One Dead In Birch Hill Road Fire That Leaves House Heavily Damaged

Photo: A Belmont Fire official examines a house at 81 Birch Hill Road damaged by a fire on Friday, April 24.

A female resident died after being rescued by Belmont firefighters during an early morning blaze that heavily damaged a split ranch house at 81 Birch Hill Road on Friday, April 24.

The unidentified victim was discovered by firefighters in cardiac arrest in the 60-year-old structure located near Lantern Road and abutting Hinckley Way, according to Belmont Fire Chief David Frizzell.

The victim, described as not being the homeowner, was taken by Belmont ambulance to Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge where she was pronounced dead.

The fire is under investigation by the Belmont Fire and Police departments. As there was a death caused by the fire, the Massachusetts State Police, the State Fire Marshal, and the Middlesex District Attorney are part of the probe.

The fire was phoned in at approximately 4:09 a.m. by a motorist driving on Route 2 who reported it five minutes after first seeing smoke coming from the structure, said Frizzell.

Firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke coming from the attic windows, which resulted in a second alarm being called. Fire personnel discovered the fire on the first floor in the area of the kitchen which had raced up into the attic, said Frizzell.

It took about half an hour to put out the fire. Firefighters remained at the scene to search for any smoldering flames. A cat was found under a bed in the basement and handed over to Belmont Animal Control, said Frizzell.

Frizzell said the structure while heavily damaged “was by no means a total loss” with the most fire damage in the kitchen area and in the attic floorboards.

Belmont Engines 1 and 2, Ladder 1 and Rescue 1 fought the fire while Arlington and Cambridge’s Fire assisted at the scene. Waltham and Watertown provided covered at Belmont’s firehouses.

Look What The Cool Kids Are Wearing: Town Officials Are Helping To Flatten The Curve

Photo: Oh look, the HR staff is wearing masks (from left) Assistant Director Shawna Healey and HR Director Jess Porter

Help flatten the curve by showing us a mask.

The Town of Belmont is encouraging everyone to wear masks when out and about in public. Town employees were asked to help flatten the curve and stay safe at work by donning masks. Many employees have come up with coverings that are both creative and colorful. Here is a sampling of employees and their creations.

Town Clerk Ellen Cushman
Ummm, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin
Jim Zocco Belmont Light
Assistant Town Accountant Donna Tuccinardi

Bellmont Library Director Peter Struzzeiro

After a Difficult Year, High School Runners Take To The Roads To Help Feed Kids

Photo: The site for the campaign

Belmont High Senior Joy He is one of the captains of the school’s cross country and track and field teams during seasons that would challenge any squad anywhere. The boys and girls teams did not have a single home meet as the cross country course was closed due to construction and winter track meets were held in Boston.

And just when the teams were preparing for a strong finish with a number of home contests at Harris Field, the spring track season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But rather than end the year wondering what could have been, He, her fellow captains and the team decided they would end the track season helping others.

Throughout this week (April 20 – April 26), the team is participating in the Run Against Hunger benefitting No Kid Hungry, an organization that provides meals for kids affected by COVID-19 school closures.

“Our goal is to run 500 miles – though it looks like we will surpass that goal and reach 600 – while raising money for No Kid Hungry. Donors can pledge a certain amount of money per mile we run as a team or make a flat donation instead,” said He, who last year was on the 4×55 meter Shuttle Hurdle Relay that qualified for the New Balance Nationals Indoor championships.

For example, if a sponsor pledges 10 cents per mile and the team runs 600 miles, they would donate $60. They can also make a one-time donation instead of pledging. 

“I think this would be a great way to get the entire Belmont community involved in a really good cause. Given the situation, kids are estimated to miss more than half a million meals – we can only decrease that number significantly if we get many people involved,” she said.

The campaign link is

An Open Letter to Belmont’s High School Seniors

Photo: Belmont High School graduation 2019

By Lisa Gibalerio

Dear Seniors:

When the news came down that schools across Massachusetts would not reopen for the rest of the school year, a collective thud of disappointment resounded across town from you and your parents.

The news confirmed what had been feared since schools closed back in March: there will be no spring athletic season, no awards ceremony honoring four grueling years, no prom, no Senior Week activities, and, perhaps most crushing of all, no Field House graduation ceremony and no All Night Party. All time-honored events. All canceled.  

How can you navigate so many losses all at once? 

Your disappointment is real and deserves to be validated. The events you will now forego are hallmarks; they celebrate the culmination of four years of arduous work, of lost sleep, of managing daunting amounts of stress, of sheer perseverance. You have every right to be sad that these events are unlikely to be held, or at least held in the traditional ways.

So go ahead and let yourself grieve; you won’t be grieving alone.

