This Week: Piano Recital Tuesday, Beech Holiday Concert, Zoning on Ambulances

• Only one government meeting this Christmas week: Monday, Dec. 22, at 7 p.m., the Zoning Board of Appeals will discuss a special permit to allow the Armstrong Ambulance Service to run ambulances from a satellite office at 1010 Pleasant St. The meeting will take place at the Belmont Gallery of Art on the third floor of the Homer Building in the Town Hall complex. 

Belmont High School junior Rahul Ramakrishnan will give a piano recital at the Beech Street Center on Tuesday, Dec. 23, at 4 p.m. The works to be performed include:

  • “Invention 3 in D Major” by Bach
  • “Sicilienne” by Maria-Theresa Von Paradis
  • “Three Waltzes, Op.171, No. 2” by Schubert
  • “Prelude, Op.43, No.1” by Reinhold M. Gliere
  • “Minute Waltz, Op.64, No.1” by Chopin

Ramakrishnan – who is a member of the school’s WGBH’s High School Quiz Show team and a tennis player – will be followed by his sister, Anjali, who will play several pieces to round out the program. The concert is free of charge.

• The Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St. will be holding a Holiday Concert with David Polansky on Tuesday, Dec. 23, at 1:15 p.m. One of the most popular musicians to entertain at the Center, Polansky will present seasonal and holiday music, including three original Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanza tunes. David sings and plays keyboard and trumpet. Come and enjoy; it’s free.

Trash and recycling collection will take place on Christmas Eve, Wednesday, Dec. 24. For those homes on a Thursday pickup, you’ll only need to wait one day as curbside collection will take place on Boxing Day, Friday, Dec. 26.


Froshs Standout in Girls’ Basketball Wins Home Opener, 56-40, Over Melrose

Belmont High School Girls’ Basketball’s home opener victory, 56-40, over Melrose High Friday night, Dec. 19 was the quintessential “team” win with seven players scoring and a smothering defense stifling the Red Raiders’ attack that beat up Winchester just three days before.

But it’s hard not to notice when a pair of 9th graders are becoming important components in what could become a very interesting year for the Marauders. In just their second high school game, freshmen Jenny Call (10 points including a pair of three-point bombs) and Carly Christofori (game high 12 points with several steals and assists) scored in double digits with Christofori using her natural ball handling skills and to join senior Sophia Eschenbach-Smith (3 points) as the team’s point guard, who runs the team’s offense on the court.

“[Christofori] is so quick and aggressive and reads the floor so well,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Melissa Hart while noting that Call, who came off the bench, “got into a groove hitting those outside shots which started to spread out the court.”

“They are not only good athletes, but good basketball players with talent,” said Hart.

“I like being the leader on the court.” said Christofori, who is the younger sister of multi-sports starter Cal.

“But it’s easy because my teammates know the place they have to be and are there at the right time. So everything falls into place for me,” she said.

While the freshmen were one part of the story of the second game of the season (Belmont lost to a strong host Watertown team, 53-42, on Tuesday, Dec. 16) Hart complemented the play of senior forward Elena Bragg who was a presence on both ends of the court, scoring 11 points and grabbing numerous rebounds (just missing a “double-double” with nine grabs) and throwing herself after any loose ball in her vicinity.

Emerging as a central theme for the team this year is a “in-your-face” defense that puts pressure on the team once they step on the court. Led by senior center Linda Herlihy (7 points, three solid blocks and rebounds galore) and sophomore Irini Nikolaidis (7 points), the team kept the Red Raiders top scorer, junior guard Sarah Foote, under wraps and the team forced to take outside shots. Nikolaidis, with her speed and long arms, has become a nuisance for opposing team’s point guards.

The Marauders led from start to finish, leading 14-6 after the first quarter and when Melrose cut the lead to 16-12 at the halfway point of the second, Nikolaidis went 2 for 4 from the line in-between a Herlihy block (that brought cheers from the student bleachers) before a Bragg free throw gave Belmont a 20-14 half time lead.

The third quarter sealed the win with Christofori scoring on a drive, Nikolaidis hitting a three (Belmont’s three treys was the most beyond the arch in two years) and junior Sarah Steward (4 points on 4 for 6 from the charity stripe) running down a Red Raider who was on a solo breakaway to prevent the score to up the advantage to 41-19. The icing was on the cake when senior Lauren Noonan (2 points) hit a sweet jumper in the final two minutes.

