oct. 7, 2014: $2,950,000

May 5, 2015: $3,200,000

July 13, 2015: $2,950,000

July 17, 2015: $2,795,000

Aug. 12, 2015: $2,650,000

Sept. 15, 2015: $2,699,000

Oct. 19, 2015: $2,599,000

Nov. 18, 2015: $2,300,000 and sold.

Minus original costs, commissions, taxes and other expenses, the former owners took a bath of more than a $1 million on their trip to Polaris. 

In a funny way, the problem with the house was location, location, location. Polaris would be a big hit in Palo Alto or Mercer Island, where some 30-something app millionaire would find it cool to put his “man cave” in the skylight room and have the North Star shine in as he plays “Fallout 4,” and not so much the staid mutual fund exec or medical insurance senior VP who are seeking a three SUV garage and hates the idea of walking up all those steps, despite the celestial view. 

Sports: Belmont Swimming’s Final Goal, Winning a State Championship

Photo: Belmont High Swimming and Divings captains, (from left) Sara Noorouzi, Sarah Steward, Jessica Blake-West, Emily Quinn, readies for the state championship on Sunday at Harvard.

At the beginning of each swim season, the Belmont High Swimming and Diving’s senior captains come together to set a team goal.

Train harder, chase pool records, take home the Middlesex League title, those are the common aspirations made every year.

On Aug. 25, the four senior co-captains – Jessie Blake-West, Emily Quinn, Sarah Stewart and Sara Noorouzi – set the team’s target to a level not sought by past leaders.

Let’s win the state championship.

“We have never said, as long as I’ve been on the team, said our goal is to win states,” said Stewart on Thursday, Nov. 20, after the team was feted at the Belmont High School Athletic Awards Night. 

“So for us to even vocalize that to the team and to think of that goal ourselves is huge,” said Stewart.

On Sunday morning, Nov. 22, at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool, the final step in that goal will be taken when the Marauders take to the water in the MIAA Division 2 State Championship.

“It’s what we’ve been seeking since August, and we have given ourselves that chance,” said Stewart. 

Three teams will battle for the Championship: Belmont, fellow Middlesex League team Reading Memorial and two-time defending state champions Bishop Feehan. In the Shamrock’s past two victories, Belmont placed second each time.

But long-time Head Coach Ev Crosscup and the team’s expectation were peaked this past weekend at the MIAA North Sectionals where Belmont finished fourth behind Andover, Acton-Boxborough and Reading.

But it wasn’t the team’s placement that sparked all the hubbub, but the times recorded, which broke or matched season bests.

“We were asking, ‘where are these times coming from?” said Crosscup, pointing to the 200 Medley Relay. Those kids dropped four seconds,” said Crosscup.

Leading the way were freshman Nicole Kalavantis in the 200 (rated the best time coming into the meet according to the “Psych Sheet”) and 500 yard freestyle (in which she is considered the odds-on favorite to win the event), Quinn in her speciality the 100 breast where she cut four seconds from her season’s best to rank first, and senior diver Cynthia Kelsey who has registered a rare “10.0” on a dive this season.

But when you talk about the leader of the Marauders in the pool, it is Blake-West. Her 54.67-second 100-yard butterfly win at the North Sectionals earned her National Scholastic All-American honors.

“First time I’ve ever had an All-American in over 20 years,” said Crosscup. “I’ve had some real good swimmers, but no one has ever qualified for All-American automatically. Jessie’s very special,” he said.

Going into the pool for the last time for her school on Sunday, Blake-West said Thursday she’ll come to the pool “centered on my races and not get caught up in the meet.” 

Blake-West, who has committed to swim at Brown next year, said she’ll be chasing the state butterfly record – 53.56 set by Andover’s Rachel Moore in 2011 – and will be seeking a new title, in the 50-yard freestyle rather than defend her 200-yard individual medley.

“That was a tactical move so that I’m fresh for the relays,” said Blake-West.

“I think I have some good times still in me,” she said.

Crosscup believes the girls have not peaked despite the big time gains at sectionals. 

“We haven’t got the team fully tapered, so that’s why I think we have something left in the tank,” he said.

“But we’ll have to show up and swim become Bishop Feehan, and Reading are all within 10-15 points of each other,” he said.

But the captains’ goal of holding the state championship plaque poolside on Sunday afternoon is attainable, said Steward.

“Every day we work hard. We are in the pool and Ev pushes us and doesn’t hold back, and that’s really important,” she said.