COVID-19 has wreaked devastation across the globe. More than 182,000 people have died, many alone, separated from loved ones, and hooked up to ventilators. The global economy may be careening into a depression unlike anything since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But here’s the good news: this is a blip.

For sure, it’s big and it’s painful. But the life that lies ahead for each of you is bigger than this crisis. Your life will soon enough be graced once more with joy, with other celebrations, with toasts for goals accomplished, and with high fives for jobs well done.

You are amazing and I am so proud of you – all of you!  You are hard-working, smart, kind, and strong. 

So, take a deep breath and know that this will not be your last disappointment: this will soon become just another chapter in your life.

You’ve lived long enough to know that life is a kaleidoscope, sometimes landing on pain and sometimes on joy and often on just a whole lot of mundane moments. Pause and embrace the good stuff when it comes your way. Take in the beauty of a sunset, a full moon, a perfect daffodil. And go out there and give something of yourself to others. As Barak Obama once said: “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.”

To the Class of 2020: your journey continues. I know you’re up for it. Make us proud. We love you.

[Update] Belmont Star Market Employee Dies Of COVID-19 As Town Registers 51 Deaths To Pandemic

Photo: Belmont Star Market

An employee of the Belmont Star Market on Waverley Street has died of the COVID-19 virus, according to a press release dated Tuesday, April 21, from the supermarket’s parent company, Albertsons.

The employee, Cresencia Colletti, 70, last worked at the store on Palm Sunday, April 5, according to the company. According to press reports, Colletti, who emigrated from the Philippines to the US in the late 1970s, has three children and six grandchildren. She had been living with a family on Woodbine Road for more than 40 years.

“Our hearts are heavy, and our thoughts are with that associate’s family,” said the press release.

“This is a difficult day for the entire Star Market team,” said the release.

The news of the death of Colletti comes on the day the Belmont Health Department reported 51 people – many residents of Belmont Manor Nursing Home located near to the supermarket – have died of complications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The deaths break down as:

Deaths possibly related to COVID-19 (total) 51 
Unconfirmed  29
Confirmed by filed death certificates with the Belmont Town Clerk’s Office 22

Belmont District Closed For Remainder of School Year; Superintendent: Answers To Questions Coming ASAP

Photo: Belmont School Administration Building

Belmont’s approximately 5,000 public school students will be finishing the 2019-2020 school year learning from home as Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday, April 21, that school buildings will be closed for the remainder of the school year and remote learning will continue for the remainder of the academic calendar.

In his press conference, Baker said the state was very much in the grips of a pandemic and “[w]e believe students, therefore, cannot safely return to school and avoid the risk of transmitting this virus to others.”

“It’s the right thing to do, considering the facts on the ground associated with the COVID 19 pandemic,” he said.

Responding to Baker’s remarks, Belmont School District Superintendent John Phelan said: “Given this new information and updated status, the district will continue our remote learning plan as we continue to learn the strengths and growth areas in our current program.”

“The extension of the school closure will come with many questions, and we will continue to work collaboratively with our educators and School Committee to provide you with those answers as soon as possible,” said Phelan.

Breaking: School Committee Chair Resigns In Policy Dispute

Photo: The Belmont School Committee: (from left) Susan Burgess-Cox (Chair), Andrea Prestwich (Secretary), Michael Crowley, Catherine Bowen, Amy Checkoway, Tara Donner. (Belmont School District)

Less than a week after a school committee member said he would ask for the committee’s officers to step down to allow for a vote for a new chair and secretary, Chair Susan Burgess-Cox abruptly resigned from the committee effective, today, Tuesday, April 21.

“It has been a pleasure serving the Belmont Public School with an administration and staff who have a strong commitment to teaching and learning and continue to create a community of engaged learners,” said Burgess-Cox in a letter to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.

Burgess-Cox’s resignation comes less than a week after fellow member Micheal Crowley said he would ask the officers – Burgess-Cox and Andrea Prestwich who is the current secretary – to relinquish their positions at the next school committee meeting on April 28 as part of an earlier conflict over the reorganization of the committee.

The issue was brought up at the school committee meeting on April 14 as the group discussed what is usually a perfunctory annual exercise of the selection of the committee’s chair and secretary. Under the rules, the leadership team is voted by the committee after the town election.

But with the annual election delayed to late June due to COVID-19 pandemic, just how the committee would move forward became an issue of debate. Crowley made a motion that the committee should simply move forward with the reorganization as prescribed by the town bylaws which allows for an annual election of officers. He noted the Select Board had voted its reorganization the day before.

“We need a timely transition and it was not clear when that would definitely be happening,” Crowley told the Belmontonian on Tuesday.

