Private To Public: Belmont Adding A Circle To Its Streets

Photo: Carleton Circle will soon move from a private way to a public road.

It’s been so long since the town of Belmont took ownership of a private street that Town Engineer Glenn Clancy can’t recall the last time it’s happened.

So next month’s Special Town Meeting will have a unique opportunity to approve the town’s taking of Carleton Circle, a 455 foot private through-way connecting Common and Washington streets.

“This is a rarity that something like this happens,” said the Select Board’s Adam Dash.

“A public road would mean that it would be cared for and maintained by the town,” said Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s town administrator.

That doesn’t mean the town hadn’t had some involvement in the current road’s upkeep. Private roads are plowed for snow and some patching is done by the town’s Highway Division, according to Garvin. But significant improvements is the responsibility of the owners which are the homeowners that abut the roadway.

Why private to public is such an anomaly is due to two major factors. First, all property owners must agree to the taking. And second, the roadway must be meet the “standards of a public way” in terms of road surface and if it has the necessary width, which in nearly all cases requires the abutters to come up with a significant amount of coin to reach that milestone.

“We don’t want to inherent any problems,” said Clancy.

In the case of Carleton Circle, one advantage is there are only nine abutters to the road, a small enough number that led to a successful outcome.

There have been initial attempts since 2000 to turn a few of the several private roads on Belmont Hill into public ways. But with between 50 to nearly 200 homeowners, it quickly became evident to campaigners they could never achieve an unanimously vote on those roads.

“We’ve been working with other people and other streets and it’s been very frustrating because you’ve got some holdouts who just won’t do it and it’s private property … so we can’t afford to go in and take this if people aren’t going to go along,” said Dash.

But just as important, the owners had the advantage of having the street recently repaved for free. During National Grid’s two year long improvements to the infrastructure under Common Street, the neighbors allowed a portion of the road to be a staging area for construction equipment. As part of the contract, the multinational utility agreed to repave the potholed asphalt surface at no cost.

Usually, the expense to homeowners of a private way to reach the public standard is significant and requires the abutters to seek a betterment assessment, a special property tax that lasts for 10 to 15 years in which the property receives a special benefit or advantage from the construction of a public improvement such as a new roadway.

But for the homeowners along Carleton Circle, the National Grid paving job “significantly helped” the road to reach the town’s pubic way standards, said Garvin.

“The most expensive element in a road project is the roadway itself. And because we were able to work with National Grid … it took the cost of asphalt in the road off the table,” said Clancy.

With much of the potential price tag reduced, the owners petitioned the town to make their street a public way. The town determined that a minimum amount of sidewalk maintenance and tree work would address the town’s remaining concerns. The owners anted up about $1,400 each and all signed a waiver to allow the road’s ownership to be passed over to the town.

A warrant article with an adopted layout of the street created by the Board of Surveyors was approved by the Select Board in early August.

Evelyn Gomez Selected To Fill Vacant School Committee Seat

Photo: Evelyn Gomez, newly-appointed member of the Belmont School Committee.

Evelyn Garcia Gomez, a relative newcomer to Belmont, was named to the School Committee Thursday, June 25, to fill the final nine months of the term of Susan Burgess-Cox who resigned in April.

An engineer and educator with degrees from MIT, Harvard and UCLA, Gomez – who arrived in Belmont in 2017 – is believed to be the first Person Of Color to serve on the Belmont School Committee.

“I think my being selected for the School Committee represents that Belmont is willing to put in the work to have a truly inclusive and equitable town,” said Gomez in an email to the Belmontonian after she was voted to the board on the third ballot by a joint meeting of the Select Board and School Committee. The other finalists included Meghan Moriarty, Jeffrey Liberty, Seeth Burtner, and Vicki Amalfitano.

Gomez’ background includes teaching math and physics for nearly two years in California and working as an adjunct associate professor at Pasadena City College. She also holds teaching credentials for high school math in California and Massachusetts.

“I want to use this time of COVID-19 to reimagine what education can be because, while this current system of AP classes and standardized testing worked for me, it certainly didn’t work for many of my classmates or my students,” said Gomez, who lives with her two young children who have yet to enter the school system.