“With all the freshmen, we’ve added to the team, and how they are swimming, we are looking really good and I am excited for Sunday,” Steward said.

For Crosscup, who has been forced to take a step back from coaching due to a serious lung illness, his team “will be in the hunt. It will be a lot of fun.”

“Even if we don’t make it, I couldn’t be prouder of this group of girls and how hard they have worked. Probably one of the strongest group of swimmers I’ve had in my career,” said Crosscup.

“I told the girls I’m going to do nothing but smile on Sunday regardless of what we do.”

More Zs: With 4 in 5 HS Students Sleep Deprived, A Push to Change School Hours

Photo: Alexander Road’s Andrea Prestwich of Belmont Start School Later.

When Andrea Prestwich is at work, a lot what she talks about is rocket science.

An astrophysicist at Harvard’s Chandra X-ray Observatory who moonlights with the Hubble space telescope from time to time, Prestwich is enmeshed in science to solve the great questions of the universes and galaxies in deep, far off space.

But there was one question closer to earth the Alexander Road resident could not derive an answer: why was it so hard to get her then middle-school daughter, Katie, up in the morning for school? The preteen was so tired in the morning she could hardly eat breakfast, let alone function normally as she headed for the Chenery Middle School where classes began at 7:55 a.m.

“I thought, ‘oh, it’s just being a teenager!’ Why doesn’t see just get more sleep. I really didn’t know what was going on,” said Prestwich last week at a Brown Bag Lunch hosted by the Belmont League of Women Voters at Belmont Public Library.

It was only when she began researching sleep and teenagers that she and her husband discover the problem was not with her daughter but with what she believes is outdated concepts and ridged school protocols resulting in a serious epidemic of children not getting enough sleep.

Prestwich’s daughter is not alone going to school with less than eight hours of sleep; four in five Belmont High students who participated in an independent study (that is still underway) are deemed sleep deprived. But Belmont is not out of line with the rest of the nation which shows comparable percentages in communities across the country. 

“It’s a nationwide problem,” said Prestwich, who is the chapter leader of Belmont Start School Later, the local affiliate of the national group, Start School Later, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to healthy, safe, equitable school hours.

“We need sleep to survive, it’s essential just as is food, water and shelter,” said Prestwich. It the body chemical melatonin that dictates sleep; when it goes up, you feel sleepy; when it falls, you wake up.

This is especially true for teens. During puberty, the circadian rhythms shift by three hours, from about 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. In the local survey conducted by four volunteers at the high school, 55 percent of students said they get to bed after 11 p.m. 

So waking up a teen at 6 a.m., when medical experts recommend a minimum of eight hours, is the equivalent of an adult being forced up at 4 a.m.

“We drag them out of bed at the time their body clock is saying ‘you should be sleeping’,” said Prestwich.

The reason for the majority of teens are walking about half awake is simple: school, or more precisely, the time it begins.

With school beginning at 7:35 a.m. at Belmont High School, “it is impossible for most kids to get adequate sleep,” said Prestwich.

The consequence to a legion of sleep-deprived teens “is frankly scary,” she said. Sleep-deprived teens are more depressed, more likely to suffer from diabetes; their immune systems are compromised, can not accept normal levels of stress, impacting academics and are more suspectable to sports injuries.

Prestwich said they have more suicidal tendencies, suffer from greater levels of substance abuse, and are in more vehicle accidents.

Kid’s don’t make the best decisions anyways because their decision-making brains are not fully formed but its even worse if they are sleep deprived,” she said.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist, but there is a dark side to this,” said Prestwick.

But there is a way to address the issue, and it’s simple: start school later, by at least 8:30 a.m. at the High School, according to Prestwick.

Looking back at the survey, if Belmont High started at 8:45 a.m., “close to 80 percent of students would receive the necessary amount of at least eight hours sleep required each school day,” she said.

And research has shown that teens with adequate sleep each day are better students, play sports with less injuries and are happier and better adjusted then their sleepy peers. 

Prestwick noted that later start times is supported by a growing number of medical and health professional groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of School Nurses, the Center for Disease Control and the American Psychological Association to name just a few.

With so much research backing a later start time, “why on earth does Belmont high school starts at 7:35 a.m. and the Chenery before 8 a.m?” Early starts were not the norm up until the 1950s when buses were used in the greater number. School districts discovered that they could use the same buses for multiple schools and routes.

And early starts does provide enough time for sports and other activities with “the assumption was if kids got up earlier, they’d fall asleep earlier,” said Prestwick.

“And that is the problem! It’s not true,” she said.

