State Places $100 Million Belmont High Renovation in Final Funding Review

Photo: Belmont High School

Ten consecutive times the state agency created to assist Massachusetts communities in financing new school projects rejected the Belmont School District’s request to renovate the increasingly threadbare high school building on Concord Avenue.

That dubious streak may finally come to an end in 2016 as the Massachusetts School Building Authority selected the nearly $100 million renovation of the 45-year-old Belmont High School and the construction of a new science wing as one of 26 projects across the state the authority has chosen for a final funding review.

“This is great news for the town of Belmont as it represents a unique opportunity for our community as we have submitted an application for this project annually for over ten years,” said Belmont District Superintendent John Phelan. 

This year, nearly 100 Statement of Interests from nearly the same number of school districts were submitted to the MSBA, Authority spokesperson Matt Donovan told the Belmontonian two weeks ago. 

The Authority will make its decision on which projects it will approve for eventually financing at its monthly meeting on Jan. 27, 2016. Last year, the MSBA selected 16 projects from a group of 28. 

If picked, Belmont will enter a 270-day “eligibility period” in which the district and town will shape the building plan to meet state requirements.
Joining Belmont in the final group include neighboring Arlington which is seeking to renovate its 101-year-old high school, and Framingham’s Fuller Middle School. (Arlington has been requesting funding for only two years)

While being passed over by the MSBA for a decade, it did not come as a complete surprise that Belmont’s “time” for a final review was close at hand. In October 2014, a team of architects and engineers associated with the School Building Authority conducted a “senior study” of the 45-year-old brick and concrete structure, asking a lot of questions of school and town officials while poking around the building. 

Proposed projects that receive a “senior study” are seen as having a high level of being recommended to “move forward with an invitation” of being in the final group. 

If current trends continue, Belmont should be reimbursed by the MSBA for approximately a third of the total construction costs. 

The renovation price tag based on an updated 2008 estimation of the 2004 masterplan which would include using a single general contractor over four years was $79.6 million. With eight years of inflation added to the 2008 figure, the total cost is now close to $100 million.

With a third coming from the MSBA, the total cost to Belmont taxpayers is likely to be in the $66 to $70 million range.

A MSBA-financed project similar to Belmont is taking place in Winchester where a new high school that includes three new buildings is currently one-third finished. The $131.9 million project received 34 percent state reimbursement, requiring Winchester to pass a $90 million debt exclusion. 

Under the 2004 Belmont High School master plan revised in 2008:
  • Construction at the school will take place in four phases over four years so students will remain on the existing campus,
  • All construction will be held within the current 257,000 sq.-ft. footprint of the current building, and 
  • A 34,000 sq.ft. modern science wing will be built in the proximity of the parking lot adjacent the Wenner Field House and the Higginbottom Pool.

The renovation of the five-decade-old school building is critical as it is currently “structurally unsound” and “jeopardize the health and safety of the school children,” according to Belmont’s 2014 SOI submitted to the MSBA.

With the building of a science center, which will add 13.5 percent more classroom and lab space to the school, “it will eliminate the existing severe overcrowding” at the school. The district is also predicting an additional 254 students at the high school by fiscal 2024. 

The SOI notes that Belmont High School is in danger of losing its regional accreditation due to the “negative impact on students … to achieve a 21st Century learning experience” in a building where critical infrastructure are now “beyond its normal life span.” This year, more than a million dollars was directed to rebuild the school’s fire alarm system which is so dated there is a lack of parts to repair the mechanism. 

This year, more than a million dollars was directed to rebuild the school’s fire alarm system which is so dated there is a lack of parts to repair the mechanism. Without the change, the Belmont Fire Department warned the building could be closed for safety. 


Sports: Belmont Girls’ Basketball Goes 3 for 3 with 54-42 Win over Wilmington

Photo: Senior Samari Winklaar at the free-throw line vs. Wilmington.

Belmont High Girls Basketball senior forward Samari Winklaar is not just a double threat; a defensive stalwart and one of the toughest forwards on the court. She is a triple talent: this young lady can sing!

Those in the stands during the opening announcements heard Winklaar give a soulful, emotional rendition of the National Anthem that would have knocked your socks off if you weren’t wearing shoes.

Winklaar then joined her fellow starters onto the court and played a big role in Belmont’s victory at its home opener, defeating Wilmington High School Wildcats, 54-42, on Monday, Dec. 21 at the “Wenner.”

