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.

Topping Off Celebration As Final Steel Beam Placed At High School Section [Photos]

Photo: The final steel beam being moved into place at the Belmont Middle and High School project, Friday, May 15.

The white beam was the final of more than 3,800 steel sections created to build the Phase One – the high school section – of the new Belmont Middle and High School project. And on a warm, sunny Friday, May 15, the final piece of the structural system was signed by many of the men and women of Ironworkers Local Union 7 and the general contractor Skanska USA before being hoisted to the fourth floor level of the building.

With so many events and celebrations cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a rare moment where the builders and contractors could stand for a moment and look at their joint accomplishment creating the backbone of the 425,000 sq.-ft. school.

With a small fir tree – a tradition going back nearly 1,000 years – and the Stars and Stripes bolted on the beam, the steel was the center of attention during the “topping off” ceremony marking the major milestone as the symbolic completion of the structural phase of the building.

The beam reached the top and was bolted into place by ironworkers Christian Breen from Woburn and Westfield’s Mikey Fabiani who took the time to shake hands when the the job was completed.

“Many of us are familiar with the topping off tradition. For others, this is the first of many to come in your careers,” said Manny Hoyo, superintendent for Skanska. “One thing is for certain, we’ll all remember the placing of this final steel beam as a testament to this incredible achievement we accomplished in the midst of a period of unprecedented challenges.”

Ironworkers Christian Breen (left) and Mikey Fabiani

While Middle And High School (Nearly) On Budget, COVID Looms Over Project

Photo:

At its 99th meeting since it first met in 2016, the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee on Wednesday, May 13 inched closer to realizing a milestone in the construction of the 451,575 sq.-ft. project as it closes in on finalizing the project’s Guaranteed Maximum Price.

With all the actual bids received by the general contractor, Skanska, and through the oversight of the project by the board (which included a series of value engineering exercises earlier in the process by the building committee to balance the preliminary budgets) the project is at the point where the committee can compare this actual cost of the project against the initial estimated price tag.

The final price of the project is comprised of the bids received, the amount of contingency used, and agreed upon general conditions/fee. Under the GMP, Skanska is compensated for all actual costs incurred from the first day of construction – actually some costs before then – onward.

Going forward, Skanska is responsible for all cost overruns, unless the GMP is increased via formal “change orders” that alters the scope of the project. To reduce their risk and cover any unforeseen costs, Skanska has a contingency fee built into the budget.

And the GMP is darn close to the original price tag for the project. Initially pegged at $238,619,850 – this figure has been revised slightly upwards with allowed transfers of preconstruction costs – after all the steel, cement, rebar wire and thousands of other material and services have been cited and reviewed, the project’s GMP has come in at $240,041,815.

And while the discrepancy results in an overage of $1,421,335, Building Committee Chair William Lovallo told the committee having the GMP coming within a half of a percent of the original estimate on a project this large was commendable.

“I think we did a darn good job,” he said, although admitting $1.4 million “is still a big number.”

Three options facing the committee

While the committee member will be digesting the facts and figures over the weekend – a final approval will come at Wednesday’s May 20 virtual meeting – Lovallo said the once the committee OKs the $240.0 million GMP, it has three options to reconcile the deficit:

  • Approve the GMP and resolve the deficit using the contractor’s contingency fund, currently at $16 million.
  • Ask Skanska to find a way to come up with $1.4 million in cost savings, and
  • Enter into a third round of value engineering that requires reopening the expenses column and cutting items that are ready to be added to the building.

While there was some give and take among building committee members on what could be crossed out at this late time – the most focus was on the artificial turf “rugby” field at $700,000, it became apparent that most members were not amiable to revisiting the process.

“We have gone painstakingly through the [value engineering] process and … determined what we placed high value on and made decisions about it,” said Steve Dorrance, the town’s director of facilities, who asked that a straw poll on members preference be taken. It soon became evident the committee members clearly favored using the contingency account and be done with it.

Lovallo told the members they “shouldn’t beat itself up” if it decided to go the contingency route as the contractor and committee have been frugal using the account.

But despite the silver lining around the GMP process, the dark cloud of the coronavirus pandemic has the potential of floating over the project. While the project still has a “substantial amount of money left” in its contingency funds – totaling roughly $18.5 million if you include the owners account and other smaller line items – Lovallo said that money could be seen as quite small if COVID-19 makes a substantial return in the fall or winter.

In a worse case scenario of a major resurgence that forces the closure of the building site or reduce the number of workers on the site to 25 would likely result in millions in incremental costs to the project. Lovallo said that similar sized projects in the Boston area have experienced losses in “seven figures.”

At that point, Belmont would have to really reconsider the project. I don’t see how [the town] would want to be supporting 10s of millions of dollars in COVID costs. It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Lovallo.

“There’s a big discussion we have to have and understand what the options ared of maybe shutting a job down and starting up when work can be a lot more efficient than just pumping millions of dollars into it … just to keep it going.”

‘Virtual’ Topping Off At Middle/High School Project Set For Late April

Photo: Pouring cement onto the second floor of Area B.

Over the course of the past month, the coronavirus has forced many familiar activities to become virtual events via the internet including working from home, attending town meetings and school.

Now you can add to that list the traditional construction milestone of “topping off” the new Middle and High School project at Belmont High School set for the final week in April “or the first week in May, at the latest,” according to Mike Morrison, project manager for Skanska USA, as he spoke to the Middle and High School Building Committee on Thursday, April 9.

In pre-pandemic times, members of the construction team, the building committee overseeing the development and town officials would come together to celebrate the final steel beam being hoist into place. Everyone would sign their name to the beam while a small pine tree and Old Glory would be attached to the beam, reminiscent of an old fashion, barn-raising.