But obstacles remain; costs to find additional buses, before and after programs, afterschool jobs, parents morning and afternoon schedules and teachers hours “will need to be juggled and shifted.

There have been districts that have successfully changed start times that included shortening classes by five minutes, have an original bus schedule and rescheduling teacher meetings to the morning before school.

It could also mean “flip-flopping” elementary school start times with the high school, but Prestwick wouldn’t want K-4 pupils heading to school before 8 a.m. for safety reasons.

Just a few months since forming, the group is seeking School District Superintendent John Phelan and the six-member Belmont School Committee “to get on board with the idea because they are incredibly important.”

“There has to be gentle but persistent pressure on the committee members and superintendent that this has to be a priority and this needs to be done, not next year, not next month, not next week but now,” she said.

Start Later would like to see a task force created that includes all stakeholders – teachers, athletic boosters and coaches, parents, administrators, and students – with very specific directions to find alternatives to the status quo such as a minimum start time of 8:30 p.m. for highschoolers. 

But most important part of Start Later’s mission is educating the public.

“If you ask people if they think that schools should start later they’ll say no. ‘Why change?’ they’ll ask. It’s great for our schedule and for athletics’,” said Prestwick.

“But if you explain the harm this is doing to our kids, then they are much more likely to say, ‘Oh well. Maybe we should shift it’,” she said.

“It is complicated, but it’s possible, it’s doable. It’s a challenge but a challenge that is vital to take on,” she said.

Despite T Assurances, Residents Push Against Pleasant St. Station ‘Alternative’

Photo: Erik Stoothoff, chief engineer for the MBTA.

Despite assurances by the MBTA a new commuter rail station on Pleasant Street is currently just one of many options being considered, the overwhelming number of residents who attended a public meeting on the future of the Waverley Station weren’t buying it.

“I don’t understand why Belmont must pay the price for the MBTA’s negligence or bad faith, but here we are,” stated Sterling Crockett of Trapelo Road to cheers of more than 100 people in attendance.  

But for the T, the issue at hand is nothing but removing obstacles that prevent all residents from taking the commuter line.  

“We are here in earnest the process of evaluating what the solution is for making the trains accessible here in Belmont,” said Erik Stoothoff, chief engineer for the MBTA.

The meeting held on Monday night, Nov. 16, at the Beech Street Center, was an opportunity for the MBTA to provide a preliminary findings as it is completing its feasibility assessment and evaluation of what would meet the requirements to update the facility so it is accessible to disabled individuals under the Americans with Disability Act.

The MBTA is currently under a legal order from the state’s Architectural Access Board to bring the station up to code after it made about $400,000 in repairs to the platform in 2012, triggering a review. 

In fact, it was little different than the initial presentation to Selectmen last month.

“Quite candidly, we have done very little work since our last meeting in anticipation of continuing the dialogue with the townspeople,” said Stoothoff.

John Doherty, who was recently named the Waverley project manager (“The face of the project” said Stoothoff) said the T through the work on the Fitchburg line, is looking to increase ridership, and improve the infrastructure and “multimodal linkage.” 

So far, the options available to the authority’s include:

  • Making the needed improvements at Waverley to make it accessible.
  • Close the station permanently.
  • Build a new Belmont station.
  • Combine Belmont’s two stations into a new one on Pleasant Street.

Doherty said due to the number of riders and the limited space, renovating the site would be “a pricey change” since the MBTA is attempting to standardize platform heights – to a “high-level” at four feet above the track running the length of the station. Currently, riders must descend stairs and jump onto the platform at both Waverley and Belmont stations. 

Also, previous ramp configuration would be “extremely difficult” to construct on the site as it would take up a great deal of space.

“It’s something we’re not looking to do in that form,” said Doherty.

Rather, newly reconstructed stairs and four elevators (two inbounds, two outbound) would be the alternative to bring Waverley up to ADA code.

Reiterating a point made at the last time the MBTA met with the Selectmen, Doherty said repair work at the aging and inaccessible Belmont Station, located at the Lions Club at the entrance to Belmont Center, while not imminent “that station will need to be upgraded … so when we do work at Waverley, we will consider what will need to be done at Belmont and fold them in together.” 

With the T reluctant to move Belmont station eastward as it would impact a long stretch of homes along Channing Road, “so rather than shifting east, shift west … and that one-mile stretch between Waverley and Belmont Center it becomes a natural progression [to look in that area],” said Stoothoff.

