Belmont Police Names Hurley New Assistant Chief

Photo: Mark Hurley, Belmont PD Assistant Chief

The Belmont Police Department announce the promotion of Lt. Mark Hurley to the position of Assistant Police Chief.

“His promotion was the first step our plan towards creating a command staff that is invigorated and eager to take on new challenges and ideas,” said Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac.

Hurley will be responsible for planning, administration and operations of the department. In addition to fulfilling all the duties of the second in charge of the department, the Assistant Chief directly oversees the Detective Division, Community Service Division and Joint Public Safety Communication Division E911.

Hurley began his career with the Belmont Police Department in 1998. He was promoted to Sergeant in 2007 and Lieutenant in 2014.

A 1989 graduate of Belmont High School, Assistant Chief Hurley holds a Bachelor of Arts from UMass Boston and Master’s Degree from Western New England College.

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.

COVID-19 Cases Nears 200 As Death Toll Reaches 58 In Belmont

Photo: Deaths related to COVID-19 in Belmont nears 60 as state considers reopening

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has reported 198 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Belmont as of Friday, May 15, with a total of 58 COVID-19 related deaths in town.

Fifty-three of which are confirmed by filed death certificates with the Town Clerk’s office and 5 are unconfirmed, according to Jon Marshall, Belmont’s assistant town administrator.

The MDPH is providing weekly reports of COVID-19 data by city or town as part of its Dashboard for COVID-19 Cases, Quarantine and Monitoring.  MDPH will update this list once a week on Wednesdays. 

Governor Baker’s reopening plan begins May 18

On May 11, Gov. Massachusetts Charlie Baker announced a four-phased plan to slowly and carefully begin reopening some parts of the economy in Massachusetts beginning on Monday, May 18. Belmont officials have not received advanced notification of which businesses or services will be allowed to resume next week. However, any businesses or services that reopen will be required to develop and implement plans that meet the State’s new Mandatory Workplace Standards, which focus on social distancing, hygiene, face coverings, and disinfecting to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission to employees and customers.

Please note at this time Town buildings will remain closed to the public, but staff can be reached by phone or email during normal business hours. 

COVID-19 Testing

The MDPH originally restricted the availability of COVID-19 testing to individuals with symptoms (i.e. cough, sore throat, fever, chills, fatigue, headache, recent loss of sense of taste or smell, shortness of breath) consistent with the virus.  As more test kits have been made available to providers, MDPH is now expanding its COVID-19 testing categories to now include those who are close contacts to someone that has recently tested positive and those that work with individuals that have tested positive.  Close contacts, with or without symptoms, should be tested as soon as possible after they are notified of their exposure to COVID-19.

Community wide testing

Cambridge and Somerville have recently gained attention for announcing plans for community wide COVID-19 testing, which has been made possible because of their preexisting partnership with the Cambridge Health Alliance, an academic community healthcare system that specifically serves the medical needs of Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, Malden, and Revere.  Residents that live within CHA’s service area have access to community testing. 

Drive-through testing events have been held in other nearby communities, these events are conducted by for-profit entities.  At this time, Belmont does not have the resources to hold a community wide testing event on its own.

Additionally, MDPH is only recommending community wide testing for densely populated municipalities such as the ones listed above.

MDPH has informed local health officials throughout the state that COVID-19 testing is available to anyone, without prior approval from a medical provider, at a number of different Community Health Centers located throughout the state. The Community Health Center closest to Belmont is:

                                Cambridge Health Alliance – East Cambridge Care Center

                                163 Gore Street

                                Cambridge, MA 02141

                                (617) 665-3000

You must call ahead of time to schedule a time for testing. 

A list of testing site located throughout the state can be found here:

Face Coverings: Now required per Order of the Governor

Governor Baker’s COVID-19 Order No. 31 went into effect throughout the Commonwealth on May 6th and requires all individuals over the age of 2 to wear face coverings in public places where physical distancing is not possible. This applies to both indoor and outdoor spaces such as, but not limited to, grocery stores, pharmacies, laundromats, home improvement stores, banks, government buildings, and restaurant pick-up sites.  However, it should be noted that there are exceptions to this Order, as it does not apply to children under the age of two (2) and those unable to wear a mask or face covering due to a medical condition*.

