Leave Your Mark On the New High School; Attend The Design Workshop Thurs. Dec. 14

Photo: Design workshop in session.

Belmont residents: Here is your chance to put your stamp on the design of the new Belmont High School when the Belmont High School Building Committee hosts a public Community Design Workshop on Thursday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. in the Belmont High cafeteria at 
221 Concord Ave. An optional facility tour of the school will take place at 6 p.m.

The purpose of the workshop is to allow the public to be heard, be involved and be informed about the project, said Bill Lovallo, chair of the High School Building Committee.

“We will have a great visioning session … on the 14th,” said Lovallo. “This is a real exciting part of the design process, to start looking at what visions, what opportunities and what benefits we can get out of this project.”

Residents will participate in a hands-on, small-group visioning workshop focused on:

  • Key features of major building spaces,
  • Interior spaces to leverage high-quality teaching and learning, and
  • Site planning discussions.

“There will be multiple sessions where we break up into smaller groups to discuss the issues before us and then present it to the entire workshop. The designers will then bring it back to their office to start to understand what the trends are,” said Lovallo.

“The design team wants to hear what people like and dislike, pros and cons,” he said.

To sign up for email updates and to learn more about the Belmont High School Building Project, including project timelines, videos, meeting schedules, presentations, and more, please visit www.belmonthighschoolproject.org. Questions? BHS-BC@belmont-ma.gov

It’s Official: Garvin Starts As Belmont Town Administrator Jan. 15, 2018

Photo: Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s new Town Administrator, greeted by Selectmen Chair Jim Williams.

The executive session during which the Belmont Board of Selectmen negotiated the contract for the new town administrator was taking twice as long as scheduled on Monday, Dec. 11, leaving Patrice Garvin – whom the board had offered the job the previous week – to wait for an hour pondering exactly what could be going on between the members, the town’s human resource official and the consultants who help interest the Shirley Town Administrator to Belmont.

But in the end, the delay was caused by the normal course of negotiating the crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, as the board welcomed Garvin who accepted the final terms of her contract with the town.

“I am very excited to be coming to Belmont,” said Garvin after the meeting.

Garvin and the board agreed to a three-year contract running through Jan. 15, 2021 with options to extend her employment. Garvin will receive an annual salary of $168,000.

With Jan. 15th falling on the Martin Luther King holiday, the board invited Garvin to the town’s annual MLK breakfast as a way of introducing her to the community. 

Garvin told the Belmontonian she will spend the first weeks with department heads and attending meetings of many of the 66 volunteer-run community organizations and committees. She will also be seeking out long-term residents and employees to give her a tour of the town as she learns the ins and outs of Belmont.

Million Dollar Belmont: Average Assessment Hits 7 Figures As Tax Bill Jumps 4 Percent in ’18

Photo: Daniel Dargon, Robert Reardon and Charles Laverty III

There was a time in Belmont when the statement: “Your house looks like a million!” was metaphoric and not literal.

Not anymore, as the average assessed property in the “Town of Homes” had broken the seven-figure barrier, according to Board of Assessors when it announced the numbers during the annual tax classification hearing before the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, Dec. 11.

The new “average” assessed value is $1,003,750, an increase from $942,000, according to Robert Reardon, long-time chair of the Board of Assessors, who announced that Belmont’s fiscal ’18 tax rate is set at $12.15 per $1,000 assessed value, a decrease of 4.25 percent from the fiscal ’17 rate of $12.69 per $1,000.

But don’t expect your quarterly bill to shrink in the coming year as the assessed value of property in Belmont shot up a healthy seven percent to $7.3 billion from $6.7 billion in fiscal ’17. With property values increasing at its highest percentage in more than five years, the average property owner will see their tax bill increase by 3.5 percent. 

For example, the annual tax bill on the average assessed valued property ($1,003,750 x $12.15) will be $12,195.56 in fiscal ’18; an increase of $241.58 from last year’s bill of $11,953.98.

Under the new rate, Belmont will collect $86.1 million from residential, commercial, open land and personal properties. Last fiscal year, the town raised $82 million in real estate taxes.