The one new feature is “a conceptional idea” of where a new station would be placed and its appearance. Located where the school bus depot is located on property owned by the Tocci brothers, the new station would also take a portion of land from Belmont’s Department of Public Work’s yard. 

The new station would be about a quarter mile up the tracks from Waverley towards Belmont station with a platform long enough to accommodate a nine-car train or about 800-feet, have parking and a pedestrian bridge so travelers can cross the tracks safely.

The total cost would be in the range of $30 million, roughly the same of renovating the Waverley stop to allow it to be accessible.

After 20 minutes. Residents and some from Watertown and Waltham citizens took the MBTA to task for attempting to move the stop to a not in my backyard constituency as well as several people who hoped to use their expertise in related fields to help convince the agency the best approach remains to keep the station opened. 

Judith Sarno spoke for many in the 3rd precinct where she is a Town Meeting member saying she was “adamantly opposed” to a new station as it would bring large numbers of vehicles into the neighborhoods.

For Anne Mahon, the station is a transportation hub for residents living in affordable housing in Belmont, Watertown and Waltham, providing them transportation to Boston’s job market. Moving it outside the square, even by just a quarter mile, could impact their employment opportunities.

After viewing the first selectmen’s meeting, Unity Avenue’s Erin Lubien said she left feeling “there have to be other options” to preserve the station that is an essential part of Waverley Square.

Rather than just write a letter or attending public meetings to express her concerns, Lubien contacted Annis Sengupta, an acquaintance and neighbor who just happens to be a Ph.D. in Urban Planning, to create a series of charts indicating the economic and transportation necessity the station has become and submitted other options, such as a municipal parking garage to accommodate commuters.

“I think there are a lot of people who want to work with you and try to solve this problem,” said Sengupta.

Oh Mon Cher! French Words Play Spoiler at Foundation’s Spelling Bee

Photo: The Chenery Cheetahs, the 2015 Foundation for Belmont Education Spelling Bee Champions: Solenn Marion, Grace Deane, Gillian Palmer and Maddie Knight.

They came onto the stage of the Belmont High School auditorium in T-shirts sporting names such as “Sassy Pandas,” “Alphabeetizers and “Not Another Spelling Bee.” Some wore mustaches, others costumes ranging from princess dresses to bear-inspired head gear.

And the more than 700 Belmont students, from kindergarten to sixth grade, came to spell on Saturday, Nov. 14 as participants in the 17th annual Foundation for Belmont Education Spelling Bee.

The bee will raise nearly $20,000 that helps the Foundation fund enrichment programs and provides grants to teachers that benefit single classrooms to entire schools, said Jamie Shea, president of the Foundation for Belmont Education.

“It’s also a great that this is our most attended event of the year as parents come to take photos and join in on the fun,” said Shea.

Under the skilled hand of host Greg Stone (who announced his retirement from the job after 12 years) early 200 teams in 21 “swarms” (groupings of six to nine teams) got their opportunity to show their spelling prowess, from the Kindergarteners writing out “fun” and “away,” to the fifth graders in the competitive rounds, taking on tougher ones such as “philanthropist” and “martyr.”

And this year, words with a French origin were pivotal in the finals, knocking out some very strong teams. “Potpourri” was an especially harsh word as all but one of the teams during on

For the team Magical Spell – made up of sixth-grader Eman Alkayid and the fifth grade’s Daniel Lai – the ability to spell “mayonnaise” and “pasteurize” allowed them to come from behind two teams and make it to the finals.

“I figured pasteurize had to do with Pasteur,” said Lai while Alkayid said they just worked their way through the spelling of the popular sandwich spread.

There was one French word that left all the finalists stumped. When “hors d’oeuvre” was selected by the judges, a look of horror and puzzlement descended on the participants faces as if they had encountered snails as a pre-meal appetizer. The judges – including long time pronouncers Laurie Graham and Anne Mahon, time-keeper Joanna Kaselis Tzouvelis and umpire, poet and professor Stephen Burt – decided quickly the word was a bit much for middle schoolers to chew on.

Finally, the Chenery Cheetahs, a quartet of fifth graders made up of Grace Deane, Maddie Knight, Solenn Marion and Gillian Palmer – used a cooperative approach to the spelling, defeating the Fab Four – Theo Gallagher, Alek Karagozyan, Brian Shu and Brennan Thomson – with “hygienic” after the girls went ahead on the tricky “queue.” The winners received a $100 bond from the Belmont Savings Bank along with a trophy.

So what makes a winning speller? Studying, being smart and “having a marker of destiny, fate, luck and power,” said Marion.

“And being good friends,” said Knight.