Hart said the game was a distinct improvements over the Watertown game while improvements can still be made in terms of shot selection and “just scoring under the basket.”


“The five seniors

This Weekend: ‘Messiah’ Open Sing on Sunday, High School Coffeehouse Friday, ‘Frozen’ at Belmont Savings

• The Belmont Performing Arts Club Presents: A Holiday Coffeehouse featuring a slew of student performers on Friday, Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the High School Cafeteria. Doors will open at 6:15 p.m. Come listen to our talented artists! Food, desserts, ice cream, hot chocolate and more will be available to purchase. Tickets, at the door, are $10; $5 for students; free for children five years old and younger. All proceeds benefit the Performing Arts Club’s New York City trip where the students will be attending two shows and being part of a workshop.

• The home opener for the Belmont High School Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball teams against Melrose High will be a doubleheader Friday, Dec. 19 as the boys’ be takin’ the court at 5 p.m. and the Girls’ at 7 p.m. Friday is also the opener for Boys’ Swimming at the Higginbottom Pool starting at 4 p.m.

• This is the final weekend for the Belmont Gallery of Art’s Small Works Holiday Show and Sale 2014. Get really nice and unique – and not that expensive – gifts for Christmas and the last days of Hanukkah and benefit the gallery and the local artists. The sale will be held on Friday, Dec. 19 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 20 and Sunday, Dec. 20 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

The stars from the Disney hit movie “Frozen”, Olaf, Anna and Elsa will be at Belmont Savings Bank branches on Saturday, Dec. 20 to have their pictures taken with kids – and probably some adults – at these locations and times:

• The Belmont Public Library’s Children’s Saturday Sing-Along Series is back! So come dance, jump, wiggle and sing along with Jeff Jam on Saturday, Dec. 20 beginning at 10:30 a.m. He’ll play his own hilarious original songs and favorite classic kids’ songs on his guitar. For all ages.

• The Belmont Public Library will be holding a mini-Book Sale on Saturday, Dec. 20 from 9:15 a.m. to noon in the Flett Room. Children’s books, hardcover and trade paperback adult books, coffee table books and more will be on sale. Sponsored by the Friends of the Belmont Public Library.

• On the shortest day of the year, hear Belmont native and farmer/educator Rose Cherneff discuss “Planning Your Vegetable Garden,” in the Belmont Public Library’s Assembly Room on Sunday, Dec. 21 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Rose will talk you through setting goals for your garden that match your lifestyle and priorities, including how much seed to order, seed sources, how to create a planting timeline, how far apart and where to plant things, what crops do well in this climate, and how to increase the health of your soil. This class is sponsored by the Belmont Food Collaborative.

• One of the great musical traditions in Belmont will take place Sunday as Powers Music School’s Belmont Open Sings will perform the holiday-favorite, Handel’s “Messiah” on Sunday, Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Church in Belmont, Unitarian Universalist, 404 Concord Ave. Belmont Sings’ Artistic Director Mary Beekman will lead the musicians and the chorus made up of the audience in the great workTickets are $10 per person; No reservations needed.

Sold in Belmont: A Million Dollar House that SHOULD be Torn Down

A weekly recap of residential properties bought in the past seven days in the “Town of Homes.”

• 5 Lodge Rd. A framed Colonial (1930), Sold for: $716,000. Listed at $695,000. Living area: 1,505 sq.-ft. 7 rooms; 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. On the market: 47 days.

• 665 Concord Ave. “Contemporary” (1961), Sold for: $1,175,000. Listed at $1,175,000. Living area: 3,080 sq.-ft. 10 rooms; 4 bedrooms, 4 baths. On the market: 64 days.

• 53 Leslie Rd. Two-floor condominium (1929), Sold for: $457,200. Listed at $437,000. Living area: 1,339 sq.-ft. 6 rooms; 2 bedrooms, 1 baths. On the market: 50 days.

Some lucky individual just bought an upper Concord Avenue house for just more than a million dollars. (Kudos to the salesperson for selling the property the town appraised in 2014 at $920,000!)

Now the buyer(s) can provide a public benefit by tearing down this out-of-place, contemporary, rabbit hutch.

If this badly-aging, low-to-the-ground substandard example of Usonia architecture was situated in Palo Alto or Boulder or any of many western/West Coast communities where this sort of building is appreciated (along with “A” frames and split-levels such as Colorado which is actually attempting to preserve this architecture) then fine. But in Belmont, the Concord Avenue house is akin to the nice person on Bright Road who places palm trees and other exotics on his lawn most of the year: it’s interesting but out of place.