On May 11th, the Belmont Board of Health and the Belmont Select Board updated Temporary Emergency Regulation #2 to include language for fines in line with the Governor’s Order.

A violation of this Order and local Regulation may result in a fine of up to $300. 

 *Please note: There are many disabilities that are invisible and you may not know why someone is not wearing a face covering.  The Town asks that you do not confront people about wearing masks.  If you are uncomfortable about being near someone who does not have a mask on, please consider walking away or around them from a safe distance. 

This is a challenging time for everyone and we appreciate your continued compliance as we all work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and look forward to safely reopening businesses.

Please visit the CDC’s website to learn more about its recommendation for face coverings.

The CDC has also posted information on how to make your own face covering.

You may also contact Belmont Helps to request a mask.

Face Coverings for Senior Citizens

The Beech Street Center has a limited supply of face coverings available to provide to senior citizens in Belmont.  Senior citizens may contact the Beech Street Center to request either handmade washable cloth masks, or disposable masks. 

Please be advised that as of Tuesday, April 28th, the Town has mandated use of masks at essential business; please further be advised that any contactless transitions occurring outside the center, including meals, also require you to wear a mask.

Please note that your call will be answered and Beech Street Center staff will respond to your request within 48 hours. To make your mask requests, please call the main number at 617-993-2970 or email .

Belmont Food Pantry’s hours

The Belmont Food Pantry will be open to distribute food on the following dates: Saturday June 6 and Saturday June 20 from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. The distribution will still be drive-thru with everyone remaining in their car, pulling up to the volunteer to check in and another volunteer will put the bag(s), per family, into the car. Walkers: PLEASE keep a distance from each other and Food Pantry volunteers WILL COME to you. Belmont residents who are coming to receive food, please remember to bring your ID and have it ready before you get to the check in. Click here…/thebelmont…/home/new-client-forms for the application and instructions.

Beech Street Center is here to help

Nava Niv-Vogel, Director of the Council on Aging, wishes to remind the community that staff at the Beech Street Center are available to help residents of all ages to access essential services during the pandemic. 

Due to growing national concern that people are waiting too long to seek out medical treatment over fears of catching COVID-19, potentially contributing to poor health outcomes, all residents are reminded to always call their primary care physicians and/or other medical specialists for advice regarding ANY medical issue, even if it is not related to COVID-19. 

Staff at the Beech Street Center can be reached at (617) 993-2970.

Emotional Health Resources

During stressful times it is common to have worries about yourself or a loved one.  If you have questions about the types of treatment available, please contact Health Department Social Worker Janet Amdur at or (617) 993-2983.

Please remember to take care of your emotional health and help others to do the same. If you need emotional help please also consider making use of the following resources:

• Call 2-1-1 and choose the “CALL2TALK” option. (Please note that 2-1-1 call center has recently been operating on approximately a 90-minute delay for responses.)

• The Samaritans helpline operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call or text their helpline any time at 1-877-870-4673.

• The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a national hotline, which also operates 24/7, to provide immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human caused disaster, including disease outbreaks like COVID-19.  This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. 

• The Beech Street Center is a local resource in Belmont that can help senior citizens address a variety of needs and access to social services.

Belmont Helps: Ways to Help Our Community

Belmont Helps, a Winn Brook Parent Teacher Association Committee, is a 100% volunteer organization founded on March 14, 2020 to connect Belmont area community members in need during the COVID-19 outbreak to resources and volunteers.  More information can be found at  Contact or leave a message at (617) 993-0162 for a call back from a team member.

To help reduce the spread of the virus, Belmont is participating in the Massachusetts COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) program.

Belmont COVID-19 Informational Call Center and Email

For general COVID-19 questions not specific to the Town of Belmont, all Massachusetts residents encouraged to call the state’s 2-1-1 hotline that is staffed by operators 24/7 and with translators available in multiple languages.  Residents with questions can dial 2-1-1 from any landline or cellphone or use the live chat option on the on the Mass 2-1-1 website. 

The Town of Belmont has also established a call center to allow residents to ask non-medical questions specific to COVID-19 in Belmont. The call center will be staffed Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm the number for the call center is (617) 993-2222. Questions can also be emailed to: .