This Week: HS Sports Awards Wednesday, Coping with Grief and Trauma, SKYWARN

On the government side of “This Week.”

  • The Board of Selectmen is hosting a public meeting with the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on the options to bring the Waverley Station commuter rail stop up to code with the Americans with Disability Act. The meeting takes place on Monday, Nov. 16, between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St. 
  • The Planning Board meets at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 17, to discuss a request a six-month extension – the third since August – by the development team proposing to build Cushing Village, the 168,000 sq.-ft. multi-use development. There are also three requests to build new homes in town. 
  • The Planning Board returns later on Tuesday to hear public discussion on the creation of SR-C Zoning Districts throughout town. The discussion will include a list of proposed zoning amendments set to address the building of McMansions around town. The discussion starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 17 in the Belmont Gallery of Art on the third floor of the Homer Building. 
  • The Warrant Committee will review next steps on its OPEB/Pension study along with the first quarter financial update at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 18, at the Chenery Middle School. 

Tuesday is story time at both of Belmont libraries.

  • Pre-School Story Time at the Benton Library, Belmont’s independent and volunteer-run library, at 10:30 a.m. Stories and crafts for children age 3 to 5. Parents or caregivers must attend. Siblings may attend with adults. Registration is not required. The Benton Library is located at the intersection of Oakley and Old Middlesex.
  • Pre-School Storytime at the Belmont Public beginning at 9:30 a.m.We’ll read longer books, sing and dance, and make simple crafts. For 3-5-year-olds with a longer attention span.
Rabbi Earl Grollman, a world-renowned expert on grief and trauma and former leader of Belmont’s Beth El Temple Center, will hold a lecture on “Losing a Loved One,” a timely and helpful talk on grief and trauma on Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 1:15 p.m.
 • High school students who are looking for a new community service opportunity should consider joining the Belmont Public Library’s Teen Advisory Board which will meet on Tuesday, Nov. 17 from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Library’s Flett Room. 

• A talk on “How to Help Kids Manage Stress & Stay Alcohol & Drug-Free” will be presented at the Chenery Middle School on Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. Will Slotnick, founder and director of the Wellness Collaborative will lead the discussion.  

• The Belmont Board of Library Trustees is holding a public meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 17 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Assembly Room to help generate new long range ideas for the future of Belmont Public Library. 

Wednesday, Nov. 18 is an early-release day for all students in Belmont Public Schools. It’s also parents/teacher conferences today. 

• Chenery Middle School students are invited on early release Wednesday to head over to the library’s Assembly Room on Wednesday. Nov. 18 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., to do your homework while enjoying some hot chocolate. This is for middle schoolers only, so high schoolers are on their own. This event is provided for free, thanks to the Friends of the Belmont Public Library.

• Belmont High Fall Athletic Awards Night will be held on Thursday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m. in the Belmont High School auditorium.

• The Belmont Public Library’s International Fiction Book Club will discuss White Dog Fell from the Sky by Eleanor Morse on Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in the library’s Flett Room.  Join us on the third Wednesday of the month for fun conversation, tea and snacks.  Everybody is welcome.  If you have questions or need help finding a copy of the book, contact Kylie at

• The National Weather Service is sponsoring a severe weather spotter training session as part of its SKYWARN program, in Belmont. The class happens on Wednesday, Nov. 18 from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Belmont High School. Bring pens and paper.

• Storytime for 1’s for walkers and toddlers under 24 months will take place Thursday, Nov. 19, at 10:30 a.m. in the Flett Room, sharing simple stories, songs, and nursery rhymes and end with time to play.

• The Belmont Public Library is hosting the Harry Potter Fan Club on Thursday, Nov. 19 from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Flett Room.

• The 5th annual Wellington Shopping Night, this year in Belmont Center, takes places on Thursday, Nov. 19, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Do your holiday shopping at bessie blue, Marmalade, Revolve, bells&whistles, Thirty-Petals Boutique and il Casale to benefit the Wellington.   

Karen Halloran of the Lexington Health Care Center will present a documentary on the benefits of music for people with dementia while discussing activities and topics that help loved ones feel good and engaged at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., on Friday, Nov. 20 at 1:15 p.m. 

• The Belmont Public Library has begun its OTAKUrabu program. Watch anime, do a craft/activity, plan for future events and nibble on some Japanese snacks (while they last – they’ll go fast) on Friday, Nov. 20 from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Assembly Room. Provided to you for free, thanks to the Friends of the Belmont Public Library. Just drop in, no registration required.