Frank Lloyd Wright developed this design (it’s also called Wrightian) as a low-end Prairie School-style house in which he attempted to “integrated the house with the landscape and nature in an attempt to get away from box-like structures (1)” that were plopped onto a plot of land.

Arranged in zones, typically with three areas: living space, small bedrooms, and a kitchen-dining area, the “Usonian houses were quite unlike the boxy, stark International Style houses that appeared to be dropped onto, rather than a part of, their location.”

But the Belmont house fails because it wasn’t designed by Wright but by a lesser architect who threw up (pun intended) a building that is a mashup of Wright’s principles and suburbanites’ demands. The structure the public can glimpse around that ugly fence (what did Robert Frost say about fences in “Mending Walls“?) is the garage! Is this Belmont, California? Garages are fine but not as your “Welcome” mate. Usonia is where carports (a word Wright created) became an architectural feature. Additionally, the open floor design with a large footprint has become hopelessly old-fashioned and inefficient, like having a typewriter on your office desk.

The house is a duck out of water, a dud. In temperament and temperature, New England is bound with Scandinavia. Residencies here need compartmentalization with multiple floors and designated rooms with doors to conserve warmth and energy but also large vertical windows to capture daylight especially in fall and winter. The Concord Avenue house had to rip out portions of the roof to install skylights to bring in the light.

Additionally, Belmont is suited for the tall over the squat (I would fear my six-foot, one-inch tall son would bump his head on the low ceilings at Concord Avenue): high windows allow for a view of the canopy of evergreens and the changing leaves; the narrow slits of the Usonia – which are fine for seeing the scrub and low grass of the West and Midwest – limits you to tree trunks and pet-eating coyotes to stare inside.

With nearly half an acre of land that is adjacent to Week’s Pond and Meadow, why not envelop the ever-changing coloring provided by the Southern light onto the trees and land? You want a unique, then go with a Farnsworth House-type structure (OK, you’ll probably need $10 million to build that today … ) On the more affordable side, there are great modular houses from noted Canadian and Swedish companies that would be a great modern addition to upper Concord Avenue.

So paraphrasing Ronald Reagan: “Mr. Homeowner, tear down this house!”

(1) “Selected Post-World War II Residential Architectural Styles and Building Types” Center for Historic Preservation, Research Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Colorado Historical Society, 2006.

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.

Sports: Boys’ Basketball Drains Watertown in Opener, 66-49

Photo: Belmont’s senior swingman Seth Altman driving for two of his 12 points in the season opener with Watertown.

At the end of the first quarter, the score in the opening game of the 2014-15 Belmont High Boys’ basketball season: Watertown, 16; Adam Kleckner, 8.

Without the talented senior center and co-captain playing is “A” game in the first eight minutes of the game, Belmont – which many sports observers believe the team could have a long run in the playoffs in March – was not prepared for a hustling and cocky Raiders’ team playing at home.

“Kleckner (a game-high 23 points and about the same number of rebounds) is a very talented player who can shot threes and play the outside but he’s very tough under the basket and the free throws proved it,” said Belmont’s long-time Head Coach Adam Pritchard.

In fact, Belmont clearly stumbled out to the gate, missing shots and not quite handling the Watertown defense.

“Watertown has a good basketball team with two kids who can really shoot the ball,” said Pritchard of junior guard Brendan Hoban (13 points) and senior Mike Hagopian (18 points).

“We were a little bit tentative offensively,” he said, as Belmont seemingly couldn’t find an open shot in the first 10 minutes of the game as Watertown twice took an 11 point lead (20-9 and 22-11) two minutes into the second quarter.

Seeking to spark up the offense, Pritchard substituted in senior Seth Altman (12 points) and junior Cole Bartels (6 points) which paid off when Altman swept in on a drive to score his first varsity hoop to cut the deficit to seven (22-15). And despite back-to-back sequences where Belmont players couldn’t put in four under-the-basket “bunnies,” the tide began turning in the Marauders’ favor with the Marauders

“I have to say, having [Seth] Altman coming into the game and knocking down threes and Cole [Bartels] to hit shots makes us a very potent team,” he said as the team trailed by three at the half, 26-23.

With a shaky first half in the rearview mirror, Belmont’s starters stepped up the pressure on Watertown while some old friends, the backcourt duo of co-captains senior Ben Lazenby (4 points) and junior Matt Kerans (15 points), returned to their “slash and burn” ways – quick moves to the basket or long-range shots – as they partnered for four and nine points respectively.