Winklaar’s 13 points including a pair of baskets in the third quarter allowed the Marauders keep a double-digit lead through the second half for its first game in which Belmont did not see an offensive dip that occurred in the first two games. Its point production – 13, 15, 14 and 12 in each subsequent quarter – allowed Belmont Head Coach Melissa Hart to include many players from her large bench which reach 17. 

The Wilmington game also was the return of last season’s suffocating full-court defense that Belmont used to great effect in 2015’s playoff run. The result of the night’s pressure was that Wilmington did not have a player in double figures in points.

For the third consecutive game, sophomore point guard Carly Christofori quarterbacked the offense with her passing and her signature slashing move towards the basket resulting in 16 points. Her final six points – all in the final eight minutes – came from the free throw line, reminiscent of Christofori’s performance in last year’s sectional quarterfinals against Bedford. 

Overall, Belmont went 19 for 23 from the charity stripe, an atypical result from a team that has at times struggled from the line. 

Working hard at both ends of the court included senior co-captain forward/center Sarah Stewart with 9 points (7 in the first half) while matched up with Wilmington’s taller centers and freshman Megan Tan who took on the quickest Wildcat guards while contributing four points.

Due to fouls on the starters, Hart gave Belmont fans a glimpse of the future as she sent out Marauders tallest players, junior Margaux d’Arbeloff (6′) and freshman Jess Giorgio (6’1″).

IMG_5139 IMG_5125 IMG_5124 IMG_5116 IMG_5113 IMG_5108 IMG_5101 IMG_5096 IMG_5086 IMG_5078 IMG_5066 IMG_5065 IMG_5060 IMG_5054 IMG_5046 IMG_5035 IMG_5034 IMG_5033 IMG_5030 IMG_5028 IMG_5021 IMG_5017 IMG_5016

Sports: Belmont Boys’ Basketball Cruise to 4-0 Defeating Wilmington, 89-50

Photo: Cole Bartels (center) heading up court on the break against Wilmington.

If senior co-captain Cole Bartels hadn’t committed to pitch for Division 1 Penn State, said Belmont High School Head Coach Adam Pritchard, “there would be a few colleges looking at him.”

Pritchard’s praise for the 6’2″ shooting guard came after Bartels scored 16 points in the first eight minutes of the home opener before finishing with a game high 24 points to lead an up-tempo Marauder squad over visiting Wilmington High, 89-50, on Monday, Dec. 21 at the Wenner.

In the first varsity basketball game on the newly installed court, Bartels stroked six three-point baskets in the first half, threatening the school record of nine threes in a game. His 22 first half points led Belmont (4-0) to a 25-9 first quarter advantage that soon extended to a 56-25 halftime lead over the winless Wildcats (0-3).


Belmont High senior guard Damian Bitsikas (#10) and Deron Hamparian (#11) heading up court against Wilmington,

“We’ve played well in the past three games. And while it’s easy to dismiss a good start because of the records of the teams we’ve played, it’s because [the team] has bought into this type of basketball,” said Pritchard whose team is coming off a solid win, 72-56, over Boston English High School this weekend.

Belmont quickness and height advantage coupled with Wilmington’s less than stellar shooting percentage allowed the Marauders to run and hide with the big lead.

Senior point guard Matt Kerans (13 points with three threes) controlled the tempo, Dylan Ferdinand came off the bench for some big points in the paint (6 of his 7 points came in the second quarter) while big men senior forwards, Justin Wagner (9 points) and Joe Shaughnessy (2 points), controlled the boards on both ends of the dark blue and stone gray court.

With a big lead in the second half, Pritchard gave his role players extended minutes on the court.

Senior guard Damian Bitsikas hit for double digits (11 points) with a trio of threes, backcourt mate Deron Hamparian tossed in a deuce of treys finishing with 9 points while football players senior center Lowell Haska (2 points) drained a brace of free throws while junior guard Ben Jones (2 points) connected with a jumper. And finally, junior guard Nick Volante knocked down a shot.

Next up for the Marauders is a visit with the SpyPonders of Arlington High on Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 5 p.m. before fighting a gauntlet of three physical and tough teams beginning with Everett over the winter recess. 

“We’ll find out what we are made of,” said Pritchard.

Graham Resigns from School Committee; Three Seats Up in April Town Election

Photo: Laurie Graham at the Friends of Belmont Education Spelling Bee in Nov. 2015. 

Long-time Belmont School Committee member Laurie Graham has resigned after serving nearly eight years on the board, three of those as chair leading the committee during some of the most financially challenging times in recent history. 