(Editor’s note: The complete interview with Gomez is at the bottom of the article)

Gomez arrives as the school district and committee are juggling a pair of daunting issues: opening schools in September during a continued COVID-19 pandemic and a looming budgetary gap that could result in massive layoffs.

“This is like parachuting on the deck of a ship to steer it through a really big storm,” said the Select Board’s Adam Dash. In responding to a question from the joint committee, Gomez said after speaking to School Committee Chair Andrea Prestwich, she has an understanding “about the time commitment and how hard it is to do this job.” While acknowledging she has her hands full with two small children, her flexible schedule allows being on the committee “this would be one of my top priorities and I don’t do anything at 50 percent.”

Gomez spoke poignantly how her inclusion to the committee would bring diversity to the group and how that “would be a blessing, and it makes our town stronger.”

Gomez is currently part of the education staff of the Lemelson-MIT Program which recognizes emerging collegiate inventors whose inventions could impact important sectors of the global economy. Before coming to Boston, Gomez was executive director of LA-based DIY Girls whose mission is to increase women’s and girls’ interest in technology, engineering, and making through innovative educational experiences.

Born and raised in the northeast San Fernando Valley, a predominately Hispanic region of Los Angeles, Gomez was her class valedictorian at San Fernando High School in Los Angeles.

Gomez matriculated at MIT where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. She received a Master of Science in the same degree from UCLA. Gomez also holds a Master of Education in secondary education from Harvard.

Interview with newly-appointed School Committee member Evelyn Gomez.

Belmontonian: You said just after being selected that you were not expecting to be named. Why do you think you were selected?

Gomez: Timing is everything. At this moment, in this country, and in this town, I think we are all realizing that there is a lot of work to do if we truly want to strive for “a more perfect union.” We are at the intersection of so many monumental events: Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, and lacking trust in our public entities. In this particular moment, many white people are starting to examine their privilege and implicit biases, understand what it really means to be a Person of Color in this country, and how our reality is vastly different than theirs. As I said during the meeting, I have a lot of internalized biases and anxieties about being a minority, but I am learning to overcome those anxieties thanks to anti-racist literature by Ibram X. Kendi, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and so many others. They are teaching me how to have the courage to speak openly about my identity and experiences as a woman of color, as a daughter of immigrants, as an English Language Learner, and how these experiences bring value to my community. 

Belmont has a lot of work to do, but I think my being selected for the School Committee represents that Belmont is willing to put in the work to have a truly inclusive and equitable town. 

Belmontonian: The Select Board’s Adam Dash said with all that is happening in education during the COVID-19 pandemic and the budget issues the town and schools are about to face coming onto the committee is like parachuting on the deck of a ship to steer it through a really big storm. What do you see your role in helping to steer this ship?

Gomez: It’s been said that we need to “scrap the blueprint and revolutionize this dangerously broken system.” As an educator, I think we need to use this forced disruption in the education system to stop and reflect on what we truly value in education and what students value. I want to use this time of COVID-19 to reimagine what education can be because, while this current system of AP classes and standardized testing worked for me, it certainly didn’t work for many of my classmates or my students. Belmont can lead to integrating novel and innovative approaches to schooling that work better for teachers, parents, and students than the old system. Let’s not waste this opportunity in the disruption of schooling, let’s use it as a time to strategically think about what we value in education and what we really want our kids to learn. 

Belmontonian: I believe – although I will have to ask the Town Clerk to confirm this – that you are the first Person of Color to be a member of the School Committee. What in your life’s experience and background will you bring to the committee that it may not have currently? 

Gomez: I have over a decade of experience working with students of color and can relate to their experiences and struggles because I once was one. More importantly, my experience as a Person of Color and a teacher to students of color has forced me to be creative in the ways that I reach my students. I have seen firsthand how empowering students to use their lived experiences to solve problems in their own community engages students in a meaningful and authentic way. While this is true for all students, I believe it is especially true for students of color and women. In 2017, Belmont Public Schools presented findings of the Achievement Gap. Back then, there were 205 students that self-identified as Black. Those students had 3-4 times as many Cs, Ds, or Fs as the total student body and were more likely to report negative social-emotional experiences in Belmont Public Schools. This tells me that something is not working in Belmont Public Schools and we need to work together to fix it. I continue to seek an understanding of how to support students of color and raising the next generation of White allies. I bring this lens to the School Committee and to the forefront during decision making.

