Select Board Place More Streets Off Limits To Student HS Parking, Adding Spots Along Concord, Pool

Photo: The Underwood Pool parking lot will be available for student parking this week.

Based on recommendations from the Middle and High School Traffic Working Group, the Belmont Select Board added three new streets to an expanding number of side streets in which High School students are banned from parking on school days while expending the time the existing “temporary” restricts will be in place by three weeks.

The new streets were added to the inventory of roadways at the board’s Jan. 24 meeting after residents complained their streets were impacted by students migrating from side streets placed under parking restrictions approved by the Select Board on Dec. 20.

“This announcement has generated quite a response,” said Roy Epstein, the Select Board’s vice chair who ran the meeting as Chair Adam Dash recused himself as he lives on one of the streets [Goden Street] under the regulations.

Epstein noted the Task Force recommendations are prompted by resident complaints of student drivers parking along side streets since the opening of the high school wing of the Belmont Middle and High School that is under construction.

“It has created a situation that we had to address. It made the streets dangerous for pedestrians and impassable for vehicles on numerous occasions and we felt we had to act,” said Epstein. The first set of restrictions – no parking from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. beginning on January 3 – were focused on Oak and Orchard streets off the southside of Concord Avenue.

The result of the initial action was students migrated over to nearby Stone and Louise roads. The reaction by those residents were as expected: move the kids.

The new streets with restricted parking bans include:

  • Stone Road,
  • Louise Road from Concord Avenue to the intersection with Emerson Street, and
  • Emerson Street from Concord Avenue to the intersection with Louise Road.

The ban takes effect Jan. 31.

The Board also extended the end date of the trial from Jan. 28 to Feb. 18 to allow the board to consider further recommendations from the Traffic Working Group to be presented on Valentines Day.

But Epstein wanted to make it clear: the committee’s aim is to disperse student parking and not to make it impossible for students to park. In recognition that parking options are being taken off the board on the three streets, the task force made three endorsements to make up for those lost spaces.

The first is to remove the reserved parking spaces on the north (or school) side of Concord Avenue from Underwood Street to the light pole across from Becket Road as “virtually no students have parked there since September,” said Epstein. The school administration provided 100 permits at the beginning of the school year to seniors with corresponding spaces. Yet only 50 to 55 of the spaces are filled on a daily basis, said Lawrence Link, one of the resident members of the working group.

While the committee did not speculate why the spaces were unused, there is some indication that many of the first time drivers find it unnerving to parallel park on a busy roadway such as Concord Avenue during the morning rush hour and feel safer sliding into a space on a quiet side street.

This action will allow more parking along Concord Avenue for students who did not receive permits and the public.

The second and third recommendations are to allow all-day parking in the Underwood Pool lot and on the Concord Avenue pool drop-off area stretching from Myrtle Street to the library exit, freeing up an additional 15 spaces.

While there has been some parents questioning the steps taken by the task force as targeting students, Link believes more parents will “now feel more comfortable because they know spots are available.”

Epstein said the committee’s expectation is to fill in the unused space on Concord Avenue and use new spots near the pool “to accommodate all of the students currently parking on the side streets.” If it becomes evident that more spaces are needed, there is a possibility the task force will recommend a limited number of student drivers via permits to park on side streets, said Epstein.

The adjustments will allow the Task Force ample time to conduct a complete evaluation before presenting final recommendations to the Select Board on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.

Restrictions On Side Streets To Control HS Student Parking Start Jan. 3

Photo: Concord Avenue adjacent to the new Belmont Middle and High School

The Belmont Select Board on Monday, Dec. 20, approved a four-week trial plan to force the majority of high school students who drive to the new Belmont Middle and High School off of side streets and back to parking on the main thoroughfare that runs by the facility.

The proposal will take place from Monday, Jan. 3 to Friday, Jan. 28 afterwards the plan will be reviewed and extended, ended or revamped.

Advanced by the Traffic Working Group – Middle and High School, it comes after town officials heard an earful from local residents concerning throngs of high school pupils who found the best parking spaces to the building was right off the main road.