Primer: What to Know about Waverley Station’s Past, Present and Future

Photo: Waverley Station (Wikipedia)

The public meeting being held Monday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Beech Street Center is advertised as representatives from the MBTA and the state’s Department of Transportation updating Belmont residents and commuters on a series of “options” to bring the Waverley commuter rail station up to code with the Americans with Disability Act.

But to Sue Bass of the Belmont Citizens Forum – the community organization seeking to maintain the small-town atmosphere of Belmont by preserving its natural and historical resources, limiting traffic growth, and enhancing pedestrian safety – the meeting isn’t likely to result in a Chinese menu of choices and alternatives for residents to select from. Rather, “hovering over the event” is whether Belmont can retain its “walkable” stations or will the future bring a new, parking dependent facility.

Bass’ Should Waverley Station Close?, written for the Forum’s November/December newsletter, is a history and primer on the issues facing the state, public transportation agency and Belmont concerning the station.

Below is Bass’ analysis, with permission from the Belmont Citizens Forum:

Should Belmont continue to have two commuter rail stations that people can walk to? Or is it better to have just one station with a parking garage that people can drive to? That’s not officially the topic of the MBTA commuter rail presentation on November 16, but it’s the question hovering over the event.

Formally, the meeting is about the T’s need to spend $15 million or more on a station that serves only 117 daily riders—or to close the station entirely. This issue arises because, several years ago, the MBTA spent $353,281 repaving the platform. That was more than 30 percent of the station’s value. In addition, the repaving did not raise the platforms to the level of the trains. Either violation alone—the spending or the failure to raise the platforms—  required that the station is made accessible for handicapped people, with an elevator or ramps, according to the state’s Architectural Access Board. Appeals have failed. The conclusion seems unassailable—make it accessible or close it. (State Sen.Will Brownsberger did what he called “a deep dive” on the issue, available at

For the T, this situation either adds millions to its billion-dollar bill for system-wide repairs and upgrades—or it offers an opportunity to speed up commuter rail service on the Fitchburg line by eliminating a station that draws relatively few riders. In fact, it dangles the chance to replace two stations with low ridership by a single station in the middle, along South Pleasant Street, with a parking garage that could increase the total ridership. Daily ridership at the Belmont Center station was only 168 in April 2013, according to the latest data readily available, from the MBTA’s fascinating Ridership and Service Statistics, 2014, nicknamed the Blue Book, which is available at  The average for the Fitchburg line is 361 boardings per station

For Belmont, sadly, this situation threatens the loss of one or both walkable stations and their possible substitution by a new station to which few could walk—plus a garage that would draw even more traffic to Pleasant Street at rush hours, when it is already jammed.

It’s time for us to do what we do so badly and infrequently: try to look ahead and make wise choices about our future.

To start, why is ridership on the commuter rail so low? From Waverley, the train offers a trip of 10 minutes or less to Porter Square and 20 minutes or less to North Station in Boston. It’s two minutes quicker from Belmont Center.

Parking might be one reason. The MBTA’s Blue Book reports no auto spaces at Waverley, though there are 12 bicycle spaces. It reports 115 auto commuter spaces at Belmont Center, but, in fact, the police department’s traffic office says only 20 spaces are available, at $90 a month—and only a handful of those are spoken for.

Is the price too high, compared with parking downtown? Are people unaware that spaces are available? Would ridership go up if the long-discussed Community Path brings cyclists to the Waverley Square and Belmont Center train stations? Or is the commuter rail service too unreliable, or too infrequent? Do too few people work downtown these days?

Demographically, Belmont should be using more public transportation. “We’re seeing a general trend where the inner core—within [Route] 128—is growing faster than the outer suburbs,” said Eric Bourassa, transportation director for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “Part of it is because people do want to be closer to transit and commute in that way.”

Of course, Waverley Square has one of the busiest bus routes in the state, 73, with 6,424 daily boardings along the whole route and 753 at Waverley Station.

At the last meeting between MBTA officials and the Belmont Board of Selectmen, on Sept. 28, T officials said part of the challenge in making the two Belmont stations accessible is that both are on curves. The bend in the tracks makes it much more difficult and more expensive to provide roll-on service to the trains. The straight track along Pleasant Street between Waverley and Belmont Center appealed to the T for that reason.

Several in the audience suggested that a small shift in the location of the stop—a dozen feet or so—might solve that problem, at least at Waverley. Is that true? Would other simple solutions shave millions off the price tags for making Waverley accessible? It’s time to find out.

Sue Bass, director emerita