Burgess-Cox felt the committee should follow the three school committee policies pertaining to electing officers which would require what many saw as a time-consuming exercise. Burgess-Cox said to do otherwise would be setting a perilous precedent in which future committees could suspend policies for any reason. She also said that no candidate for either the chair or secretary had come to her to express their interest.

While no member seconded Crowley’s motion, several on the committee appeared to give Crowley’s argument more credence, especially as the district was and will continue to be under the strains of the lengthy school lockout due to COVID-19.

Matters came to a head two days later, on April 16, during a joint meeting of the School Committee’s Finance Subcommittee and the Education Subcommittee of the Warrant Committee. During a conversation between school committee members, Burgess-Cox again raised procedural issues on whether to allow the entire school committee to vote on officers at its next meeting on April 28.

Admittedly frustrated that it appeared the committee would not have a leader selected likely in the late summer or early fall “that we need to have someone involved with what could be a difficult school year,” Crowley said he would bring a motion on April 28 for all officers to step down so the committee could make their selection.

Five days later, Burgess-Cox resigned.

Obituary: Henry Kazarian, A True Townie Who Traveled The World

Photo: Henry Kazarian

Henry V. Kazarian, a lifelong Belmont resident who became a happy hodophile – the word for those who love to travel – died on Wednesday at Care One Lexington. He was 85.

He died of cancer, according to Donna Gasper, who was Kazarian’s tenant for 38 years, a long-time friend and for the final year of his life his caregiver.

“He was a townie through and through,” said Gasper. “He loved this town.”

For voters who cast their ballots at Town Hall, Kazarian was an election day fixture. The Precinct 2 election warden for many years, Kazarian would greet and assist voters, patiently instructing them on the proper procedure of placing a ballot into the scanner and calling the polls closed at 8 p.m.

“For the Town Clerk’s office, Henry did so much for us and was a dedicated and enthusiastic Election Warden at Precinct 2 and Town Meeting Member of Precinct 4 who consistently represented the Waverley Square area very well,” said Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.

Born in 1935 to Natalie and Hampartzoom Kazarian, Henry, his parents and his older brother, Vartkess, moved a year later to a two-family on Banks Street (off of White Street) which, with the exception of a few years, would be his home for his entire life.

Kazarian attended the Kendall Elementary School and Belmont Middle School before graduating from Belmont High in 1952. He matriculated at Northeastern University where he earned a BA in history and government with a concentration in English. After graduation, Kazarian enlisted in the US Army and was honorably discharged a year later.

For the next four decades, Kazarian worked for the town of Belmont as a custodian at the Town Hall complex and Police Headquarters.

Kazarian was a Town Meeting member for 28 years, a board member of the Council on Aging and a volunteer at Habitat. He was also devoted to the Beech Street Center, which he promoted to his friends and community during, at times, the contentious debate whether to build it.

After his retirement, Kazarian spent many years as a member of “The Situation Room” made up of old buddies who would steal away the mornings (and sometimes, the afternoons) at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Trapelo Road. Considered the group’s historian and “book of knowledge,” Kazarian told an observer “Whatever is in season is in style here.”

His interests were varied and extensive: softball umpire, following local and high school sports, reading poetry (he had more than 150 volumes) and attending plays by the Belmont Dramatic Club.

“He said ‘I like the Encyclopedia Britannica delivered to my house. I want to learn it from a book’,” said Gasper.

But Kazarian’s true hobby was to set sail with two or three longtime friends and explore the world: Portugal, Spain, Paris, the French Riviera, five times to Mexico (always on the beach) and Hawaii were just a few of the destinations. And it wasn’t just traveling to far flung places: each year he’d drive to Pennsylvania to attend a beer festival before swinging by Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“He would get a fruitcake and take two or three of his boyhood friends up to Montreal for a ‘visit’. He was a character,” said Gasper.

Kazarian began to slow down five years ago, unable to make his daily walk to Harvard Square for a coffee and to read the paper; he’d need to take the bus halfway. After feeling poorly for the past two years, Kazarian was diagnosed in late October with a growth in his stomach that could not be halted.

“Henry faced his last challenge much as he lived his life, courageously with a kind and generous spirit,” said Gasper. “He was a wonderful friend to all and a true gentle soul.”

He is predeceased by his immediate family. Funeral services and church services will be private due to restrictions placed on gatherings A celebration to honor and remember Kazarian will be held at a later date.

Those wishing to honor Henry with a memorial donation in his name may do so by check payable to the Town of Belmont designated for his beloved Beech Street Center, said Kazarian

COVID-19 Deaths Triple In Five Days To 39, Nearly All Linked To Belmont Manor

Photo: Belmont Manor in Belmont

The number of deaths in Belmont related to COVID-19 has more than tripled from 13 on Monday, April 13 to 39 by Friday, April 17, according to statistics compiled by the Belmont Health Department and released by the town on Friday, April 17.