“One of the purposes of the proposal is to restore the status quo of students not parking on side streets,” said Martin November, a task force member who led the effort.

The high school’s parking plan for seniors and juniors is a temporary one itself as there will be no student parking on site until the middle school wing is built. One hundred spaces along the north side of Concord Avenue was allocated to students by the school through a lottery. The spaces are in two sections along Concord Avenue from Underwood Road to the Belmont Public Library with another 90 off-street parking spaces linked to a new skating rink that would be built on the west side of Harris Field.

But soon after the September opening of the new high school wing complaints from homeowners started that their streets were teeming with cars during school hours; parking close to driveways and intersections, creating pinch points where traffic can travel and making deliveries and trash collection much more difficult. When they did call to complain, police response was slow due to current staffing levels.

An October survey conducted by residents on behalf of the working group found approximately 120 student cars coming daily to the school with 56 parking on Concord, six on Goden Street, 12 on Oak Street, approximately 20 in the Orchard/Orchard Circle/Stone Road loop and 20 occupying the jug handle site opposite the library.

November told the Select Board’s Mark Paolillo and Roy Epstein – Select Board Chair Adam Dash recused himself from the discussion and vote as he lives on Goden Street – that students, some who possess reserved passes for the coveted 100 lottery spaces, were parking along adjacent roadways such as lower Orchard Street for a simple reason: it’s less of a trek to the school than parking on Concord Avenue closer to Harris Field and the skating rink.

“We do want them back on Concord (Avenue),” said Paolillo.

The proposal will consist of four steps:

  • Identify the side streets to be targeted.
  • No parking from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on school days unless the vehicle has a town-approved placard.
  • Commercial vehicles and those on public business will be exempt.
  • Residents will receive a placard that exempts them from the parking ban.

And the targeted streets are:

  • Goden Street below School
  • Oak Street
  • Orchard Street below School
  • Trowbridge Street
  • Underwood Street
  • Baker Street
  • Concord Street east bound (the southside of the roadway) from Cottage Street to Louise Road.

No parking signs will be placed on cones and on existing posts on the targeted streets.

Belmont High School’s ‘Gem’: Grand Opening Of New Theater With Bands and Boston Brass On Dec. 2 [Videos]

Photo: Alley Lacasse, Belmont High’s Band Director, on stage at the school’s new theater and concert hall.

Alley Lacasse is snapping her fingers as she is standing at the front of the stage of the new Belmont Middle and High School theater. The Belmont High Band Director then begins slowly hand-clapping, all the while listening intently to the sound emulating from the hall.

“I’m listening to how the sound reverberates from the stage,” said Lacasse, in the midst of workers putting the initial finishing touches (there’s a few more touch-ups to come) to the town’s newest performance space.

Last week was a chance for Lacasse to get a feel of the place since, well, neither she or anyone else has had the opportunity to perform in what is the gem of the new Belmont Middle and High School: A spacious two-tier 700-seat theater that is a true concert hall with professional quality acoustics and equipped with up-to-date audio and light systems.

“I have never opened a new performance space as a performer [Lacasse is a professional flutist and chamber musician] or director so it’s going to be so special for all of us,” said Lacasse who is in her third year as

On Dec. 2 at 7 p.m., the theater will hold its grand opening concert featuring the school’s two band ensembles, the symphonic band, and the wind ensemble with special guest artists, Boston Brass. Tickets [General Admission: $15] can be purchased at the POMS website here.

The former auditorium – built in 1970 and demolished in the fall to make way for the new middle school section of the building – was far from the optimum site for holding the myriad of concerts and theatricals that were presented by a music program that has earned multiple local and national honors and awards.

“This space is going to accurately now reflect the quality of music and art in a theater that happens with the Belmont High School, performing arts department all the time. We finally have a space that matches that quality,” she said.

From a design by architects from Perkins+Will which has experience in theater and performance design and construction, the hall’s design and material used – from the wall panels to the fabric upholstered seats – was selected to enhance the listening experience. And getting the right sound begins on Dec. 1 when the bands officially arrive in their new home.