Reardon noted a “big” increase in new property growth totaling $2,020,408, compared to the $788,000 in fiscal ’17. On top of the existing Belmont tax base of $567,550, the Uplands development on the Cambridge border that selling units at a better than expected rate and new construction on the site is underway providing the town $600,750, nearly $200,000 more than anticipated. The completion of the electrical substation and its sale to Eversourse (the former NSTAR) brought in $852,108 in one-time funds to new growth. 

As with past years, the assessors’ recommended, and the selectmen agreed to a single tax classification for all properties and no real estate exemptions.

Reardon said Belmont does not have anywhere near the amount of commercial and industrial space – at a minimum 20 percent – to creating separate tax rates for residential and commercial properties. Belmont’s commercial base is 4.1 percent of the total real estate.

“People always assumes there’s money if you go with the split rate and that’s not true,” Reardon told the Belmontonian.

Tied Up In a Bow: A New High School Design Takes Shape

Photo: The initial design of a new Belmont High School that is trending

Some say it looks like a bow tie. Others see the “X” of the chromosome structure. Whichever shape it’s called, the design designated as “C.2.4” by the architectural firm Perkins + Will of about a dozen preliminary designs for a new Belmont High School has caught the fancy of many leading that effort.

While it’s premature for the town to point to one specific plan as what will replace the nearly 50-year-old structure across from Clay Pit Pond, the groups are ramping up their public sessions as they move towards the ultimate selection of the new school’s grade configuration and basic design which is scheduled to take place on Jan. 23, 2018.

“We have a limited time to do this work and tonight we pick an opportunity to get the juices flowing; what’s really cool, what’s working,” said Bill Lovello, the chair of the Belmont High School Building Committee, which held a joint meeting on Nov. 30 with the Belmont Board of Selectmen and School Committee to meet with Perkins + Will and the Owner’s Project Manager Daedalus Projects, Inc. to debate and review a series of designs of revamping the current high school, from simple renovations, major and minor additions to complete new construction.

Belmont HIgh School Building Committee Chair Bill Lovello.

The initial reaction by the joint group highlighted two important “trends” according to Lovello; the grades to be housed in the new school and some general idea what it will look like. 

While the numbers are still be calculated by the Belmont School District, the current direction among school officials and building committee members is the new school will house approximately 2,215 7th to 12th graders. While the high school’s grade configuration could continue with a traditional 9th- to 12th-grade building or an 8th to 12th layout, the preference from the school department has been for the larger grouping as it will effectively answer space issues created by skyrocketing enrollment in the Belmont district.

According to studies by the school department, a 9th to 12th school would require Belmont to build a new elementary school, an unlikely proposition due to the lack of suitable land, time and cost. An 8th to 12th would necessitate renovations at the middle school and the purchase of modular units to house the expanding student population. 

The second trend is the “look” of the new school. Some designs, while they will be submitted to the state, are not going anywhere fast including the concept of building a new school adjacent Harris Field, that was dismissed with a barrage of catcalls from the meeting’s participants. But one particularly linear draft has caught the eye of many. 

While the architects call the design a “minor renovation/major addition,” the “bow tie” design is essentially a new building that preserves and incorporates two elements from the existing high school; the Wenner Field House and the Higgenbottom Pool. During discussions of the designs, there was near majority opinion that the two athletic elements were important to save.

“It’s not an addition, it’s a new building,” said Daedalus Projects’ Thomas Gatzunis, the building committee’s owner’s project manager.

As for the design going by “bow tie” moniker, the 451,575 gross square foot campus will be segmented off into an upper and lower school much like the current arrangement at the Chenery Middle School. This will include separate entries for older and younger students. There will be areas that all students will interact such as athletics, a media center and “lunch” space. The space between the north and south wings will be administrative offices and a large cafeteria/open area. 

The academic classrooms will overlook Clay Pit Pond, providing a southern exposure that will allow maximum use of natural light. Parking will be situated around the school with the necessity to move the Brendan Grant Field to another location. 

“I think you get a much more impactful and better land use if you go with 2.4. That’s a very good starting point,” said Joseph DeStefano, a member of the building committee and real estate developer. 

