Ninth Grade? Eighth Grade? Kindergarten? What Should A New Belmont High Include

Photo: Belmont High School.

When the Massachusetts School Building Authority accepted Belmont’s application in January 2016 to provide partial state funding for the renovation of and new construction at Belmont High School, it was seen as a boom for future 9th through 12th graders who’ll attend the school when it’s completed approximately a decade from now.

But, hold on, why not add eighth graders to the new school? How about seventh graders? 

No, wait, how about creating a separate building to the High School campus to house the town’s preK and Kindergarteners? 

A new high school would not just allow an improvement to the educational process for students, some in town believe that configured in the right way the “new” $140-$150 million school could creatively lessen the overcrowding in the Belmont School District’s middle and elementary school buildings predicted for the district for years in the future.

Three school layouts – for 9-12, 8-12, and K and preK – will likely be presented next year to residents, parents, educators, and many others to assist the Belmont High School Building Committee when it offers a final concept to the MSBA of the renovated structure on the shore of Clay Pit Pond.

It is estimated that it will take upwards of two years before a single design configuration is selected.

Number of students

At its early morning meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2 at the Belmont Gallary of Art, the Building Committee heard the MSBA – which works collaboratively with school districts it provides funding (estimated to be about a third of the actually construction) –  would allow Belmont a bit more time to finalize the numbers that will determine just how big a school the community can build. 

One of the most important figures to be determined is “just how many students over time … will be in the building,” said Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan. Currently, the MSBA and the school district has been comparing what their crystal balls are telling them just how many will be occupying the site.

Over the past month, Phelan has been carrying the ball for Belmont before the MSBA, advocating for a 9-12 student population of nearly 1,525 (determined by the district’s enrollment consultant) about ten years from now, about 50 pupils more than what the Building Authority predicts for the building. 

“The ‘who will be in the building’ will be a big decision for this committee,” said Phelan, which the committee will agree by mid-October. 

But the total student number is just the first of two principal components in calculating the physical size of the new school. 

The other determinate is the number of “educational programs” the district offers at the High School beyond the basic core curriculum that is taught – English, math, art, etc. Those would include music and theater, SPED classrooms, studios, computer labs, Physical Education, teaching stations, an auditorium, and other offerings. 

It is only when the student population and programs provided by the district are combined and calculated is when a total square footage of the renovated school is determined. 

While the actual headcount for the schools is in the 1,500 range, the school would be designed as if Belmont High had an extra 100 to 150 students, said Building Chair William Lovallo

“We are … much more relaxed when they explained” what constitutes the “final amount (of students) in the building,” Phelan said.

But just because the school can house the expected number of students, “this will need to be an education solution not just an [enrollment] one,” said Lovallo, as Phelan said each design would employ the best schooling practices. He said if the decision is for an 8-to-12 school, it would likely be built to house two campuses: an “academy” for 8th and 9th graders with a traditional “high school” for the upper classmen, where all students would share gym, theater and music spaces and sports activities.  

While all school projects are different and with unique issues, Belmont can look at nearby Winchester High School which will complete the renovation/new construction project next September. 

Winchester has increased its square footage from 280,300 to 288,000 with a top line student enrollment of 1,370. Belmont, at 257,100 sq.-ft., stated in its Statement of Interest to the MSBA it would seek a building in the 290,000 range. 

Grade configuration

Given a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a new high school, the building committee is preparing just “‘who’ will be going to the site,” said Phelan, as the district is looking at three grade options for the high school:

  • A traditional 9 through the 12-grade structure,
  • extended grades 8-12 configuration, and
  • a unique structure at the site housing the town’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs.

Phelan said the two non-traditional approaches are under consideration  due to the the surge in the past five years in district-wide enrollment. Since 2009, approximately 470 additional students have been added to the district’s rolls with another 500 expected in the next five years.

The solution for rising pupil numbers has been a series of stop-gap efforts. The Chenery will open later this month modular classrooms on the school’s tennis courts to alleviate the expected crush of rising fifth graders entering the building in September. 

For Phelan and others, the renovated school could be that once-in-several-generation opportunity to reduce the stress of overcrowding schools through the district for the foreseeable future.

If for example, an eighth grade is included in the school, 350 more students will be added to the estimated 1,500 students in the 9-12 design.

Once the number of students who will be attending the school is determined, the town will move to creating a feasibility study of each of the alternative configurations.