Town Administrator Nixes Own Pay Raise As Town Faces Big Budget Shortfall

Photo: Patrice Garvin, Belmont Town Administrator

In a move that took many by surprise, the Select Board approved Town Administrator Patrice Garvin’s request that she not be paid her expected annual salary increase.

The amendment to Garvin’s contract is “in response to the significant budgetary shortfalls as a result of the unanticipated COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the press release from the town.

Garvin’s gesture comes two-weeks before the Belmont Town Meeting where members will be presented the fiscal 2021 budget that reflects a 25 percent reduction in state aid. In addition, the town’s Financial Task Force’s initial projections of the fiscal ’22 budget has the town suffering a one-year structural deficit of between $10 to $13 million.

Garvin was expected to receive on July 1 a two percent increase over her base salary of $189,300 or the general pay hike for department heads, which ever was higher.

Garvin’s action won praise from the Board.

“I’d just like to note that this is what leadership looks like. In coming from the town administrator, it makes a very large statement,” said Select Board’s Adam Dash.

With a significant financial challenge waiting in fiscal 2022, Garvin “recognizes she can’t ask employees of the town to do anything that she isn’t willing to do herself,” said member Tom Caputo.

Facing Too Many Obstacles, Town Shuts Down Underwood Pool For Summer

Photo: Underwood Pool will be closed this summer

A host of health, operational and financial risks proved overwhelming as the Select Board voted unanimously not to open the outdoor Underwood Pool for the summer season at the Board’s Monday, May 18 remote meeting.

“It’s the latest victim of COVID-19,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein referring to the novel coronavirus that has created so much uncertainty in that it has led to the cancellation or delay of many annual local events – the Memorial Day parade and the town election just to name two.

Not that the Select Board’s unanimous decision was a shock as the Recreation Commission revealed the same litany of issues thwarting the pool’s opening back in April.

The leading issue facing the Recreation Department was keeping patrons safe from the virus. Social distancing requirements – keeping patrons six-feet from each other – and other safety issues would limit the number of residents in the pool to 70, a quarter of a normal summer attendance.

“I don’t see how you can keep kids six-feet apart running around the pool,” said Select Board member Adam Dash, forcing lifeguards to spend more time on social distancing than water safety.

Another obstacle is the extensive prep work required to open the pool. The pool takes six weeks of lead time to get it up and running and that pre-work would need to begin by next week.

There is also a potential problem of having the manpower to get the job done. The town uses a team of low-cost prisoners from Middlesex County to do much of the physical preparation such as painting, repairs and landscaping. Currently, that option could be hard to come by. And the South Shore firm the town contracts to start and maintain the pools pumps have laid off most of their employees.

The biggest hurdle facing the Rec Department was how the pool was going to break even financially. In the memo to the Select Board, the Recreation Department was able to cobble together an abbreviated nine-week season starting July 1 that could recover cost. But that model would require capping the number of bathers at any time to 50 with a $14 admission fee to spend a predetermined 1 hour and 45 minutes at the pool.

Recreation Commission Chair Anthony Ferrante said the Recreation Department came up with its model based on a real community demand for opening the pool which would “be a really good morale boost for the community.”

But as Dash noted, the scheme doesn’t recognize rainy or cold days or if people will be comfortable spending time in a fenced-in area while COVID-19 remains active and deadly.

“There is a scenario that’s relatively narrow where [the pool] makes money or breaks even but many more scenarios where it goes very badly financially,” said Dash.

“I think there’s a lot of risk in opening the pool financially or health wise,” said Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s town administrator.

Left No-No: Town Set To Experiment With Belmont Center Traffic Patterns

Photo: The WWI Memorial will become the new way to get onto Concord Avenue westbound from Belmont Center during an experiment to make the intersection with Common Street safer.

Whenever Glenn Clancy thinks Town Administrator Patrice Garvin needs cheering up, he will throw out something “crazy out there” at a meeting or in an email.