One major issue not discussed by anyone on the design team was the final price tag hanging off the project that residents will pay 60 percent of the cost through a debt exclusion, with 40 percent taken up by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The project will take three-and-a-half years (42 months) to build with the upper school – housing the current high school students – to be constructed first as the seventh and eighth graders will continue to attend the Chenery until the remainder of the school is constructed.

“It’s a win-win; you get brand new academic areas and … it’s efficient. So you end up with brand new buildings and renovated recreation space,” said Gatzunis. 

While the design is trending as the favorite among the groups, the school’s final shape and location are far from set, according to Brooke Trivas, one of Perkins + Will’s project architects.

“We can nuance these options … that should be at the forefront of your [thinking],” Trivas said. “It might be a smaller size, will it be restoration or other designs. We have time to do that [to the design].”

Selectmen Offers Shirley’s Town Administrator Belmont Position; Contract Possibly Monday

Photo: Patrice Garvin

The Belmont Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to offer Shirley Town Administrator Patrice Garvin the vacant Belmont Town Administrator position after a public interview of the final pair of candidates on Tuesday, Dec. 5 at Town Hall.

The Selectmen anticipate approving a final contract with Garvin on Monday, Dec. 11 at its next meeting. There are reports that Garvin – who was a finalist to become town administrator in three other communities this year – is likely to have competing offers from other municipalities, which was one of the reasons the selectmen moved up by a week its vote to decide on which candidate to select. 

A resident of Chelmsford, Garvin has been Shirley’s Town Administrator for the past four years, having been the executive assistant to the town manager in Groton previously. Garvin also has experience in town government as the chair and member of Chelmsford’s Finance Committee. She had her bachelors degree from Suffolk University and earned her masters in education and developmental and educational psychology from Boston College.

Also interviewed Tuesday was Kevin Sweet, Maynard’s town administrator, who along with Garvin was the last of 19 prospective candidates seen by a screening committee headed by School Committee member Kate Bowen. Both were described by Rick White of the search firm Groux-White Consulting as “represent[ing] the younger and rising stars in the profession.” 

While the selectmen each said that both candidates would be outstanding administrators, the majority opinion was that Garvin demonstrated a grasp of the position more significant than just process and numbers. 

“[Patrice] Garvin articulated a vision which I think is important,” said Selectman Adam Dash. “[She] came across to me as practical, foreright, persistent and those are qualities we need to go forward.”

“It wasn’t just a list of accomplishments; it was a statement of purpose and motivation as well as a quiet forcefulness that we can use,” said Dash. 

Mark Paolillo, the senior selectman on the board, was impressed with Garvin’s detailed and insightful knowledge when answering financial questions, “because we are facing great financial challenges in the future.” Of the two candidates, Paolillo felt Garvin would be more successful in “finding ways to bring people together and unify the community” and “work collaboratively with departments and the school committee.”

“It was some of her nuisance responses … like growing in the position in Shirley, that tipped the scales for me,” said Paolillo.

“She did really really well [on difficult questions], the answers were really honest and didn’t sound canned. I feel like I know what we are getting if we hire her because of that,” said Dash.

While saying he was less sure about making a selection, Chair Jim Williams said he was not looking for a “fourth selectmen” but rather someone who will follow the direction of the board. While both were very capable of doing the job, “I don’t have a strong preference.” Williams ultimately voted to join his colleagues to make the decision unanimous. 

With a low-key manner and a distinct Boston-regional accent, Garvin told the board “I always want to find a career where I would make peoples lives better,” and working in local government is where she “could see my efforts and my work in a very short period.” 

She told the board as an administrator for the past four years in Shirley, she looks for common ground and finds some resolution to problems that come through her door.

Garvin said her practical experience she gained being in Shirley for the past four years was “well-rounded” from building up the town’s reserves, restructured town offices, and obtained millions in state and federal grants and funding. She described her part in revamping the Shirley Fire ambulance response from relying on mutual aid to staffing the department with EMTs and on the weekend which resulted in a positive revenue and reducing response times.