“A lot of work that [the committee] has over the next month is what is going to be the ‘who’ on that site; what do we want that grade configuration to look like. That will be a big conversation for the town, the teachers, the parents, the Board of Selectmen and School Committee,” said Phelan.

But which of the three options will be going forward to the MSBA will not be the decision of the Building Committee. Rather, Lovallo said, the designs and reasons behind them will be presented to a broad array of organizations – PTA/PTO, Precinct members, teachers, educational staff – as well as residents who will provide a “sense of the town” on which direction the committee will take. 

“We will need community support,” said Lovallo as the MSBA “is not going to sign on to one that will go down in flames.” 


Financial Watchdog Committee OK With Funding for New HS Design, Modulars

Photo: Belmont Superintendent John Phelan at the Warrant Committee.

The Warrant Committee unanimously supported proposed funding sources for two outstanding school capital needs: the purchase of six modular classrooms to be located at the Chenery Middle School and the hiring of a project manager and funding for a feasibility study and schematic designs for the renovated/new high school.

The vote by the committee, which is the financial “watchdog” for the Belmont Town Meeting, came after short presentations by school and town officials at the Chenery Middle School Wednesday night, April 13.

What makes the funding approach different from the traditional method of issuing bonds to raise the funds, the town is arranging to pay for these needs via in-town financing.

The $1.4 million proposed by the School District for six modular classrooms to be located on the Chenery Middle School tennis courts will come from the town’s “free cash” account; the $1.75 million to pay for creating plans and hiring a property manager for the new Belmont High School project will come from the proceeds of the sale of town-owned property off Woodfall Road to a luxury residential developer.

The new classrooms – which will be ready for the start of the upcoming school year in September – are needed as the district grapples with continued overcrowding as enrollment levels continue to skyrocket, with a projected 400 additional students entering the system from Oct. 2015 to Oct. 2019.

“And we have a very real need at the Middle School” when it comes to finding space to use for teaching, said Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan, pointing out that classes are being taught in areas previously used as offices and storage rooms.

The modular classroom will be purchased rather than leased after an analysis conducted by the town’s Facilities Department found it is cost beneficial to own the pre-hab structures if held for more than three years, according to Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan.

According to the superintendent, “we will be in need of this space for some time,” upwards to a decade, said Phelan.

“If I could find the money and the space, I would ask for six more classrooms,” he said.

The direct transfer of the $1.75 million from the sale of the Woodfall Road property to the newly created Belmont High School Building Committee “just made sense” as the sale was a “one-time funds from the sale of a capital asset,” said Sami Baghdady, chair of the Board of Selectmen and the board’s representative on the committee

These funds will pay for the initial stages of the renovation/new construction of the high school including feasibility and design studies that are required to be financed within 220 days after the project is approved by the Massachusetts School Building Authority in January.

While there are other financial avenues the town could have traveled to pay for the project – free cash and a special account known as the Kendell Fund which has more than $3.3 million – a discussion among town leaders and the Treasurer’s office that the Kendell fund should preserve to finance studies of future capital projects including a Police Station, DPW Yard, and town library.

While there will be a need for additional funds down the road, the Woodfall Road money should be “enough funds to get the Belmont High Building Committee through the initial feasibility phase.”

High School Building Committee Picks Leader, Debt Vote Likely in 2018

Photo: William Lovallo (right), the newly-elected chair of the High School Building Committee, speaking with BHSBC member Bob McLaughlin.

When the Wellington Elementary School opened on Sept. 25, 2011, Sarah Lovallo cut the ceremonial ribbon for the kindergarteners entering the school for the first time. 

Lovallo, who is in fourth grade at the Wellington, is eight years from graduating from Belmont High School, which may seem like time enough for her to cut the ribbon for a new high school.

But her father, Willam Lovallo, who was selected as chair of the newly-created Belmont High School Building Committee on Monday, April 4 at the first meeting of the committee held at the Chenery Middle School, doesn’t think Sarah will have a second cut at the ribbon.

“This is beginning to look like it will be closer to ten years before the construction is completed,” said Lovallo, who was the unanimous selection of the 15 member committee.

The Homer Road resident’s professional background as a vice president at the Boston-based civil engineering firm LeMessurier Consultants along with being a veteran of the town’s Permanent Building Committee and building committees including the fire houses, Beech Street Center, and the Wellington will bring “that remarkable knowledge” to the post, said Patricia Brusch, who led the inaugural meeting. 