Please call 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency. Calls should not be made to 9-1-1 to obtain information about COVID-19

Topping Off Celebration As Final Steel Beam Placed At High School Section [Photos]

Photo: The final steel beam being moved into place at the Belmont Middle and High School project, Friday, May 15.

The white beam was the final of more than 3,800 steel sections created to build the Phase One – the high school section – of the new Belmont Middle and High School project. And on a warm, sunny Friday, May 15, the final piece of the structural system was signed by many of the men and women of Ironworkers Local Union 7 and the general contractor Skanska USA before being hoisted to the fourth floor level of the building.

With so many events and celebrations cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a rare moment where the builders and contractors could stand for a moment and look at their joint accomplishment creating the backbone of the 425,000 sq.-ft. school.

With a small fir tree – a tradition going back nearly 1,000 years – and the Stars and Stripes bolted on the beam, the steel was the center of attention during the “topping off” ceremony marking the major milestone as the symbolic completion of the structural phase of the building.

The beam reached the top and was bolted into place by ironworkers Christian Breen from Woburn and Westfield’s Mikey Fabiani who took the time to shake hands when the the job was completed.

“Many of us are familiar with the topping off tradition. For others, this is the first of many to come in your careers,” said Manny Hoyo, superintendent for Skanska. “One thing is for certain, we’ll all remember the placing of this final steel beam as a testament to this incredible achievement we accomplished in the midst of a period of unprecedented challenges.”

Ironworkers Christian Breen (left) and Mikey Fabiani

Full Steam Ahead: Town Clerk Moving Forward With Remote Town Meeting

Photo: Virtual Town Meeting

are running full steam ahead to run a remote-access annual Town Meeting on June 16 with only nine articles that must be taken up. 

In her last communication to Town Meeting Members, Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said Belmont and five other towns had put forth a request for Special Legislation to allow representative Town Meeting towns to hold virtual meetings. The legislation has passed the state Senate and has been with the House for more than a week.

“We all sincerely hope for an answer by early next week,” said Cushman.

The current plan, according to Cushman, which is still under development include:

  • We will use two applications at the same time – one for viewing or asking questions and the other exclusively for voting. We will use Zoom as our Video Conference Platform for the viewing and asking questions.We will use our customary TurningPoint electronic voting system for voting, but instead of distributing the “clickers” to everyone, we will be voting using our technology devices, desktop computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones.
  • During the week ahead, each Town Meeting Member will receive an email invitation to create a password for the TurningPoint system that will allow you to vote securely during Town Meeting.
  • Over the next few weeks, we will divide the Town Meeting into experience groups to run classes so everyone is ready for June 16. We will also be running a practice Town Meeting and/or League of Women Voters Warrant Briefing night so we’re all on board before the 16th. We ask you to make participating in these practice and training sessions a priority, making every effort to “attend.” We understand that there are experts among us but we also recognize that there are members for whom technology is a real challenge, their talents lie elsewhere.
  • Training materials and links to training videos will be distributed next week – we urge you to take the class, do the practice, run a fun Zoom session with your family or friends, practice opening two applications at the same time, minimizing applications.  If you don’t know what any of that is, not to worry.
  • Town Meeting materials are being developed and will be distributed approximately three weeks before Town Meeting.  The materials will include video presentations by the Chairs of our key committees, boards and commissions to assist Town Meeting Members to make informed choices. We’ll also be asking Town Meeting Members to send their questions in far in advance of the Town Meeting so that these folks can respond and share the information with all Members.  We do not anticipate reports will be given at Town Meeting, instead we ask Members to watch the videos.
  • The members of the public will be encouraged to watch, either by livestreaming or through our partner Belmont Media.
  • The Moderator has made the decision that the deadline for any amendments will be one week before Town Meeting, instead of the customary three days, to give plenty of time for evaluation and conversation.
  • We are committed that every Town Meeting Member will be able to fully participate and have their vote counted properly, whatever it takes.
  • If you are a person who is experienced and interested in helping to teach other Town Meeting Members about using Zoom or TurningPoint, please send me an email reply. It’s not yet clear whether we will need your assistance but it’s always good to know before the need arises.

Finally, over the last couple of weeks, Town Meeting Members have completed the online survey of technology types and comfort using technology as well as preferred learning styles. And 289 the 292 Town Meeting Members responded!