Graham’s resignation, announced at last week’s school committee meeting, is effective Jan. 20, 2016.

“I hope that I have added in some measure to a more cordial and respectful working relationship with other committees but one that is not only less tense but which also produces positive results and outcomes for our students,” Graham told the Belmontonian. 

Her departure will likely result in three seats being filled at the 2016 Town Election on Tuesday, April 5. While traditionally, the seat of someone who resigns is occupied by a nominee selected by a joint meeting of the School Committee and Board of Selectmen, with the resignation coming within four months of Town Election, it is likely the two bodies will allow the one-year position to be picked by the voters. 

The other two seats are three-year appointments currently held by incumbents Laurie Slap, the current committee chair, and Elyse Shuster. Both have told the Belmontonian they would wait until the New Year before announcing if they will run for re-election. 

Graham, who won three town-wide elections starting in 2008 while, topped the school committee ticket in 2014 with 3,640 votes.

For the past six years, Graham worked out of her home as a contractor with a group of independent publishers reps and that has given her the flexibility to attend day-time sub-committee meetings as well as participate as a school committee liaison or appointed to other committees in town for both day and evening meetings.

That changed when she started a new job, as an office manager in a tax office, in downtown Boston. It has become clear to me that with a commute, no real time to attend meetings back in Belmont as well as the busy time coming these next few months that it made sense for me to step down now and not wait until the upcoming April election. 

“It has become clear to me that with a commute, no real time to attend meetings back in Belmont as well as the busy time coming these next few months that it made sense for me to step down now and not wait until the upcoming April election,” she said.

Pool Memberships Stable for Residents, Increases for Out-of-Towers

Photo: Underwood Pool, Belmont. 

Preparing for the first full season of the still “new” Underwood Pool in the summer of 2016, members of the Recreation Commission told the Board of Selectmen Monday night, Dec. 15, that visitor season and daily passes will see significant increases as the town prepares for a deluge of swimmers beginning in June.

“Last year was a like a shakeout cruise,” said Recreation Commission Chair David Kane of the one month the pools were open in August. “We were just trying to understand what we need to do to be enjoyable.” 

This coming year will be “more holistic,” said Kane, which includes the new price tag on using the facility.

While nearly all Belmont residents will not see an increase in tag prices for the 2016 swimming season, Kane said non-residents will feel the “bite” of a big increase for the pleasure of frolicking in Belmont’s new pools.

According to Kane, prices for Belmont residents will be:

  • Family season pass (two adults, up to four children): $225 before June 30/$250 after July 1.
  • Adult season pass: $150
  • Child season pass: $110
  • Day pass/adult: $10
  • Day pass/child: $5

For non-Belmont residents, prices will be:

  • Family season pass (two adults, up to four children): $375
  • Adult season pass: $225
  • Child season pass: $175
  • Day pass/adult: $20

In comparison, two years ago the non-resident family pass was $225 and a year ago $265. 

“It is high,” said Kane of the new costs, but noting the commission had received “some complaints of overcrowding on certain days” and there is some hope that the new price structure will deter some non-residents swimmers from coming.

Staff members will ask for identification to determine residency. 

In addition, there will be a 25 percent military discount while seniors will no longer have the option of a lifetime charge of $50 a year. 

When asked if Belmont should place a hard cap limit on the number of non-residents, commission member Ann Bere – who conducted a review of pricing patterns in neighboring communities – said the group will review the membership data in late May so “we’d know if non-resident passes is at a level where we’d be at a level that we would need to set a limit.” 

Bere said she believes the new costs will self-limit the number of out-of-towners coming to the Underwood. 

This Christmas Week: Madrigal Singers at the Beech, Basketball’s First Time on the New Court

Photo: Belmont High Madrigal Singers.

On the government side of “This Week”

  • It’s a holiday edition of the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. After a few administrative duties, the board will hear a two-hour presentation of Pension Obligation Bonds and an actuarial report on the town’s OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits). Oh boy!
  • The Cable TV Advisory Committee is meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 3 p.m. at Town Hall to discuss Verizon’s contract renewal. 