So keeping with the new realities, the topping off of the high school section and administration wings of the $295 million project will be done remotely, broadcasted to the community via the internet and on local cable.

But for those who will miss the hoopla, Belmont Superintendent John Phelan pointed out there will be a second topping off, this one for the project’s Middle School section in two to three years down the road.

Morrison took the time to revealed an extensive social distancing plan currently underway at the site due to the ongoing pandemic. Belmont continues to allow the building trades to work on the job where Boston and Cambridge have halted all construction activity due to the novel coronavirus.

“The thing that is on the front of everybody’s mind is COVID-19 and Skanska has taken to heart everything that has come through the CDC, the World Health [Organization] but also from [Gov. Charlie Baker’s] health and safety guidelines,” said Morrison.

In pursuit of keeping its subcontractors healthy, the firm has custom-built foot-controlled handwashing stations with hot and cold water that are more than six feet apart “where they can really clean up” when they arrive, before and after breaks and at the end of the day, said Morrison.

“We’re emphasizing and stressing the physical distancing. … which is still a difficult thing to adapt to” for many longtime construction workers, said Morrison. Skanska has filled the site with signs on keeping a safe distance and proper cleaning as well as instituting a 7 a.m. start of the day camaraderie building session that consists of stretching and flexing and announcements on the latest COVID-19 announcements.

Morrison provided a rundown of the construction highlights in the past month including the pouring of the first concrete slab with radiant heating tubing on the second story of “area B” which is the wing pushing out towards Harris Field. Steelwork in “area A” – the administration wing that juts out towards Concord Avenue – will for all intents and purposes be substantially completed” this week.

He also heralded “the huge accomplishment” of installing a massive 32-ton, 100-foot long steel truss that will support the interior bridge in Area C and D in the high school section.

One section of the job that committees have raised concerns is the installation of the infrastructure for the geothermal system. The drilling expenses in the first of three fields spiked recently adding $275,000 to the project cost in additional water management expenses which included added labor, material, and equipment.

“We’ve had some challenges” with drilling pipes “into the unknown of the underground,” said Morrison, who told the meeting that “we feel like we have enough education under our belts now” to handle future issues.

Tennis, Anyone? Proposed Rink Delayed As Schools Seek Site For Varsity Courts [Video]

Photo: Belmont HS Juniors Brett Stievater and Phoebe Gray of the tennis teams seeking to bring back tennis courts to the new school campus.

After being delayed by more than six months due to concerns that the oversight process was too compressed, the anticipated solicitation of proposals for a new Belmont skating rink has again been put on hold as a last-minute appeal from supporters of Belmont High tennis has forced the School Committee to include five courts in the proposal.

The release of the request of proposal (RFP) for the new skating rink on school property west of Harris Field is now scheduled for Jan. 15, 2020 with the deadline for bidders to submit responses by Friday, March 20.

Additionally, the critical Town Meeting vote to approve the project and the transfer of the land for a public/private operation has been kicked from the first Town Meeting session in late April to the second night of the second session on June 1.

“There’s been an increasing call for the RFP to contain a programmatic need of tennis courts on the site and it finally came to a head,” said Jeffrey Wheeler, the town’s senior planner who is managing the RFP process.

The delay comes as the result of a last-minute push by a coalition of members of the high school tennis squads and racquet-loving residents who contend tennis was slighted in the design of the Belmont Middle and High School, the new 425,000 sq.-ft., $295 million school building that will house grades 7th to 12th.

While detailed plans for the new building and the land has been approved earlier in the year, the initial protest occurred when an army of supporters squeezed into the Chenery Middle School’s small conference room as if it was the Wimbledon grandstand before a championship final.

But the crowd of students, parents, and friends that came to the Belmont School Committee’s Nov. 12 meeting to express the collective unhappiness of their sport being ignored in the new school’s sports community.

“This is a simple question of equity,” said Katherine Stievater, a resident, parent of two varsity tennis players and boys’ tennis liaison to the Belmont Boosters Club.

“Members of the tennis team were disappointed and shocked when we learned that we’re the only varsity sport at Belmont High School that will not have its playing facilities rebuilt on the new campus,” said Belmont High Junior Brett Stievater who played varsity doubles last season.

The existing high school once had 10 courts near its east wing adjacent to the student parking lot, more than enough – five are required – to hold both the regular season and tournament matches.

But when the new school project was designed, it was discovered early on the building – which has a greater footprint than the existing building and roadways and parking – would put a squeeze on the playing fields surrounding the school. The solution was

Stievater noted that all other varsity teams will practice or play on the new campus

While the teams can use municipal courts to practice, that option will push residents off of playing surfaces that they have been using ,” said Donna Ruvolo, co-chairman of the Friends of Grove Street Park who was representing the municipal courts at the Grove Street Playground, adjacent to PQ Park and the Winn Brook Elementary School.

The campaigner’s support is wide and growing; petitions with several hundred signatures along with the support from the captains of each sports at the high school.

“It has been amazing to see other Belmont students support the tennis team being on campus. All varsity sports deserve to be represented on the new campus,” said Belmont High Girls’ Tennis representative Phoebe Gray.

“I think they know that it could have been them being sent off-campus,” said Gray.

While it appears movement has been made to restore the courts on school property, including those courts will likely force the schools to lose a playing field for other sports which it will be hard to replace, said Wheeler.

Wheeler noted the School Committee is planning to conduct a Community Impact Analysis which will determine the effect moving playing fields off-site will have for the students and other organizations such as Second Soccer. That analysis will. be completed by Jan. 7.

One longer-term hoped-for solution would occur with the construction of a pedestrian tunnel under the commuter rail tracks from Alexander Avenue to the high school campus, allowing for easier access for teams to the Winn Brook playing fields.