Here are the very general numbers:

Technology Town Meeting Members Own or Have Access to:

  • 276 have a smartphone
  • 241 have a laptop computer  (many also have other technology)
  • 33  have exclusively a desktop computer
  • 10  have exclusively a tablet

Experience / Comfort with Technology and Zoom Video Conferencing

  • 136 “Zoomers”  ( regularly participate in Zoom and VERY comfortable with technology)
  • 42 “Experts”( participating frequently in Zoom and very comfortable with technology) 
  • 60 “Intermediates” (participate infrequently in Zoom and comfortable with technology)
  • 24 “Beginners” (have watched Zoom but not participated, 13 are comfortable with technology, 11 are not)
  • 27 “Novices”  (have never watched Zoom, but all are comfortable with technology)

While Middle And High School (Nearly) On Budget, COVID Looms Over Project


At its 99th meeting since it first met in 2016, the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee on Wednesday, May 13 inched closer to realizing a milestone in the construction of the 451,575 sq.-ft. project as it closes in on finalizing the project’s Guaranteed Maximum Price.

With all the actual bids received by the general contractor, Skanska, and through the oversight of the project by the board (which included a series of value engineering exercises earlier in the process by the building committee to balance the preliminary budgets) the project is at the point where the committee can compare this actual cost of the project against the initial estimated price tag.

The final price of the project is comprised of the bids received, the amount of contingency used, and agreed upon general conditions/fee. Under the GMP, Skanska is compensated for all actual costs incurred from the first day of construction – actually some costs before then – onward.

Going forward, Skanska is responsible for all cost overruns, unless the GMP is increased via formal “change orders” that alters the scope of the project. To reduce their risk and cover any unforeseen costs, Skanska has a contingency fee built into the budget.

And the GMP is darn close to the original price tag for the project. Initially pegged at $238,619,850 – this figure has been revised slightly upwards with allowed transfers of preconstruction costs – after all the steel, cement, rebar wire and thousands of other material and services have been cited and reviewed, the project’s GMP has come in at $240,041,815.

And while the discrepancy results in an overage of $1,421,335, Building Committee Chair William Lovallo told the committee having the GMP coming within a half of a percent of the original estimate on a project this large was commendable.

“I think we did a darn good job,” he said, although admitting $1.4 million “is still a big number.”

Three options facing the committee

While the committee member will be digesting the facts and figures over the weekend – a final approval will come at Wednesday’s May 20 virtual meeting – Lovallo said the once the committee OKs the $240.0 million GMP, it has three options to reconcile the deficit:

  • Approve the GMP and resolve the deficit using the contractor’s contingency fund, currently at $16 million.
  • Ask Skanska to find a way to come up with $1.4 million in cost savings, and
  • Enter into a third round of value engineering that requires reopening the expenses column and cutting items that are ready to be added to the building.

While there was some give and take among building committee members on what could be crossed out at this late time – the most focus was on the artificial turf “rugby” field at $700,000, it became apparent that most members were not amiable to revisiting the process.

“We have gone painstakingly through the [value engineering] process and … determined what we placed high value on and made decisions about it,” said Steve Dorrance, the town’s director of facilities, who asked that a straw poll on members preference be taken. It soon became evident the committee members clearly favored using the contingency account and be done with it.

Lovallo told the members they “shouldn’t beat itself up” if it decided to go the contingency route as the contractor and committee have been frugal using the account.

But despite the silver lining around the GMP process, the dark cloud of the coronavirus pandemic has the potential of floating over the project. While the project still has a “substantial amount of money left” in its contingency funds – totaling roughly $18.5 million if you include the owners account and other smaller line items – Lovallo said that money could be seen as quite small if COVID-19 makes a substantial return in the fall or winter.

In a worse case scenario of a major resurgence that forces the closure of the building site or reduce the number of workers on the site to 25 would likely result in millions in incremental costs to the project. Lovallo said that similar sized projects in the Boston area have experienced losses in “seven figures.”

At that point, Belmont would have to really reconsider the project. I don’t see how [the town] would want to be supporting 10s of millions of dollars in COVID costs. It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Lovallo.

“There’s a big discussion we have to have and understand what the options ared of maybe shutting a job down and starting up when work can be a lot more efficient than just pumping millions of dollars into it … just to keep it going.”