Boston Brass

“We’ll start with dress rehearsals where we’ll be doing a lot of sound checks. I’ll have people in the hall listening for me both at the orchestra level and upstairs just to see how balance is working. And it’ll be a lot of adjusting,” she said.

“But it’s kind of fun. It’s the music business. It’s a mystery until you actually do it and the audience is going to hear that for the first time.”

For Lacasse, the concert will also be an opportunity for her students to experience performing with “my personal dear friends,” the five-member Boston Brass, an ensemble with a worldwide reputation.

“They’re known for putting classical music on a concert stage but dressing it up and changing it up and kind of blending genres and giving the audience a really personal human experience. They’re high-energy and very funny. They’re some of the kindest people I know. And they most importantly, truly care about music education, and they love working with students,” Lacasse said.

While the concert will provide the highlight of this primer week, it will be the seemingly ordinary that Lacasse is anticipating.

“It’s gonna be a really magical moment the first time the ensembles steps on stage and we play the first chord or tuning note or just warm up. So it’s going to be a whole bunch of surprises. But it will be a beautiful, beautiful moment there.”

Belmont High Administration Responds To Racist Act During Saturday’s Open House

Photo: The open house at Belmont Middle and High School Saturday, Oct. 23

Belmont High School officials reacted quickly to the writing of racist graffiti during a public open house of the high school wing of Belmont Middle and High School on Saturday, Oct. 23.

“The use of any racial slur is not in line with our values at Belmont High School,” said High School Principal Isaac Taylor in a press release dated Tuesday, Oct. 26. “We are committed to becoming a school community where all people feel welcomed, celebrated, and supported.”

According to Taylor, during the second of three open houses to provide the public a view of the new building’s interior, two students, one BHS and one from another school, entered the building and made their way to an unsupervised area in the library.

“While in the space, the student from another school wrote a message containing a racial slur. This slur was directed to our black and brown students and families with the use of the ‘n’ word,” said Taylor. The pair was approached by a custodian at which time they ran off. The message was removed before students and staff entered the building on Monday. The students movement and actions were captured on camera, which were reviewed by the school administration.

Isaac outlined the actions by the administration to the event which included:

  • Meeting with the Belmont student and their family, where consequences were assigned.
  • Belmont police was notified via the School Resource Officer.
  • The headmaster of the school where the other student attends was notified of his student’s involvement.
  • Contacting and partnering with Chon’tel Washington, the district’s Director of Equity and Inclusion. 
  • Reaching out to the school’s liaisons at the Belmont Human Rights Commission who can serve as a resource to anyone in the community.  

Isaac said the administration will also review event policies and school security to ensure that students cannot gain access to unsupervised areas after school hours. 

“Please know that we are here for you,” said Isaac. “Students, please feel free to reach out to any trusted adult at the high school. Your guidance counselors, teachers, and administrators are here for you. There are also other resources available to anyone in Belmont; you are always free to reach out to the Belmont Human Rights Commission for support.

Police, Schools Holding Open House/Tours Of Their New Buildings In October

Photo: There will be three opportunities next week to view the new high school wing of the Belmont MIddle and HIgh School.

Residents will have the opportunity to take a look inside of Belmont’s newest municipality buildings as they fling open the doors for the public in the coming weeks.

On Saturday, Oct. 16 at 1 p.m., the DPW/Belmont Police Department Building Committee invites the town to celebrate the dedication and ribbon cutting of the nenovated Police Headquarters with guided tours of the station located at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Concord Avenue will follow.

“Come see the successful renovation of the historic 1931 station and construction of the modern additions,” said the Building Committee chair Ann Marie Mahoney.

“I know it’s been slow but there have been small and annoying things at the end that we are still wrapping up. We are in the black and giving money back to Community Preservation and Warrant committees so that’s all that matters!” she said.

And the public will get their first look inside of the new Belmont Middle and High School on Concord Avenue as the district is holding three days of public tours of the high school wing:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 20; 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, Oct. 23; TBA
  • Wednesday, Oct. 27; 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“It’ll be a very exciting day on Saturday. There will be some words spoken by students and there’ll be the marching band to welcome folks, said School Superintendent Phelan at Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, Oct. 5.