She noted that the most significant challenge in the job “is gaining the trust and respect of the board you’re working for.”

She also told board she has “three rules” when it comes to working with the selectmen: “You’re always informed. You’re never surprised. And one [selectmen] won’t know something the other two do.”

When asked what qualities she will bring to Belmont if hired, Garvin said after ten years in government, she continues to “push to know more.” 

“What drives me is my failures as much as my success. I want to learn more and do better,” said “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying. And what I bring to everything I do is my full effort. If I don’t succeed with one thing, I’ll try another. I won’t give up until it’s done.” 

A Quarter Century In the Making: Selectmen OK Recommended Community Path

Photo: Chris Leino, chair of the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee.

After more than a quarter century since the idea was first introduced, the concept of a pedestrian and bike path running through the town took a major step forward as the Belmont Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to recommend a proposed $27.9 million route advanced by the five-member Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee at the board’s meeting held Monday, Dec. 4 at Town Hall. 

“In my view, this is really an amazing opportunity for Belmont. I think the community path if constructed would be a fantastic crown jewel for [the town] … and an amazing resource for Belmont and surrounding communities,” said Russell Leino, chair of the Advisory Committee which spent nearly three years both devising a process and then leading a year-long feasibility study which analyzed countless byways which would connect Belmont with a proposed 104-mile Mass Central Rail Trail running from Boston to Northampton.

“This is the path we need to endorse,” said Selectman Mark Paolillo, the committee’s liaison to the committee.

“It has gone through endless public meetings, a significant amount of input from all stakeholders … we have reached an answer that this board needs to support as a way forward,” said Paolillo. 

The unanimity of support from the town’s executives was the validation Leino was seeking as the project now moves forward to the critical funding phase. 

“I’m really excited because this is an important step forward for this project. [T]his vote is really the end of the beginning and now we need to move forward on both funding and construction,” Leino told the Belmontonian after the meeting.

The committee’s timeline for the roughly two-mile project includes funding for preliminary and final design in 2018, secure construction funds from state and federal agencies by 2019 and construction in 2020 and 2021.

The suggested route – running from the Waltham line outside Waverley Square and connecting to an existing travel path at the Cambridge border – was not a surprise as it was unveiled early in November during the final meeting of the 10-step feasibility study process run by PARE Consulting that spent more than a year conducting meetings, walking tours and public forums.

“Our consultant [PARE’s Amy Archer] did an incredible job. Her comprehensiveness and demeanor was exceptional and made the process successful because she was so good at engaging the public and listening to feedback and reacting to it in a calm and reflective way,” Leino told the Belmontonian. 

“There weren’t any knee-jerk decisions and the way the [recommended] path [was evaluated] was done in a very deliberative way by going over the criteria over and over again,” said Paolillo.

Selectman Adam Dash successfully proposed adding language in the declaration that will allow the board and town to “tweak” the recommended path when the project encounters “the inevitable” unexpected delays and possible disputes with landowners.

One area that will need to be negotiated is in Waverley Square where developer Joseph DiStefano is proposing constructing commercial space along Trapelo Road – to be revealed in the first quarter of 2018 – that will be adjacent to the bike path. DiStefano, who attended Monday’s meeting, said he is willing to begin discussions with the town on accommodating each other’s interest.

Belmont Parent To Talk On Risk Of Substance Abuse Tuesday, Dec. 5 at Chenery

Photo: Poster for Tuesday night’s event.

On Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m. in the Chenery Middle School Auditorium, Belmont parent Jasen Boyle will be giving a talk on the health crisis of our time, the prescription opioid epidemic that kills 15,000 Americans per year by overdose and destroys lives and families regardless of family background or economic status. And the time when many are introduced to these drugs is during the middle school years.

Boyle’s presentation – titled “Kids, Teens and Substance Use: Understanding the Risks and How to Respond” – is part of the Belmont After School Enrichment Collaborative’s 4th annual Parent Lecture Series sponsored by Belmont Savings Bank, Belmont Media Center and the Foundation for Belmont Education. 