A 39-38 deficit flipped to a two-point lead after Kerans buried three free throws (he was fouled throwing up a trey) with 56 seconds remaining and then saw his bomb hit the front of the rim before falling in to give him six points in the final 50 seconds and Belmont the lead for good at 44-39.

“We did a much better job defensively in the second half. It just took a little bit to lock down our defense on them,” said Pritchard.

When Watertown crept close at 47-44, Altman banged in the first of two threes that Bartels matched in the final quarter as Belmont outscored the Raiders 43 to 23 to win the opener, 66-49.

“We got off to a slow start, but we had a great comeback,” said Altman who Pritchard views as the team’s “swing” man.

“It’s the other guys that make it easy. I’m just doing the simple job taking the shots,” he said.

Belmont Selectmen Appoints Community Path Implementation Committee

The Belmont Board of Selectmen selected five residents – each with their specific skill set – to determine not just the best route for a community path to transverse Belmont, but also how to pay for it.

The Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee takes over from the Community Path Advisory Committee which completed its work in May after it researching and then developing a number of possibly combined bike/walking routes from Waltham to Cambridge.

“The desired outcome of this entire process is to have the community path built,” said Andy Rojas.

“The ultimate intent isn’t for a study … it’s for a physical path to be built that services the town and mitigates the negative and highlights all the positive impacts,” said Rojas.

The residents appointed to the committee are:

  • Brian Burke
  • Michael Cicalese
  • Heather Ivester
  • Russell Leino
  • Vincent Stanton

Each member comes with work experience or involvement with the proposed community path in the past. Burke was a member of the CPAC and will bring continuity to the process. Cicalese was selected to raise residents’ concerns to the group as a likely route will impact the Channing Road neighborhood. Ivester is a state licensed structural engineer while Leino is an attorney.

Stanton, who Selectman Mark Paolillo noted has been responsible for extending Belmont Town Meeting nights with his array of knowledgeable quires, is well-known in town for his divergent thinking and novel ideas and solutions to any number of issues facing the community.

The committee’s charge from the selectmen is to come to a consensus on the best path but also to uncover outside funding – be it private or from the state or federal governments – to pay for a good portion of the trail and also the evaluation and analysis of the potential of a proposed project.

“It’s pretty clear that this body needs to commit some how … identify public sources of funding to do a feasibility study,” said Rojas.

“We can then pursue other government grants for the implementation, but we need that feasibility study in hand,” he added.

According to several members of a pro-community path group that Paolillo noted at the meeting, “with a feasibility component, there could be significant funds from the state level for a path.”

The study will also provide the Selectmen – who will make the final decision on the route and if the project will move forward – the economics of building specific routes through Belmont.

“While not set in stone, that we would expect the feasibility study would give us input on the route options before we make up our minds,” said Rojas.

Wait ’til Next Year: State, Once Again, Skips Over Belmont High Renovation Plan

Despite several hints that this could have been the year, Belmont will need to wait yet another year for just the possibility of being selected to receive state funds to help pay for a new and approved high school.
In a letter dated Monday, Dec. 15 and announced at Tuesday’s Belmont School Committee meet, the Massachusetts School Building Authority once again denied the committee’s statement of interest calling for the complete renovation of Belmont High School and the construction of a new science wing with a price tag of between $90 and $100 million.
“Through the MSBA’s due diligence process and review of the 108 [fiscal year] 2014 [Statement of Interests] that were received, the MSBA has determined that the Belmont High School SOI will not be invited into the MSBA’s Eligibility Period at this time,” stated the letter signed by John K. McCarthy, the Authority’s executive director.
Stating the Authority was proud to have collaborated in the building of the Wellington Elementary School which opened in September 2011, McCarthy said the MSBA “remains committed to collaborating and partnering with [Belmont] to better understand any other school facility issues in [Belmont].”
There have been a number of hints over the fall that Belmont’s application had been placed on the short list of projects to be accepted. In October, the MSBA came for a “senior study” of the high school, one of 25 the Authority made this fall. According to a school official on the Cape, a MSBA officials said “a substantial percentage of districts [that received a senior study] will be recommended to move forward with an invitation into the MSBA eligibility period.” In addition, districts that have submitted SOIs for more than a decade are traditionally placed higher on the approval scale.
Belmont can reapply for what will be the 11th consecutive year for the school’s addition and renovation by April 10, 2015.
See the MSBA letter to Belmont below:

Sports: Girls’ Ice Hockey Edged by Top-Ranked Duxbury, 3-2, in Opener

The winter season started on a down, yet still promising note, as the combined Watertown/Belmont high schools girls’  ice hockey team lost to their chief nemesis, the Duxbury High Dragons, 3-2, in the season opener on Saturday, Dec. 13 held in Kingston.