“We’re glad that we can open the doors with the majority of our spaces complete and ready to be seen and enjoyed by our community. We appreciate your funding of this beautiful new facility that’s completed phase one. And we’re prepared to move into our phase two for the seventh and eighth grade over the next two years,” said Phelan.

Successful Opening Day For New Belmont High School Wing

Photo: A flood of students heading into the new school.

Around 7 a.m., on Thursday, Sept. 9, the first line of shower passed and behind it the skies brightened to allow the first day of school in Belmont to be one without raincoats or umbrellas.

Over at Concord Avenue, students – being driven, driving, walking and biking – began swarming to enter the new high school wing of the Belmont Middle and High School.

Despite the rain and the new street configuration that includes signal lights at Goden, the first morning was surprisingly calm. Traffic flowed somewhat seamlessly, students patiently waited at the cross walks and only a few parents attempted dropping off kids on campus – they were given a first day ‘pass’ with a reminder. The only issue on this opening day: not enough bike racks as a flood of students took the advice of the administration to wheel it to the high school.

“It’s a miracle,” said Jay Marcotte, Belmont Department of Public Works director, who came to observe how the new traffic/crosswalk lights were effecting traffic.

Maybe not a miracle as it was the result of countless public meetings (including 126 of the building committee) community notifications over the past weeks and a slew of public safety officers on the day directing vehicles and manning the crosswalks.

“Everyone is playing nice today,” said Marcotte, with his hope that it will continue deep into the school year.

For Belmont Superintendent John Phelan, this opening day with 300 educators and staff and 1,400 students arriving for a half day of school – Friday will be the first full day on the 180-day school calendar – was certainly one filled with some apprehension. Taking in the day from in front of the school with Owner’s Project Manager Tom Gatzunis of CHA Consulting, Phelan said his initial reaction to the morning was “a great deal of pride” for all who had a hand in bringing the 9-12 portion of the school on time and on budget.

Phelan has experience opening new buildings when as a principal in the Milton Public Schools the district brought on line five new schools within a decade in 2008.

“It’s alway exciting to see all our students and teachers come into a building that the voters overwhelmingly supported,” he said while taking photos of the day.

He noted that while it was conspicuous day, the project is just half complete with the Middle School expected to open in two years.

Belmont School Committee Formally Accepts Town’s Newest School Building

Photo: The newest school building in Belmont.

After nearly 27 months of construction, tons of steel, concrete, wires and piping, and a lot of money, the (nearly) completed high school wing of the new Belmont Middle and High School is now in the hands of the Belmont School Committee after the town issued the committee a temporary certificate of occupancy on Aug. 31.

”Belmont has much to be proud of,” read the letter accompanying the certificate to the school district. (See the letter below)

“The building project has been in the ownership of Skanska construction and the building committee since it started digging into the ground several years ago,” Belmont Superintendent John Phelan told the School Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 7, two days before the opening day of the 2021-22 school year as well as the first day the high school section will be open to students.

The committee voted unanimously to formally accept the TCO.

Phelan noted that several town departments including Police, Fire, and Health had to sign off on the certificate to allow the ownership transfer to the School Committee. It will remain a temporary certificate until the 7th and 8th grade middle school wing is completed in Sept. 2023 and the permanent certificate will be issued. The now former high school building, opened in 1970, is being demolished.

As of August, 2021, 54 percent of the construction has been completed with $166.5 million spent out of the $295.2 allocated to the project.

Temp HS Student Parking, Drop Off/Pick Up Locations Along Concord Get A Thumbs Up

Photo: The new stripping along Concord Avenue at Goden Street (Credit: Belmont Police Twitter account)

Concord Avenue will be just a tad busier starting Sept. 8 as the Belmont Select Board unanimously approved 100 temporary student parking spaces along the westbound (from Cambridge to Belmont Center) lane of Concord Avenue as the high school wing of the new Belmont Middle and High School opens its doors for the first time.