‘Parenting in the Time of Coronavirus’: A Webinar With Belmont Schools And McLean Hospital

Photo: A screenshot from the webinar “Surviving Quarantine with you Kids”

As part of a partnership with Belmont Public Schools, the McLean Hospital School Consultation team has recorded two webinars focusing on helping parents navigate challenging COVID-19 circumstances. 

The first video is geared toward parents of elementary school-aged children and the second is geared toward parents of middle and high school-aged teens. The videos have some overlapping content, although the examples provided are age-specific.

Each video is followed by a pre-recorded Q and A that includes answers to the questions Belmont parents submitted. 

Parent Webinar: Surviving Quarantine with your Kids 

  • Child and adult emotional reactions to COVID-19
  • How to provide validating responses to children
  • Managing challenging behavior at home
  • Skills for managing difficult emotions
  • Q&A
Surviving Quarantine with your Kids Webinar

Parent Webinar: Surviving Quarantine with your Teen

  • Teen and adult emotional reactions to COVID-19
  • How to provide validating responses to children
  • Tips for boosting mood and resilience
  • Skills for managing difficult emotions
  • Q&A
Surviving Quarantine with your Teen Webinar

Speakers: Dr. Julia Martin Burch and Dr. Michelle Silverman

Dr. Martin Burch and Dr. Silverman, child psychologists at the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program and the McLean School Consultation Service, present on the topic of managing mental health during the COVID-19 epidemic. The speakers share concrete strategies for supporting your children and yourself in tough moments. Specific topics include: what is a normal response to this type of event, how to maintain compassion for ourselves and our kids during challenging moments, skills to manage intense emotions, tips on keeping active to combat depression, and ways to manage children’s behavior at home during quarantine.

We Are All In This Together: Coexisting with COVID-19

Photo: Team work will get us through

By Lisa Gibalerio, Prevention Specialist, Wayside Youth and Family Support Services and Corinne Jackman, Belmont High School Nurse

It’s been almost two months now.

Two long months of physical distancing, of adhering to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s stay-at-home advisory, of working from home while assisting our kids with online instruction, of acquiring and wearing masks, and of keeping a distant but worried watch over our own parents, many of whom fall smack dab in the middle of the most vulnerable age group.

Most of us have been managing at least some level of anxiety. Over the health of loved ones, over the harrowing plights faced daily by front line workers, over the stress of an overwhelmed health-care system, job insecurity, safely acquiring groceries, and of kids who are also scared, missing meaningful milestones, longing for their friends, and adapting to a virtual school world they never signed up for.

How much longer will we need to do this?  

While experts are working around the clock to develop a safe and effective vaccine, we are told it could be mid-to-late 2021 before that vaccine is ready to inoculate seven billion of the planet’s inhabitants.

Does this mean we stay hunkered down for another year or more?

Most likely no; it’s not sustainable on almost every level, e.g., economically, emotionally, educationally.

The best strategy that seems to offer hope for a safe emergence back into the world includes wide-spread testing, isolation of those who test positive, and contact tracing. Countries who have employed this strategy have been successful because only those who test negative are allowed out in public; all positives are instructed to isolate at home. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know that everyone in line at the post office had tested negative?

Alas, the accessibility of widespread testing has remained elusive in Massachusetts, as elsewhere. So, here we are, collectively contemplating how we will tentatively peek out from under our shells, and wondering how we will navigate the next year.

To get some insight into how to manage long-term stay-at-home experiences, we reached out to a parent whose child spent nine months in isolation following a bone-marrow transplant. She offered the following advice to parents:

  • Live life one day at a time.
  • Keep a positive mindset; it can really impact your emotional wellbeing. 
  • Limit any media intake that focuses on the negative aspects of this virus.
  • Be creative with your time.
  • Keep yourself and your family busy by discovering new hobbies.
  • Learn new skills, or master ones that you’ve already been developing.
  • Be thankful for the little things, no matter how small they may seem.
  • Take time out for yourself – and don’t feel guilty about it.
  • Take turns with your partner in entertaining the younger one(s) while the other takes a little time off for themselves.
  • Remember: things could always be worse; this too shall pass and we will be back to normal before we know it.