• 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 Assembly Room on Monday, Dec. 21. There will be two sessions: 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

• The Belmont Public Library is holding a Teen Holiday Party on Monday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Assembly Room. Bake and decorate Christmas cookies, make tree ornaments, eat pizza and snacks, and sing karaoke. For teens 5th grade and up. Free, no sign-up necessary. If you have any questions, please ask Kylie at

• The “new” court in the Wenner Field House will see its first varsity basketball games as the Belmont High School Girls’ and Boys’ Basketball teams will face the Wildcats of Wilmington High on Monday, Dec. 21. The Boys’ game will start at 5 p.m. and the Girls’ at 7 p.m.

Pre-School Story Time at the Benton Library, Belmont’s independent and volunteer-run library, at 10:30 a.m on Tuesday, Dec. 22. 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.

• The Belmont High School Madrigal Singers will perform seasonal music at the Beech Street Center on Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 3 p.m. 

• Come see the Belmont High Girls’ Ice Hockey team – no longer a cooperative with Watertown – play on home ice as they host the Wilmington High Wildcats at the “Skip” (the skating rink on Concord Avenue) at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 23. 

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day office hours around Belmont:

  • Town Hall and all Town Offices will close at noon on Thursday, Dec. 24 and remain closed on Christmas Day, Friday, Dec. 25.
  • The Belmont Public Library will have limited hours on Thursday, Dec. 24 from 9 a.m. until noon and will be closed on Christmas day, Friday, Dec. 25 and Boxing Day, Saturday, Dec. 26. 
  • Beech Street Center will close at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 24, Christmas eve, and Christmas Day, Friday, Dec. 25 for the Holiday.

Sold In Belmont: A Million Dollar Flip That Fizzled on Highland

Photo: 6 Highland Rd. sold for nearly a quarter of million dollars profit in 2014, not so in 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 10.57.37 AM

6 Highland Rd., Classic Colonial (1941). Sold: $1,300,000.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.07.30 PM

8 Oakley Rd. #2, Condominium townhouse (2011). Sold: $860,000.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.09.48 PM

60 Newcastle Rd. Side-entry Colonial, (1947). Sold: $800,000.

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

• 6 Highland Rd., Classic Colonial (1941). Sold: $1,300,000. Listed at $1,250,000. Living area: 2,237 sq.-ft. 6 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths. On the market: 65 days. 

• 8 Oakley Rd. #2, Condominium townhouse (2011). Sold: $860,000. Listed at $899,000. Living area: 3,175 sq.-ft. 6 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths. On the market: 58 days.

• 60 Newcastle Rd. Side-entry Colonial (1947). Sold: $800,000. Listed at $775,000. Living area:  1,593 sq.-ft. 8 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. On the market: 51 days.

Selling a house for nearly half-a-million dollars greater than the appraised value for a fairly standard Colonial, you’d be, as Donald Trump/Charlie Sheen would put it, “a winner.”

Dante Muzzioli was a Hall of Fame hockey coach for five decades with Belmont High School. And he proves to be a solid real estate developer. Back in November 2013, Muzzioli purchased the rundown prewar house on Highland Road for $890,000, a nice premium over the assessed value of $718,000. 

Within days, Muzzioli got to work putting in $97,000 of renovations and improvements – strip and reroof, install a three-ton AC system in the attic to service both floors, and $60,000 in bath and kitchen renovations – then place it on the market. By August of 2014, the once-threadbare house sold for $1,250,000 (he had originally listed the house at $1,395,000! but that price was just crazy), a more than quarter of a million dollar profit. Try getting that margin playing with equities.

But the most recent sale did not turn out as lucrative for the new owners. A mere 14 months after purchasing the house, the new owner placed the Colonial on the market for the original sales price. If this was purposely low-balling a house to spark a bidding war, it wasn’t that successful. Not to say $50,000 isn’t hay feed, it doesn’t come close to the last jump in sales price.

In the end, the neighborhood has a new comparable sale ($1.3 million) that is way out of whack from the 2015 market value the town has placed on the value of the land and building of $872,000. What better definition of a bubble is there?

Belmont High Performing Arts Coffeehouse Friday: For the Spotlights

Photo: Poster for Friday’s PAC Coffeehouse.

Belmont High School Performing Arts Company performers will be in the spotlight Friday, Dec. 17 putting on a coffeehouse fundraiser FOR the spotlights: all of the night’s proceeds will support the purchase of new lighting equipment for the main theater space in the auditorium and the Little Theater.

There will be live student music acts, including a mix of acoustic, rock, jazz and pop. It will be a fun evening with a festive party atmosphere. 

There’s dinner and desserts sold, and all for the inexpensive price of $10 for adults, $5 for students.