“I would talk about, like, my dreams for Belmont Center,” said Clancy, the town’s long-time director of the Office of Community Development as well as the town engineer. Those flights of fancy encompass a design – he is an engineer, after all – that will ease the daily bottleneck of commuters hammering through Belmont’s main business district by sending drivers looping around the center in creative new ways.

Then, last month, Garvin told Clancy that now would a great time to follow that dream.

Last Monday, Clancy received the initial go-ahead from the Belmont Select Board to try out one of a pair of ideas that will require drivers to begin looping around Belmont Center in the name of efficiency and safety.

“My real goal tonight is to have the board … maybe not necessarily say ‘Yes, it’s crazy enough that it might work,’ but say ‘Glenn, it’s crazy enough that we feel comfortable with you kind of taking it to the next step and continuing to do your homework here,” said Clancy.

It will all start with the town putting its foot down on left-hand turns.

“I have always been troubled by the left turn conflicts that are created at that intersection of Common Street and Concord Avenue,” said Clancy. A great amount of southbound traffic coming out of the tunnel wants to turn left onto Concord Avenue westbound towards Cambridge. At the same time, there is a good amount of southbound traffic on Common Street looking to take a left under the bridge entering the Center.

“And so you have these two left-turning movements that are in conflict with each other and with each other and they are creating queuing that is impacting the flow of traffic through Belmont Center,” said Clancy. It’s little wonder that this intersection has one of the highest numbers of fender benders in town.

This is not a new problem. A decade previously, the BSC Group, the Boston-based engineering firm that has been Belmont’s go-to for traffic studies, was looking “at a whole host of ways to manage traffic on either side of the bridge,” said Clancy.

“One of the ideas they threw out there was, ‘Hey, what if we turn the Memorial Island into a roundabout and make everybody come up off the bridge?'” said Clancy. The problem with that proposal meant redesigning the island and its near century-old monument for those residents killed in WWI.

“It would have impacted the Lions Club (located at the Belmont commuter rail station) in the activities that they’re involved with over there would have completely changed the landscape of the memorial island itself,” said Clancy.

“I didn’t have an appetite for that,” he confessed.

The perfect time to experiment

Just as that plan was set aside, an explosion of commuters from Arlington and points west began using Belmont Center as a cut though rather than battle with the gridlock at the Route 2/Alewife Station/Fresh Pond interchanges in Cambridge. With the center’s traffic becoming “so unmanageable,” Clancy put the idea to bed for the next 10 years.

Move forward a decade and due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stay at home edict passed by Gov. Charlie Baker in mid-March, the traffic levels in Belmont today now resembles what the town sees on a hot Sunday afternoon in August – over 50 percent of the norm.

With traffic levels in Belmont greatly reduced, Garvin told Clancy now would be an opportune time to move forward with a trial balloon on easing traffic through town. “[W]e have a town-wide traffic study that’s informing us on where that traffic’s coming from where they’re trying to get to,” said Clancy.

Rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, “I thought, ‘Geez, you know, maybe we should try to utilize the existing layout of the roadway’,” said Clancy, keeping the memorial as it is.

The main “experiment” would go back to solving the competing lefts by restricting vehicles from taking the left turn onto Concord Avenue eastbound towards Cambridge. Those looking to travel points east towards the high school or Cambridge would be directed to loop around the WWI Memorial where drivers would then proceed to take the left onto Common Street. (follow the red arrows on the illustration) And, voila! An end to the dueling left-hand turns.

“It’s that simple,” said Clancy. The experiment would last for two to three weeks to determine its impact and effectiveness. “I see us doing it long enough for us to determine whether or not it’s going to work.”

Clancy told the board he would wait until the state begins lifting the stay-in-place restriction on non-essential businesses to better resemble what a typical traffic flow will be. He said the proposal will be studied first by the BSC Group to see if there are “any fatal flaws” in the plan.

What Clancy is aware of is that some residents will see his dream as their nightmare. “I acknowledged that there’s going to be inconvenienced for people to always have to take that right.”

“If this works and this becomes a long term solution, at 11 o’clock in the morning, when you’re going under that bridge and you’ve got all that wide-open terrain in front of you and you’re forced to take a ride and go all around the world to get back to where you want to go, people are not going to be happy,” said Clancy.

But Clancy countered his own observation by stating the vast majority of peak hours traffic is from out of town, commuter traffic.