Pat Brusch (center) at the inaugural meeting of the Belmont High Building Committee.

Brusch, who has been involved with constructing municipal and school buildings in Belmont for three decades, gave the committee a brief outline of what could be the next ten years of planning, financing and construction of a new high school.

With an expected infusion of $1.75 million from the proceeds of the sale of town-owned property on Woodfall Road – which will need to be approved by a majority vote at a Special Town Meeting on May 4 which will be a part of the annual Town Meeting – the committee will use the funds to:

  • create a feasibility study that will include environmental testing and assessment,
  • the hiring of a project manager and
  • Schematic designs for a new or renovate the high school. 

After the feasibility study, the committee in partnership with the Massachusetts School Building Authority will need to decide between one of four options for the building.

  1. Keep the present building and commit to repairing problem areas.
  2. Renovate the building “within the walls.”
  3. Renovate and construction of an addition.
  4. Build a new high school building at a nearby location.

After one of the four options is selected, the process moves to the schematic design stage. Once that is completed, then the town will need to come up with a budget which will come from a debt exclusion.

Brusch said a quick calculation using past examples such as the Wellington, the most likely date for a vote by town residents will occur two years from now during Town Election 2018, with an outside possibility of the fall of 2017 “if everything goes smoothly but that rarely [happens].” 

Brusch also noted state law prohibits the Building Committee from advocating or showing support for the debt vote.

“Citizens will be asked to form” an independent committee “which is not a problem in this town,” said Brusch, whose last piece of advice to the group is “stay within your budget!”

“The first reason is credibility,” said Brusch, as the cost of the construction “will be a huge nut for the town to crack” which will be easier to do if the committee can demonstrate that a new high school “is not a Christmas tree with everything below.” 

Both Brusch and Town Administrator David Kale emphasized that any final dollar figure and project timeline will be set only after the schematic designs are complete. But Brusch did say the long advertised amount of $100 million was used by town departments as “a placeholder” with a more realistic figure about 50 percent higher. 

Town Names 15 Member Belmont High School Building Committee

Photo: Site of the new high school.

A mix of professionals and residents, officials and those experienced in constructing large projects were appointed to the newly-formed Belmont High School Building Committee, announced at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, March 14.

Town Moderator Michael Widmar, who called the renovation “one of the most important and largest building projects in the town’s history,” selected the committee who were asked to dedicate a decade to the task.

“It’s a huge commitment on the part of these 15 people, and I want to publically on behalf of Belmont thank them for making that [decision],” said Widmer.

The members are:


  • Phillip Ruggiero
  • Jamie Shea
  • Robert (Bob) McLaughlin
  • Diane Miller
  • Joel Mooney
  • Pat Brusch
  • Joe DeStefano
  • William Lovallo
  • Chris Messer

Elected Officials

  • Sami Baghdady, Board of Selectmen
  • Thomas Caputo, School Committee

Town/School Staff

  • David Kale, Town Administrator
  • John Phelan, School Superintendent
  • Gerald Boyle, Belmont’s Director of Facilities
  • Dan Richards, Principal, Belmont High School

Widmer said Brusch, a member of the Permanent Building Committee would soon convene the newly-structured board where they would elected a chair and vice chair.

Widmer said Brusch, Mooney and Lovallo bring expertise as members of the Permanent Building Committee which will be important with the size of the project; McLaughlin is an attorney who is a member of the Warrant Committee while DeStefano and Ruggiero have backgrounds in construction and engineering.

Messer works for a large professional services firm and Shea and Miller both have graduated degrees from Harvard’s School of Education and volunteer their time, Shea as chair of the Foundation for Belmont Education and Miller with Joey’s Park. 

Also, many have children who are students in the district. 

The goal of the committee is to work in conjunction with the Massachusetts School Building Authority – which will provide between 30 to 35 percent of the construction cost of the estimated $100 million project – to bring to the town a proposal for a renovated high school facility which will include new construction. It will also be tasked with facilitating the development of the operational and educational components of the new building.

The MSBA selected the Belmont School District on Jan. 27 to begin the process that will result in the complete renovation of Belmont High School and the construct of a new science wing at the Concord Avenue campus.

Baghdady observed that the selection process was “a very inclusive selection process” with many hours Widmer spent speaking to officials and residents to find the right mix of residents and professionals.