Belmont’s Youngest Jedis, Vaders, Princess Leias Prepare for ‘Star Wars’

Photo: An entire empire of characters of the Star War films at the Belmont Public Library.

They came to the Belmont Public Library on Sunday, Dec. 12 with their lightsabers, Jedi robes, and Princess Leia hairdo; miniature versions of the characters from Star Wars that they and many of their parents know, getting ready to attend the latest edition of the film franchise, “The Force Awakens” that opens on Thursday, Dec. 17.

And just as excited for the new movie to come out is Belmont Public Library’s director, Peter Struzziero, who calls himself one of the biggest Star Wars fans ever. In fact, it was Struzziero who brought the kids and parents to the library. No, he didn’t use Jedi mind games, rather, Struzziero hosted the “Stars Wars Symposium,” a workshop program that he created (along with a school teacher) that encourages kids to dress up in their favorite costumes from the Star Wars films to play educational games and trivia about the series.

For the past five years, he has been going to library branches across the state to learn about the science behind Star Wars, discuss the characters from the films, learn trivia, play with toys and watch videos about the films.


Sports: Seniors Pull Belmont Girls Basketball Team to Opener Win at Melrose

Photo: Senior co-captain Samari Winklaar going in for a lay up vs. Melrose.

Belmont High Girls’ Basketball is a young, energetic team filled with talented underclassmen led by a sophomore point guard, Carly Christofori, who can seemingly pull a rabbit out of the hat when needed to spark the team.

But when the squad found itself floundering against a scrappy Melrose team on opening night, it was a trio of seniors – each co-captains – who pushed the Marauders across the finish line as Belmont won its 2015-6 season opener, 61-54, over the Lady Raiders on Tuesday, Dec. 15.

For the aforementioned Sarah Stewart (11 points), Irini Nikolaidis (6 points) and Samari Winklaar (5 points), it was a bit of a “did that, done that,” approach from the veterans of last year’s deep playoff run as they worked with Christofori to grab the victory that only six minutes previous looked in doubt.

“A win’s a win especially now since [games are] never pretty early in the year,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Melissa Hart. 

Belmont opened the game on the front foot with Stewart anchoring the defense as the sophomore backcourt duo of Christofori and Jenny Call (10 points including a pair of 3s in the first half) managed the offense, feeding Stewart (11 points) and her replacement junior Reagan Haight (first 2 varsity points) who had a height advantage over Melrose’s forwards. Fellow sophomore forward Greta Propp (9 points) converted a steal and a jumper while Nikolaidis and Winklaar were playing both ends of the court. The result, a 6 point lead at the end of the first eight minutes. 

The second quarter was a bit ragged for both sets of players – missed free throws for Melrose, fouls on Belmont – with a Call three giving the Marauders its biggest lead at 13 (29-16) with three minutes in the half before leaving the court with a nine point (31-22) half-time advantage.

But all the hard work nearly went for naught as Belmont was hit by a regenerated Red Raider squad – depleated to eight players after an injury – which used its physicality and an aggressive press to throw the Marauders completely off its stride and complete a 10-1 run to tie the score at 32 with three and a half minutes remaining in the third. 

The score see-sawed into the fourth quarter until Melrose’s star guard and captain Sarah Foote hit a three with exactly six minutes to go in the game to give the Raiders its biggest margin of the night, 41-38.

“Melrose is good, they are going to do OK because they have some great shooters,” said Hart.

In came the seniors which helped cool Melrose momentum as Stewart’s height advantage stopped the Raiders getting more than one shot at the basket while Winklaar threw in an offensive rebound and hit the resulting foul shot to give Belmont a five point lead at 48-43.

On the defensive side, the seniors were joined by freshman Megan Tan whose outstanding speed and positioning gives some thought of her being a future designated “stopper,” placed in the face to the opponant’s best player.

Nikolaidis downed one of two free throws (all six of her points came from the charity stripe) after a Christofori (who finished the game with a team high 17 points) driving hoop to up the lead to a comfortable nine, 53-44, with 2:47 left.

“It was good to have this one out of the way. A lot of nerves when we were pressed. Friday is the next challenge,” said Hart, as Belmont prepares for Stoneham away on Friday. The first home game is Monday at 7 p.m. at the Wenner vs. Wilmington. 

IMG_4812 IMG_4815 IMG_4826 IMG_4849 IMG_4860 IMG_4862 IMG_4879 IMG_4896 IMG_4907 IMG_4910 IMG_4911 IMG_4913 IMG_4924