“They are the ones impacting the quality of life in the town. And there are going to have to be sacrifices made with the residents of the town to mitigate the impacts of the traffic that is coming in going through Belmont, through no fault of the residents who live here,” he said.

The second proposal would be a second looped detour, prohibit left turns onto Concord Avenue towards Town Hall and Pleasant Street after entering Belmont Center from the tunnel. (see blue arrows).

Cutting the queue

Drivers wishing to continue on Concord Avenue westbound towards Lexington and McLean Hospital would be required to travel up Leonard Street to the lights and take the left on Pleasant to reach Concord Avenue. Clancy said this restriction would only be needed for a couple of hours (suggested times: 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.) during the morning and evening commutes.

“What that does is it eliminates any of the bottlenecking that’s occurring right now at the Leonard/Channing/Concord intersection,” said Clancy. The current gridlock can result in traffic backed up on Concord Avenue all the way to Underwood Street adjacent to Clay Pit Pond.

Clancy told the board he’s eager to find a way to unplug the congestion in Belmont Center because a traffic signal will be installed at the intersection of Goden Street and Concord Avenue as part of the new Belmont Middle and High School project. And as it stands now, “that signal is not going to allow a lot of traffic to release off of Goden Street because the queue on Concord is going to be so unmanageable.”

“This is really an effort to try to look not only at the way traffic is flowing in and around Belmont Center but also take an opportunity here to see if we can alleviate the backup that’s occurring on Concord Avenue westbound in the evening,” he said.

While Select Board member Adam Dash dubbed the first plan “brilliant,” he was concerned that halting the left onto Concord Avenue after the tunnel would require anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to navigate the “loop” to return to Concord Avenue. Clancy said he will see if the lights at the intersection of Leonard and Pleasant has the ability to manage additional traffic and if a dedicated “left” lane can be added on Leonard Street.

Garvin advised the board that the town will have a limited window of opportunity to introduce a new traffic pattern to residents and commuters as traffic begins to “ramp back up.”

“What we’re doing trying to do is gather some information to then bring to the public to see if it worked,” said Garvin.

Both Dash and member Tom Caputo did feel that public input through the Transportation Advisory Committee should be sought but were satisfied that the “experiment” was temporary and there would be public meetings on the result.

With the board’s thumbs up to move forward on the first plan, Clancy will begin meeting with Belmont Police and Public Works on a traffic management proposal that will include the locations of barrels and barriers and where police officers would be stationed.

“And if successful, this will be a full-time change to the traffic pattern coming out of Belmont Center,” said Clancy.

Town Requires Facemasks In Belmont Businesses; Fines Could Come After Review

Photo: Masks are now required shopping in Belmont

The Belmont Board of Health and Select Board separately approved an emergency order on Monday, April 27, requiring customers to wear facemasks or coverings when entering “essential” businesses in town. The regulation also mandates employees to be masked.

The regulation goes into effect immediately and will continue until the Board of Health deems it unnecessary or the state ends the essential business designation.

The order targets businesses and services, not outdoor activities in public spaces such as running, biking, walking or walking the dog.

The order requires signs be posted storefronts informing the public of the regulations. Stores should limit the number of customers in the establishment in an effort to “enhance social distancing” while also offering the option of home delivery or online purchases and payment.

Business will also need to step up employee illness surveillance by asking if the worker has been ill as well as take their temperature before their shift.

While the new regulation does not have penalties for violating the emergency order, they could be added by the boards in the near future if they feel it is warranted.

The regulation comes as many communities – including Brookline, Salem, Beverly – are requiring residents to wear masks when entering a store or in public spaces. Somerville, for example, will issue a $300 ticket to those violating its regulations in any public indoor or outdoor space.

According to Wesley Chin, Belmont’s Health Department director, the order is to provide an extra level of safety for employees of supermarkets, take out eateries and stores such as CVS Pharmacy who deal with the public during the pandemic. This week an employee of the Star Market on Trapelo Road died of the coronavirus.

A Star Market manager told Chin and Assistant Director Diana Ekman last week that passing an order requiring masks even without a fine against violators, their employees “would feel more empowered to walk up to a customer and ask them to ‘please put on face covering before entering the store’.”