The Maraiders – combining the team’s Marauders and Raiders – held a 2-1 lead over the defending Dev. 1 state champions late in the first period by goals scored from Belmont’s Erin McLaughlin (on the power play with an assist by Belmont defenseman Serena Nally) and Watertown’s all-star Emily Loprete who took the puck the length of the rink to score on a backhand.

Yet Watertown/Belmont could not hold off this year’s top-rated team, with Dragon freshman Kelly McCarthy scoring the game winner on a breakaway four minutes into the final period.

It’s expected the Maraiders and the Dragons will meet up once again in the playoffs in March.

This Hanukkah: Remembering an Ancient Fight for Freedom

This article is by Len Abram

American service men and women in Africa (AFRICOM) are not only fighting terrorism on the continent, not only training local police and militias in equipment and tactics, and not only protecting American interests and facilities, but they are also dealing with the scourge of Ebola. This last mission means building hospitals and treatment centers and providing doctors and nurses to help the ill and prevent more infection.

The responsibilities of the American military clearly go beyond bearing arms, to containing a local epidemic and giving victims a chance to survive. As in the battlefield, serving in a zone of contagion has its own dangers. As with jihadist terrorism, the American military is fighting the threat abroad, before it can threaten more Americans here.

The Jewish military men and women of AFRICOM are far from home, but not necessarily far from their traditions, such as the holiday of Hanukkah. Each year, the Beth El Temple Center Brotherhood and congregation have sent Hanukkah celebration kits to Jews serving abroad, this year to Africa, including Djibouti, at the strategic Horn of Africa. The Brotherhood joins other organizations (one is called “Kosher Troops”; another, “Jews in Green”) shipping Hanukkah candles and special candle holders (a menorah or hanukkiah) to Jews serving in the military overseas.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.38.37 PM

The eight-day holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, begins December 16 at sundown. With the lighting of candles, the holiday celebrates the victory of Jewish forces, 2200 years ago,  over Greek-Syrian armies and a king determined to eradicate Jewish culture. The Seleucids inherited the empire of Alexander the Great, these Greek-Syrians tried to Hellenize the Jewish people in what is now present day Israel, even forbidding under penalty of death, the teaching of Jewish texts and traditions.

Mattathias and  his five sons from the village of Mod’in, still on the map, started a revolt against the formidable Seleucid armies, professionals and mercenaries, up against farmers, artisans and shepherds, with no standing army, no armor and few weapons, beyond their bows. It was one of the most successful guerilla wars in history. Against a superior force, the Jews harassed, ambushed, and whittled away at the professionals, who at one point brought elephants to battle.

Using terrain to advantage, controlling the heights of the Judean hills through the armies had to march, proved critical to the victory, although many died, including Mattathias and most of his sons. When Jewish forces took the Temple in Jerusalem, they had to clean and rededicate the holy site after the Seleucids had defiled it. Legend says that only one day of olive oil was left untainted. That small amount somehow burned for eight days; hence, the eight day holiday.

The war won the Jews over a hundred years of autonomy until the Roman Empire intervened (there were two unsuccessful Jewish revolts against the Romans). Of the five Maccabean brothers, Judas was the most famous, celebrated in song and legend. Jews sponsor athletic competitions  in Israel, Europe and America, called Maccabean in their honor.

The Hanukkah celebration kits from the Brotherhood  include enough candles for the eight days; a candle holder or hanukkiah; a dreidl to play games of chance (by legend, to deceive the  Seleucids while Jews were studying their Bible); chocolate coins to wager; bubble gum from Israel; a camouflage kippah or head covering; greeting cards from the Temple fourth graders; a CD of Jewish music; and a letter from the congregation.

Here in Belmont, Beth El Temple Center will have a candle lighting ceremony outside of the building on Concord Ave at 6 p.m., following which the Brotherhood is sponsoring a Hanukkah party for parents and children, with music led by Rabbi Jonathan Kraus. Foods fried in oil, such as potato pancakes or latkes, will be served, a reminder of a miracle during an ancient  fight for freedom.