As the state begins to open up in the coming weeks, many people have said that, while they may venture out to a backyard barbecue this summer, they do not expect to sit in a crowded movie theater, take in a game at Fenway Park, or ride the subway. Not until there is a vaccine.

In the meantime, remember, the best protection we have right now, and in the months to come, includes frequent hand washing, physical distancing, and mask wearing. It is also important to stay up-to-date with guidelines from reliable sources, such as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. These steps offer protection for ourselves and also for our fellow community members.

As Eugene Robinson said recently in the Washington Post: “We are all in this together. Some of us may not like that, but the coronavirus doesn’t care.”

District Redrafts High School Graduation Plans, But ‘Live’ Ceremony Not In The Cards

Photo: Graduation from the past at Belmont High School

In a move to placate a “large, vocal group” of parents and Belmont High School students who expressed their disappointment at initial plans for virtual graduation, the leadership of the Belmont School District presented to the public on Tuesday, May 12, a redrafted plan to honor the class of 2020 with added opportunities to celebrate their achievement during a time of pandemic.

But missing from the new five-step proposal was the one event the group, known as the Parent Brigade had been agitating for the past fortnight: for the seniors to graduate en masse, together one last time.

While the district was willing to incorporate several of the Brigade’s suggestions into the graduation, the goal of a ceremony in which approximately 330 students would gather at Harris Field for the acceptance of degrees was a bridge too far for school leadership to accept.

“The one thing we can’t give you is a live graduation on Sunday, June 7,” Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan told more than 65 participants in a video conference before the School Committee. “We worry that might not be able to happen in a safe way.”

The effort to change the original graduation theme – which was based on a virtual/remote format – was spurred on by the online Parents Brigade made up of 80 families which quickly rallied only days after the virtual event was presented on May 7. Parents and students began flooding the school administration, school committee members and town officials with pleas of a more robust ceremony.

The pressure from the group reopened the discussion of what would constitute a safe but inclusive lasting moment for the town’s senior class.

Phelan acknowledged that anything less than a traditional graduation ceremony – with parents and friends in attendance inside Wenner Field House with the time-honored trappings of striding to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No 1”, walking up to the dais to be handed diplomas and throwing their caps in the air – “is a disappointment to our seniors and difficult to their families.”

Revisiting the high school’s graduation plans

With that in mind and an overlaying factor of keeping the safety and health of the students in mind, the superintendent and his leadership task force – including police, fire, the Department of Public Works, facilities, the health department, members from the district’s Central Office, and the high school administration – revisited the first iteration of graduation over the weekend and finalized changes on Monday, May 11.

The five part high school graduation program include:

  • On Friday, May 22, on their last day of school, seniors will pick up caps, gowns, and diplomas at the Belmont High School parking lot.
  • In the week before graduation, students and parents will come to the Field House to have their graduation photo taken with Principal Isaac Taylor on the stage. A video will also be taken of the diploma exchange.
  • Also the week before graduation, students will be part of a “rolling rally” in which they will drive their vehicles along a specific route – most likely going passed the town’s elementary and middle schools – before finishing at a prescribed site.
  • On Sunday, June 7, graduation will be a combined live/virtual event with speeches by Class President Caroline Findlay and the two recipients of the School Committee Award for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarships given at the Field House. Then a video will show each senior receiving their diploma.
  • Finally, there will be a class get together just before they move on to post-high school ventures. The details are still being determined when and where it will take place. If for safety reasons the event can’t take place, it will likely be held in June 2021.

“We realize that, like other districts, it’s not ideal. And like in other districts we’re trying to find the best way to recognize our community, especially our seniors at this time,” said Phelan. “We hope this five-step process with elements included from our community that … is safe for every single student who would like to attend the graduation.”

While the school committee has no say in graduation planning and its execution, the five members were receptive to the effort in creating the new plan on such short notice and incorporating the parent’s suggestions.

“I know it’s really hard to make these decisions, but I also appreciate that [the district] is marking a moment in time when it normally happens and I do think it’s really important to commemorate these events when they occur,” said the School Committee’s Kate Bowen. “When it comes to these rites of passage, it’s important to mark a moment when it happens and not delay.”

Phelan concluded by saying while the district wanted to listen to the “substantial changes” the Brigade was seeking, “the proposal that we have in front of you is one that is half cooked and ready to be fully cooked.”