“I don’t see a reason to wait to help supermarket workers,” said Julie Lemay of the Board of Health.

While the Board of Health does have the authority to enforce the new order, Chin said his small and very busy department doesn’t have the ability to issue tickets or fines to scofflaws.

Despite that challenge, Select Board’s Adam Dash and newly-appointed Board of Health Chair Stephen Fiore believe the new regs should have designated fines for those who break the order. They are hoping to amend the emergency decree within the next two weeks.

COVID-19 Cases Pass 100 As Belmont Manor Hit Hard During ‘Surge’

Photo: Belmont Manor

The number of residents with confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 keeps rising in Belmont, passing into triple digits with the town’s nursing homes continuing to get hit hard.

As of Monday, April 13, the state’s Department of Public Health has confirmed that 113 residents have confirmed cases of the virus, according to Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Health Department, speaking before the Belmont Select Board on April 13. So far, 13 deaths have been connected to the virus.

In Massachusetts, there has been a total of 122,049 positive cases and 844 deaths as of April 13.

Approximately half of the positive COVID-19 cases and all the deaths in town have been residents of Belmont Manor, the 135-bed nursing home and rehabilitation center on Agassiz Avenue. Across the US, facilities such as Belmont Manor that treat or house older adults are now considered “an accelerator” of COVID-19, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said earlier this month.  

Chin told the board the numbers of positive cases in town will continue to rise for foreseeable future.

“We are in the surge period,” Chin said, “so expect this number to continue to creep up pretty significantly over the next week to 10 days” which requires the continuation of social distance standards.

“It’s really important that people continue to keep vigilant and wear masks when out in public,” said Chin. And while the federal and state governments only recommends their use, “it really is something that is essential that people do especially in supermarkets, grocery stores, anywhere social distancing is difficult to do,” he said.

Select Board members said they collectively have seen people congregate around town, at the Cambridge Reservoir, around the perimeter of the Grove Street Park and walking on conservation land without regard to social distancing practices.

“People need to be serious about this,” said Adam Dash. “I think wearing a mask and keeping away from other people is a fair thing to ask at this point in time, especially when we heard [Chin] say we are in the thick of this thing.”

The number of confirmed cases in Belmont in March and April:

March 111
March 133
March 2710
March 3114
April 756
April 1195
April 13113

Bidding Opens For New Skating Rink, Decision On Winning Offer In May

Photo: A new rink will replace the five decade old “Skip” Viglirolo Skating Rink.

In the same week the Belmont’s Skip Viglirolo Skating Rink was forced to shut down due to “unseasonably warm” temperatures – in January(!)– the town and schools OKed opening the bidding process to build a next-generation private/public partnership skating facility on school property west of Harris Field.

“This is actually a big moment in the development of this project,” said Jeffery Wheller, Belmont’s senior planner before a joint meeting of the Select Board and School Committee as each group voted unanimously to approve the release of the final version of the request for proposal on Jan. 15.

“Hopefully after tonight’s presentation we’ll get some exciting responses to the project,” he said.

The town’s Community Development Office also released a seven-month timeline of important milestones the RFP will undergo before a deal is struck.

  • Wednesday, Jan. 15: RFP is released to the public.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 29: Site visit and preliminary meeting with interested parties.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 25: Select Board/School Committee discuss review process.
  • Friday, March 20: Proposals are due.
  • Tuesday, April 7: School Committee/Select Board review top proposals.
  • Tuesday, April 28: School Committee/Select Board interview best proposals.
  • Tuesday, May 12: School Committee/Select Board selects the winning proposal.
  • Monday, June 1: On the second night of the 2020 annual Town Meeting, a Special Town Meeting will be convened to vote: 1). To lease school property to a private developer(s) and 2). amend the definition in the town’s zoning bylaw on municipal recreational uses.
  • Tuesday, June 9: School Committee awards a contract to the winning proposal.
  • Between June 10 to July 8: School Committee negotiates a long-term lease with the selected developer(s).

The town is predicting the design and site plan review process managed by the Planning Board will take between six to nine months. Only when that is completed can the developer seek a building permit.

The existing rink – known as “The Skip” – will remain in operation until the new facility is up and running and will be taken down by the town unless the area that the rink currently occupies will is needed to fulfill the town’s programmatic needs.

