It would seem to be a simple ask by the Board of Library Trustees of the town at the Select Board meeting on June 17: allow the 33,000 sq. ft. sunken area between Concord Avenue and the Underwood Pool to be used as the staging area for the new Belmont Public Library construction.
The “ditch” – now referred to as the “Golden Bowl” by some – is town land, and the board expressed support for the plan to allow parking and temporary storage at the site to assist with building the $39.5 million facility beginning in November.
But first, town officials needed to trip into the Town Hall’s former lock-up. The one-time jail is today where the Town Clerk stores essential historical documents. And it was where Town Administrator Patrice Garvin rummaged through looking for a century-old deed.
“We found it in the vault,” said Garvin.
In 1911, the site was part of a large swath of land running from School Street to Concord Avenue that was deeded to the town by one of Belmont’s wealthiest citizens, Henry O. Underwood of deviled food fame, in exchange for a parcel of town-owned adjacent to his residence on School Street.
The deed stated the land would be restricted for recreational use. Part of the agreement was that he would build a playground – the Underwood playground on the hill next to the pool – a bathhouse and the first public outdoor swimming pool in the United States opened in 1912.
Finding the document was critical to determine if the site could be used for this new use, said Garvin, as the deed came with a series of restrictions on how the land could be used. As most residents know, the rectangular area is flooded during the winter and becomes a place for skating and playing hockey (although, in recent years, that activity has been limited to a few days due to warmer-than-usual winters).
When the Trustees first came to the town with the request, the town contacted Town Counsel George Hall, “and that’s when we happened to find the original file,” said Garvin. One of the file documents is a ruling by the town’s attorney from 1962 “that the property in front of the pool as the Select Board deems.”
“I showed this document George Hall … and on a temporary basis, given this opinion, it would be [an appropriate use],” said Garvin, who asked the board to make their approval contingent that the town continues to have direct access to the culvert that runs behind the library before heading underground along the pool, under Concord Avenue before emptying into Clay Pit Pond on the Middle and High School campus.
Tom Gatzunis of CHA, the library’s project manager, said the “Golden Bowl” will be used from the winter of 2024 to the early summer of 2025 during the construction phase. Gatzunis said the library’s current main parking lot would become the “laydown” area while the “bowl” would be used primarily for contractor parking and the contractor trailers. The ground – which is somewhat swampy during most of the year – would have a gravel and stones-base spread over the site. Gatzunis said it would be up to the town if it would want to keep the gravel/stone floor or have it reverted to the “muddy” ground.
Gatzunis said about 60 vehicles are expected to visit the site each day. He also revealed that the site would likely be the parking site for construction workers of the new Belmont Skating Rink that is being constructed across Concord Avenue at the same time as the library.