A licensed private practice mental health therapist who specializes in treating substance use disorders in young adults with additional coaching for families of those struggling with addiction, Boyle’s lecture will focus on helping families understand what puts children at risk, what parents can do to help prevent substance abuse, and strategies to address substance-related problems.

A Moment of Sportsmanship Earns Belmont Ruggers Top Award From State Athletic Group

Photo: Grace Christensen, Amanda Hanley and Molly Goldberg at the championship game.

It was just past 4 p.m. on a hot, humid June Saturday in Beverly and the girls of Belmont High’s Rugby squad were sky high, having just made history winning the first-ever state championship in the sport, coming from behind to defeat Algonquin Regional High, 17-14.

In the midst of the celebration, three Belmont players – Grace Christensen, Amanda Hanley, and Molly Goldberg – looked over to Algonquin’s bench and saw a player standing with an ice pack on her lower left leg, finding it difficult to join the awards presentation which was about to take place.

“We saw her and thought she shouldn’t miss getting [a medal],” said Goldberg as she, Christensen and Hanley went over and escorted the injured player to the center of the field to be with her teammates

A photo taken by the Belmontonian of the instant was seen by a representative of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body for high school sports in the Bay State. On Nov. 17, the trio of Marauders and their coach Kate McCabe were invited to the 24th annual MIAA Sportsmanship Summit at Gillette Stadium to receive the “Sportsmanship Moment of the Year” award for their collective demonstration of fair play and understanding. 

Belmont High was recognized a second time at the meeting as the school was honored with an Athletic Sportsmanship Award within its MIAA state district for demonstrating overall sportsmanship throughout the 2016-17 school year.

Both groups accepted the awards from John Maguire, president and CEO of Friendly’s and Rob Pearl, MIAA Sportsmanship Committee Chair and Medway High School Athletic Director.

The Marauder Empress: Belmont High Alumna (’81) To Become Consort in 2019

Photo: A current photo of the royal family; Masako (left), Naruhito, and their daughter, Princess Aiko.

It was inevitable but now the world knows for certain; Belmont High School alumna Masako Owada will become the Empress consort of Japan on April 30, 2019.

A member of the graduating class of 1981, Owada – who was named Masako, Crown Princess of Japan, when she married Crown Prince Naruhito in 1993 – will gain the consort title in 17 months after the announcement last week of the scheduled abdication of Naruhito’s father, 83-year-old Emperor Akihito who is stepping down from the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Owada’s journey to Belmont was not that uncommon for a child of a diplomat as her father, Hisashi Owada, was sent by the Japanese government to Moscow and New York before coming to Massachusetts as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School for two years. Living on Juniper Street with her parents and younger twin sisters, Owada spent her junior and senior years at the Concord Avenue school where she was a member of the French Club and Math team. After graduation, Owada didn’t travel far for college, attending Harvard. 

Belmont and Owada would next intersect in 1993 when her engagement to Akihito’s eldest son was announced. A short blast of interest in Owada’s former hometown from Japanese tourists occurred only to subside just as quickly. 

Vote on New Town Administrator Moved Up A Week To Tuesday, Dec. 5

Photo: The two candidates are still in the game.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen has discovered the demand for qualified professionals to manage town affairs is far exceeding the supply as the board was forced to move up by a week the vote to pick Belmont’s next Town Administrator.

The board decided to push forward its vote to Tuesday, Dec. 5, the same day the two finalists – Patrice Garvin, the town administrator of Shirley and Maynard Town Administrator Kevin Sweet – will be interviewed each for an hour by the board with a limited number of questions from the public. After announcing the finalists last month, the original schedule had the board waiting a week until Monday, Dec. 11 before making its selection. 

The switch in days, made at a hastily convened board caucus after a joint meeting of the board, the School and the High School Building committees on Thursday, Nov. 30 at the Wellington Elementary School, was due after one or both candidates were being pursued by other communities seeking to fill administrative positions. Already this year, Garvin has been a finalist in three towns, Leicester, Upton and Easton while Sweet was considered for the job in Scituate.

“Right now we have two very good candidates which we have to select. And we would like to have one of them on board soon,” said Selectman Mark Paolillo.