In addition, the board approved drop off areas for students to exit cars bringing them to the school, according to Glenn Clancy, Director of Community Develop who made the presentation at the board’s Monday, Aug. 31 meeting.

“The beautiful thing about this plan is nothing’s new,” said Clancy, noting that construction workers have been using the same spots for the past two years that students are coming to, so drivers are familiar with vehicles along the roadway.

Approved by the Transportation Advisory Committee on July 15 with guidance from the Planning Board, the parking spaces are located at three locations:

• Across from the Belmont Public Library between the two curb cuts of the familiar turn-in parking area.

• Running across from Cottage and Goden streets, and

• Along Clay Pit Pond from the school’s entrance to Underwood Street.

The spaces will be issued by a lottery system, said John Phelan, Belmont Superintendent.

The spaces will be available to students until the completion of the Middle School portion in August 2023 when on-site parking becomes accessible.

While the TAC has delayed making a recommendation for the location of drop off and pick up spots due to the view that having a travel lane, bike path and parking along the street was “too concentrated” creating safety issues especially for bikers, said David Coleman, a TAC member, Phelan told the board there was an immediate need to have those spaces identified as the school year was less than two weeks away.

The placement of the drop off/pick up spots would be:

Heading eastbound (to Cambridge): Between Oak and Orchard streets to allow students to use the newly-lined crosswalk which will be staffed by a crossing guard.

Westbound: Across from Orchard Street that allows students to get out of the right side of the vehicle onto the sidewalk.

Phelan said the school district did not want to use a new loop in front of the school’s entrance as it will be reserved for buses. “We always wanted to separate cars, buses, walkers and bikers,” he said while construction continues for the next two years. “All the cars pulling into the driveway would create a walking conflict for those … coming from Harris Field … to get on the campus.”

Phelan said an additional drop-off site could be at the turn-off area across from the library.

Once the middle school is open, “we’ll have plenty of room for a pickoff/drop off on the site,” he said.

“That does not mean that this is a perfect scenario. We all know we are in a two-year temporary phase where traffic will be extremely congested in this area,” said Phelan.

For the Select Board’s Mark Paolillo, the current plan has his “heart in my mouth” concerning the likelihood that parents will simply stop along the entire stretch of Concord as an impromptu drop-off spot when traffic is congested.

“We need to have police presence… to supervise this,” said Paolillo. Phelan said Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac will be present for the first two weeks of school to “observe everything that’s happening.”

While saying there isn’t any way to know the demand for two drop-off locations, “I think we all just have to realize that with experience in the opening days of school we might have to make some adjustments,” said Select Board member Roy Epstein. “But I think this is the logical starting point.”

Beginning Monday, Concord Ave. Undergoing Street Construction At New High School

Photo: An image from the Belmont Police Department of the impacted location

With the high school wing of the new Belmont Middle and High School just weeks from opening in September, construction will get underway on Monday, June 28 on the new intersection and completing the road work connected to the high school on Concord Avenue, according to Belmont Police.

Police are advising motorists to avoid this area if possible.

The work will focus on the intersection of Goden Street and Concord Avenue where the entrance/exit for the new building will be located, including installing a new set of traffic lights at the intersection and modifying the center traffic Island in the location.

Latest Rink Configuration OK’d By School Committee; Tennis Courts Remain A ‘?’

Photo: The scheme approved by the school committee for a new skating rink in Belmont

The Belmont School Committee unanimously approved on Wednesday, May 12, the latest design scheme for a new skating/hockey rink located near the present location adjacent to Harris Field.

The joint meeting with the Belmont Select Board did not address a pair of vital issues that still require answers: how to find the $18 million to replace the dilapidated half century old rink, and how to resolve a consistent clarion call of the town’s tennis community seeking to squeeze five courts into a site already bursting at the seams.

“We do need to close this matter out and move the discussion forward. It’s not fair to anyone to just keep dragging it out and providing any group with any false expectations,” said Adam Dash, the Select Board chair who co-hosted the meeting with the School Committee’s Amy Checkoway whose committee controls the land use where the rink would reside.