A show of gratitude

Speaking for the students, senior Anna Biondo said her classmates “is a group of of strong, resilient individuals … that accept each other’s differences and are eager to work towards compromise.”

“If the Belmont public school systems wish to teach us one last lesson … let it be not one of learning to cope with disappointment but rather how to take a difficult situation and build community through cooperation,” said Biondo, who said her fellow seniors would be only too eager to comply with strict guidelines on social distancing and safety protocols at a “live” graduation to “show gratitude for our teachers, administrators and parents who fought so hard to get us to this point.”

PJ Looney, a parent of a senior and a member of the Brigade, provided the nuts and bolts of the group’s proposal.

“This class has been through a lot,” said Looney including the death of a classmate in their junior year, the disruption caused by the construction of the new middle and high school, and “then the light switched [off],” Looney said referring to the novel coronavirus that closed the school in mid-March.

“No spring sports, no clubs, no coffeehouse, no senior week, no awards night, no prom and no all-night party. If anybody deserves a graduation in person to see their [friends] one last time, it’s this class and I think we can all agree to that,” said Looney.

Under the group’s plan, the graduation would come with some important stipulations; families would need to sign a waiver, wear masks and observe strict social distancing – sitting six feet apart and approach the stage one-at-a-time – to be allowed to attend the event at Harris Field. Parents would have to stay home with only selected teachers and administrators in the stands. And the group is willing to delay the date of the ceremony to late June to August to allow the state’s regulations to mitigate the effect of the virus’ spread to take hold.

After presenting slides that showed student preferences for graduation that included a ‘live’ ceremony, Looney said the group’s proposal “is a rational plan, we’re following the rules and we’re trying to get the kids what they want and show that we believe them.”

Phelan said he would be in contact with Looney and others to discuss the matter and would present to the school committee within the week with a final proposal in an effort to “move forward” on graduation in Belmont.

No Increase In Water,Sewer Rates (Again) As Monthly Billing Coming By Jan. 1

Photo: Water main being replaced by Belmont DPW

Belmont water and sewer customers will receive a nice surprise as rates for those services will remain steady for the upcoming 2021 fiscal year. This marks consecutive years for water and the third year in which sewer rates will not increase year over year.

And by the new year, customers will be paying those charges monthly as every customer has been fitted with an electronic measuring device.

Department of Public Works Director Jay Marcotte presented the rate proposal before the Select Board at its virtual meeting held Monday, May 11.

Marcotte noted the major cost driver pushing rates higher is due to the annual assessment of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which supplies the town with water and takes its sewage. The MWRA’s water and sewer assessment for fiscal ’21 increased by 1 percent, with most of that growth due to debt held by the agency. Nearly 48.3 percent of Belmont ratepayers water bill comes from the MWRA’s assessment, and 62.7 percent of the sewer payment. 

With the planned use of retained earnings to offset the increase, the rates will remain where they are for another year, said Marcotte. The average Belmont homeowner who uses about 3,000 cubic feet of water will see their quarterly bill remain at approximately $440 for fiscal 2021 that begins July 1, 2020.

And by January 2021, that bill will be coming to customers 12 times a year as opposed to quarterly. With the Smartmeter installation program now 99 percent complete, the department can institute monthly billing.

“We’re working with Belmont Light … to streamline and have one bill” going to customers both departments. While moving from a quarterly to monthly payment will likely increase the cost of mailing it out, “monthly billing is our number one ask by customers” as it will be easier for them in their own budgeting.

Marcotte told the board the DPW will continue its quarter-century water improvement program in which all of Belmont’s pre-1928 cast iron mains – which makes up 42 percent or 38 miles of the town’s total – will be replaced.

This year, about 6,970 linear feet of pipe will be removed which will be 31.4 miles of the pre-1928 mains replaced which will result in the program being 82.8 percent complete. Those streets include Chester, Hammond, Fletcher, Van Ness and Gorham.

With the town expected to transfer all its nearly $2 million pavement management line item for fiscal ’21 to balance the town-wide budget, Marcotte said his department will place a more durable temporary asphalt “patch” on the roadway.

The sewer budget will focus on water quality improvement, system upgrades and replacing two pump stations and a new station in the Winn Brook neighborhood with surcharge mitigation improvements.