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

Photo: Belmont Superintendent John Phelan at the Warrant Committee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selectmen OK Woodfall Road Purchase And Sale, $1.75M Price Tag

Photo: Woodfall Road site.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen approved a purchase and sale agreement for the purchase of town-owned property at the end of Woodfall Road to a Lexington developer for $1,750,000.

Dani Chedid of Lexington’s Phoenix Construction Group will now begin the formal process of purchasing the 5.25 acre parcel adjacent to the Belmont Country Club and in the Hillcrest neighborhood on the west side of Belmont Hill, said Sami Baghdady, chair of the Selectmen at its meeting Thursday, May 28.

Chedid, the lead of a three-person group, outbid Northland Residential of Burlington (which constructed the The Woodlands at Belmont Hill) by nearly $1.5 million in December 2013 to begin working with the town on a final price tag for the property that will be home to four luxury single-family homes. 

Seventeen months ago, Chedid offered $2.2 million of the site. Since then, the town – through Town Administrator David Kale’s office – and contractor have been negotiating a final price for the land after a long due diligence process that included environmental assessments, soil testing, monitoring wetland requirements and, at one point, discussions with the country club on the likelihood of golf balls flying onto the new homes, said Baghdady.

“Woodfall Road is a different site since the request for proposal,” said Baghdady, referring to the nearly half-a-million dollar reduction in the original offer. 

“Yet even now, it’s a much better award than the $750,000 [Northland] offered,” he said.

The P&S now requires the town to present a “clean” title and for a state environmental test to be conducted. In addition, Chedid will go before the Belmont Conservation Commission to request a “side” order to allow some relief to build on one of the four lots due to wetland concerns.

A final purchase of the land, which has been on the market for more than a decade, should occur in the next two to three months, said Baghdady.

Finally: Sale of Town-Owned Woodfall Road Parcel Likely by Year’s End

More than a year after it was selected to develop a town-owned property on Belmont Hill, a conglomerate of local businessmen will finally close on a deal to purchase the property and build three or four luxury homes on the site.

The 5.4 acre Woodfall Road parcel, a long-abandoned residential lot currently home to road material and overgrowth, “will be purchased by the end of the year,” said Andy Rojas, chair of the Belmont Board of Selectmen, at a meeting of the Warrant Committee on Wednesday, Dec. 17.

The winning bidder Belmont Advisors – made up of partners Greensbrook Development, Line Company Architects and Phoenix Construction Group – will pay the town a purchase price of “between $1.8 to $1.7 million” to build luxury housing on the land, said Rojas.

When it was selected by the Selectmen in Nov. 2013 as the future developer of the site, it’s bid was $2.2 million. The other bidder, Northland Residential Corporation, which developed the residential portion of the McLean Property in Belmont, offered $750,000.

The deed transfer and final sales price were affected by a series of delays that included financing issues and drawn out concern with the abutting property owner, the Belmont Country Club. Apparently, the proposed housing was in the flight path of golf balls launched by members on the pitching and practice course. There is likely to be fencing on the property line.

The drawn-out purchase process would have a significant impact on the financing of the Belmont Center road reconstruction project. Early in 2014, town officials predicted the sale of the Woodfall Road site at nearly $2 million and the $850,000 for the municipal parking lot in Cushing Square to the current developer of the Cushing Village, Smith Legacy Limited, would fund the $2.8 million road and parking project.

When the two sales did not materialize, the town was forced to use a portion of its “free cash” reserves and call a special Town Meeting in November to secure the remaining funds to complete the project by the fall of 2015.

The proceeds from the sale, deemed “one-time” revenue receipt, will not be heading to the town’s general fund. In the past, such “one-time” monies have been directed to the Capital Budget Committee, which pays for long-term, large budget items such as public safety vehicles and repairs and upgrades to municipal buildings.

The sale for the parcel – known as 108 Woodfall Road – will bring to an end nearly a decade of attempts to sell the property that the town acquired through a foreclosure in 1938. The town thought it had sold the land to a private developer in 2006, but he never came up with the money.

In June 2012, the town’s Office of Community Development proposed a plan that would allow an Atlanta-based for-profit hospice firm to build a small residential building for end-of-life care for Belmont residents and others. But the opposition from homeowners in the upscale neighborhood drove the Selectmen’s decision to withdraw the proposed plan and restricted it to only residential construction.