Many of those deaths have been linked to residents of Belmont Manor Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, the 135-bed facility on Agassiz Avenue, according to Wesley Chin, Belmont Health Department director.

On April 15, when Belmont had 31 deaths due to the coronavirus, 30 were Belmont Manor residents. In addition, 59 members of a staff of approximately 190 are COVID-19 positive, according to the management of Belmont Manor.

In an April 15 email sent to families with loved ones at the site, Stewart Karger, the Manor’s administrator, said “every death represents an enormous amount of loss to the families of these individuals. And because many of these residents have been with us for a longer period of time, this feeling of loss is something that we at Belmont Manor share.”

Belmont town officials have begun recording deaths as one of two categories: Unconfirmed and confirmed by filed death certificate.

As of April 17:

Unconfirmed  31
Confirmed by Filed Death Certificates with the Town Clerk’s Office 8

“The Town Clerk noticed that there is a discrepancy in the information about CVOID-19 related deaths reported to us and what is later listed on the individual death certificates,” said Chin. “This is a problem that many other municipalities are experiencing.” 

According to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, the reason the confirmed number is much lower than is that her office “can only account for the Death Certificates that are filed as official records of the Town of Belmont.”

“I share with the Health Department all death certificates recorded in Belmont that contain the word “COVID” anywhere in the numerous fields on the certificates,” she wrote in an email.

It’s also important to realize that death certificates in Massachusetts are recorded in two places, the place of death (the occurrence community) and the place of residence (the residence community).  If a person is a resident of Belmont and perhaps is transported for medical treatment to Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, the death certificate would be recorded in both Cambridge as the occurrence community and Belmont as the residence community.

Rock Meadow Can Only Remain Open With The Public’s Cooperation

Photo: Walking dogs at Rock Meadow, Belmont

By Mary Trudeau

Conservation Commission’s agent

In this period of social distancing, public open space provides a valuable respite for citizens experiencing the loss of “normality.” While the Belmont Conservation Commission remains committed to keeping Rock Meadow open and available to residents, the current pandemic has increased meadow usage well beyond normal expectations. While the majority of users are maintaining social distancing guidelines and following the regulations governing the use of the meadowlands, a minority of users are not adhering to the rules. These issues must be addressed if Rock Meadow is to remain open.

Belmont requires all dogs to be leashed. Currently, at Rock Meadow, many dogs are not being leashed, and are running freely throughout the grasslands. Unleashed dogs are dangerous for walkers and dangerous to other dogs. In recent weeks, running dogs have knocked over children, frightened people and otherwise interfered with the safe use of the Meadow. As it is uncertain whether pets can transmit the virus on their fur, or by other means, loose dogs are problematic on a public health level, as well as being illegal in Belmont. Fines of up to $500 per offense can be issued for the failure to leash your dog in Belmont.

Another concern is that dog feces are not being picked up consistently. Some of this is a function of dogs running freely, and the culture of the meadow is being misunderstood by the influx of new visitors.  Fecal contamination throughout the Meadow is a risk to ground and surface waters, as well as to people and wildlife. The Commission has installed a “poop station” at the Mill Street entrance, and we pay for the poop cans to be emptied weekly. The Commission is concerned that if this feces situation worsens, Rock Meadow will become a public health hazard, forcing the closure of the Meadow to all.  

Please stay on the paths. While the COVID virus is at the forefront of our minds, Lyme disease remains rampant in this area. The grasslands along the paths are a source of ticks. The current pattern of users leaving the established paths and traversing the grassy portions of the meadow is increasing contact between humans, dogs and ticks. Ticks are particularly problematic this spring due to the mild weather experienced this winter.  The shortened freeze period has fostered the development of an early and intense tick infestation. Pedestrians and dogs running through the meadowlands, off of the designated paths, are likely to pick up ticks and tick-borne illnesses. 

More than 50 years ago, the Belmont Conservation Commission successfully urged Town Meeting to contribute to the purchase of this land from McLeans Hospital, recognizing the need to preserve this “last piece of open space in the congested and overbuilt Town of Belmont.” Over the past two decades, the Conservation Commission has worked tirelessly to improve and maintain Rock Meadow, an environmentally sensitive resource area.  The Commission recognizes the importance of having open space available, particularly during periods of social isolation. Unfortunately, the current abuses at Rock Meadow are unsustainable. We would hate to close the Meadow, but we need visitors to step up and protect the resource area. Leash your dogs. Pick up poop and discard it in the appropriate containers.  Stay on the paths. Check yourself for ticks. Maintain social distancing.

Thank you for your cooperation. Let’s keep Rock Meadow safe and accessible for all during this challenging time.