Responding to a request from the town, Steven Stefton, lead of the sports and recreation practice of Perkins&Will’s Boston office, presented a trio of schemes in which the rink, parking, and three sports fields occupy the area west of Harris Field. In quick order, the most attractive of the plans had the single-sheet rink place adjacent to the commuter rail tracks and Harris Field, about 90 parking spaces with three sports fields occupying the remainder of the land.

Steven Sefton, Perkins&Will

The two-level 45,900 square-foot facility would top off around 35 feet tall. The rink’s program would be quite modest with locker rooms that would be available for hockey and teams playing at Harris Field. The site will also allow for a three sports field configuration with a limited amount of overlap. It would take 15 months to build – the shortest time frame of the three schemes – at a total cost of $20.3 million with a $2.25 million credit from the Middle and High School Building project.

“There’s a myriad of opportunities with this design that we think we could really create a high-performing facility in the future. And then ultimately it’s the most cost-effective solution that can be phased easily,” said Stefton.

Checkoway said while the committee does have a preference on design, it will be necessary to “at some point figures out a way to finance it.”

“This [meeting] is really about holding a place for a potential new rink at some point in the future,” said Checkoway.

But for many of the 100 residents on the virtual meeting, the topic on the top of their agenda was finding some way to place five tennis courts on the site. Belmont High was once the home of ten courts – located on the northeast side of the existing building – before construction began on the new Middle and High School.

A decision in 2017 by the Middle and High School Building Committee in consultation with Perkins&Will (the architects of the new school) eliminated the courts in favor of new fields and parking on the site. In January 2020, the School Committee reiterated the earlier action with a promise to add courts at the nearby Winn Brook Playground.

Dash noted the select board and school committee devised a compromise in which an extra court would be built at the Winn Brook to allow the varsity tennis teams a “home” facility, albeit without changing and restrooms. The Community Reinvestment Committee will present a proposal to Town Meeting in June to pay for a single court at the playground for a total of five.

Not feeling heard

But even with a partial solution at the Winn Brook, “there are a lot of tennis players in town, tennis parents that feel disenfranchised,” said Select Board member Mark Paolillo.

Those advocating a return of courts to the school’s site gravitated towards two possible options, one of which would reduce the number of parking spaces from 90 to approximately 20 and install the courts close to Concord Avenue.

The School Committee’s Mike Crowley said with the need to deal with the climate crisis and for more sustainable approaches to transportation, “I don’t know that I want to see those students driving to school. So I’m looking at that space, I’m seeing tennis court potential.”

Planning Board Chair Stephen Pinkerton was then recognized who said while “it’s aspirational” to limit student driving, the reality is if those drivers are coming and if they can’t find parking at the school, they will on side streets.

Any attempt to reduce parking would require tampering with the agreement between the school district and the Planning Board on parking at the new school. As part of the Site Planning Approval encompassing the entire project, an agreement was reached where the project would have 400 parking spaces with 90 of those spaces located west of Harris Field, a settlement Pinkerton said was hammered out with numerous parties – residents from nearby neighborhoods, transportation groups – involving long and at times contentious dialogue.

In an apparent compromise that would return the high school tennis teams on campus, Select Board member Mark Paolillo raised the point of the need for a junior varsity baseball field west of the campus.

“Can we program around JV baseball so that we can get the tennis courts on the campus,” said Paolillo, noting the popularity of tennis and the removal of half the courts’ town-wide in the past decade.

“It seems strange to me that there are junior varsity fields on the campus and yet we can’t get a varsity sport on the campus and yet we can’t get a varsity sport on the campus,” said resident Lou Miller.

Town and school officials said removing baseball isn’t that simple due to the lack of an appropriately-sized baseball field in town. Jon Marshall, assistant town administrator and recreation director, said moving the JV team to another field “would have a ripple effect” on the high school and town sports teams as it would require altering small diamonds into “90-foot fields” – referring to the number of feet between bases on the standard adult playing grounds – which would affect the playing choices for regional and town baseball teams.

After the committee voted to OK its favorite scheme, it appears a formally installed working group to established to find answers to financing, parking, and land use will be a result of the meeting.