The RFP is fairly similar to earlier drafts, although a proposed tennis complex has been removed from the proposal.

The main features of the RFP include:

  • The facility – which may be expanded to be a year round operation – will need to share the land west of the existing rink and Harris Field with three athletic fields, a pair of throwing circles and 110 parking spaces (90 reserved for students on school days) that will be built at town expense.
  • The facility – with a maximum height of two-and-a-half stories – can contain a full-size and one half-size sheet of ice. The building will have at least 300 seats for spectators, public restrooms, a skate shop and food concessions.
  • The building will have a minimum of four locker rooms with two containing 35 lockers for boys’ and girls’ varsity and the other two with 45 lockers for the junior varsity teams. Each room will have a coaches room, showers and storage. The facility will also have a refs room, an athletic trainers room and wet area.
  • Two locker rooms will also be used by high school fall and spring sports, one each for the home and visiting teams. The restrooms will also have outdoor accessibility.
  • The town would “prefer” a zero-net energy facility i.e. avoiding fossil fuels to power the site.
  • The high school’s ice hockey teams will have four consecutive hours of ice time Monday to Saturday, during the 15-week season. Games will be played over two hours. Belmont Youth Hockey will have hours and times that meet its growing needs as will programs linked to the town’s Recreation Department.
  • The hours of operation will be negotiated with the winning bidder and the town.

Each candidate will be evaluated and ranked based on a matrix in which the town will grade the four comparative evaluation criteria the town has selected.

For example, those bidders that can show experience designing and building a significant number of similar rinks that have been successful and with similar goals as Belmont is seeking will receive a “very advantageous” ranking; those who have built only “some” facilities will be seen as being “advantageous” while those with no experience constructing rinks will be deemed “non-advantageous.”

Advise And Consent: Town Meeting Opens Budget Season With Roll Call Q&A

Photo: Mike Widmer, Belmont’s Town Moderator.

While the second half of Belmont’s annual Town Meeting is dedicated to all things budgets and numbers, the reconvened gathering of the town’s legislative body tonight, Wednesday, May 29, will have the opportunity to give its “advise and consent” on the contentious matter of roll call votes.

The evening’s appetizer is six questions presented by Town Moderator Mike Widmer to the approximately 290 Town Meeting members to obtain an “informal sense” of the body regarding the parameters and procedures for recorded votes.

During the first session of Town Meeting in April, roll calls were requested on a series of votes including several which the articles passed by sizable margins. While many seeking recorded votes said their goal was greater transparency by elected members, others viewed it as “vote shaming” (there’s an app for that) to point out those who made unpopular votes.

The answers to the questions will be “strictly advisory and non-binding” and used to inform Widmer, the Select Board and “others” whether to consider any potential articles on the topic at a future Town Meeting.

The questions include yes or no answers to when an automatic roll call should be used instead of anonymous vote (all the time vs only on close margins) and what is the threshold percentage or number of members needed to have a roll call and whether to use percentages or a member count.

“Town Meeting seems quite divided on the issue of roll calls, some arguing for roll calls on every article while others wanting to raise the 35-person requirement,” said Widmer.

“I have no way of knowing how many support which position and of course there are lots of alternatives beyond these two positions. I think it will be helpful to get a sense of [Town Meeting] in order to develop a proposal with the Select Board to be presented at the fall Town Meeting,” said Widmer.

While the objective of the pre-meeting Q&A is to find the sense of Town Meeting, the decisions could dampen or accelerate citizens petitions seeking to force the issue.

An article at fall Town Meeting on the future of the hows and whys of roll call voting will likely be driven by the Select Board. And so far the three-member board is keeping an open mind on the issue.

“We haven’t made any decision to take any action at this point,” said Tom Caputo, chair of the Select Board at Tuesday’s groundbreaking for the Belmont Middle and High School. “But we’re pleased that [Widmer] is putting those questions in front of town meeting and looking to get their feedback and we’ll take action from there.”

“I think the [Select Board] wants to make sure that we are helping to support town meeting and ensuring that we are both achieving accountability, but also minimizing some of the more acrimonious activities than we’ve seen in in the last couple of Town Meetings,” he said.