Rink Committee Scramble To Reduce/Explain Project’s $41.4M Price Tag Before Going Before Select Board

Photo: The interior fo the proposed rink in Belmont

In an announcement that caught the Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee by surprise, the design team and owner’s project manager presented the long-awaited price tag to build a new 48,800 sq.-ft. skating rink and athletic/recreation center adjacent to Harris Field on Concord Avenue.

What surprised the members was the estimated cost: a whopping $41.4 million, roughly $7 million more than the highest point of the $28 million to $34 million range the committee first estimated a final cost would be back in July.

The news, coming six weeks before the Nov. 8 general election in which voters will vote on a debt exclusion to pay for the project, had a number of members worried the cost estimate could scare off voters from supporting the rink on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“If we came under $30 million, this meeting would be all roses and sunshine,” said Owner’s Project Manager Tom Gatzunis of CHA. “But that’s the reality.”

The committee will meet at a hastily called noontime meeting on Friday, Oct. 1, to discuss the next steps as it scrambles to find ways to reduce the amount before heading to the Select Board on Monday, Oct. 3, for a review of the project.

Project architects Ted Galante and Gatzunis presented to the committee an overview of expenses at Wednesday’s meeting, going step by step to lay out each component of the construction phase.

The construction cost is $20.5 million, which is slightly higher than what was estimated in July. Add $3.7 million in liability insurance, construction management fees, and general conditions costs. The line items that rocketed the price were design and OPM contingencies and a reserve for escalating costs totaling $13.8 million. Tag on $1.5 million for hazardous removal associated with the demolition of the White Field House, improvements to parking, and roof solar panels; the price comes in at $36.6 million. Finally, assorted soft costs such as paying the firms, administrative work, and installing benches at $4.7 million, you come up with a total of $41.4 million.

Galante said his firm has hired Talevi and Haesche, a construction cost estimating consulting firm, for the past 14 years, and its budget has been “consistently on target with its estimates.”

“Nobody likes the number. I get it; it’s expensive,” said Galante.

See a chart of the costs below

Reaction to the announcement ranged from dread to defiance, as the new figure was well beyond what the leaders of the Building Committee had presented to the public as their best guess

“I see everyone rocking and rolling in their seats, twisting and turning and trying to grasp this whole thing,” said member and former Belmont High School Boys’ Hockey Coach Dante Muzzioli.

Some critics were blunt about the news.

“My biggest concern [is] we’re coming out with a number that is just too high,” said Tom Caputo, the select board representative to the committee.

“It is well beyond the high end of the range that we’ve talked about with the Select Board and well beyond where the community has already started to engage in the discussion,” said Caputo. The reason the select board approved placing the debt exclusion on the November ballot was the assumption that the final cost would be inside the range presented by the committee. “I think this number is bordering on unworkable.”

Will the community wrap its arms around the rink?

While not criticizing the process or the design team’s assumptions, member Muzzioli told the committee that “we really got to get a number that this community can wrap their arms around.” But after speaking to supporters who were waiving on their commitment for a rink at a $35 million price point, Muzzioli said the new cost “is going to be hard to swallow.”

“My personal request would be, what levers do we have in the next few days” to pull costs from the project, said Caputo. Suggestions began on strategically stripping program components from the rink, such as the high school locker rooms, and possibly removing or delaying the $1.5 million allocated to the rooftop solar array.

Chair Mark Haley and member Dynelle Long immediately questioned assumptions made by the cost estimators on the two contingency line items, specifically if the reserve should cover the entire cost of the project rather than just the construction of the project. “This just blows [up] the number,” said Haley. Savings were also suggested by taking a different look at the reserve for escalating costs pegged at 12.5 percent annually.

Both Galante and Gatzunis warned that making changes to the project at the 11th hour could backfire on the committee.

“I understand this is a big number for the town and to get this funded will be a heavy lift if it’s even possible. But we just want to be clear that we’re confident in this number and dropping it may put us in a much worse place later,” said Galante. “I think it is important to be cautious, but by being potentially overly cautious, we will put the project at risk in its own way.”

Galante noted that it has been requests by the town, schools and residents as well as the committee stepping up and taking on additional programs – such as the lack of lockers at the new Middle and High School and the loss of athletic and town space when the White Field House is removed – “that is really driving the construction cost numbers.”

Members expressed that the committee should stay firm with the plan presented Wednesday, pointing out

While not disagreeing that the designer should look to reduce cost where he can “I want us to keep in mind that there are stakeholders … who are interested in voting for this for some of the reasons we’re talking about cutting out,” said Meghan Moriarty, chair of the School Committee and its representative on the board. She noted the Recreation Department sees both the proposed second-floor community room and skate rentals as revenue producing and are very important to promote its programs at the rink.

“Although we are trying to make this palatable and fair to those in our community … we are looking for the one-plus vote to get this passed and some of those are coming from people” who are expecting locker rooms, solar panels and year round use.

Frank French Jr., the Belmont Youth Hockey Board member on the committee, said it’s important to inform and remind voters that it’s not a skating rink they will be supporting but an athletic facility.

“It is a point to explain to the community how much more they are getting than just a rink. It’s not an apples to apples comparison.”

Belmont Fire Holding Open House On Saturday, Oct. 1

Photo: The open house is this Saturday

The Belmont Fire Department will be holding an Open House at its headquarters located at 299 Trapelo Rd. on Saturday, Oct. 1 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Join members of the Fire Department for demonstrations and hands on activities. Visitors of all ages will enjoy checking out various firefighter equipment, a friendly dose of fire safety education, and much more. Pizza and soda will be available. Come and join the department’s firefighters and fire department staff for this community event.

Belmont High Girls’ Soccer On Three Game Win Streak With Romp Over Arlington

Photo: Belmont High’s Anna Santos scores the Marauders’ second goal in their 4-0 shutout of Arlington

After a slow start to the 2022 season – a last-minute tie in the opener followed by two losses – the past week saw a dramatic turn around for Belmont High Girls’ Soccer team.

In its most recent games, the team secured a nice piece of silverware by winning the Phoenix Cup after beating Watertown, 4-1, at Soccer Night in Belmont. It followed that with a pair of road victories: 2-1 at Reading (goals from Lily Duffy and Bridget Gray) and a 4-0 thrashing of hosts Arlington on Saturday, Sept. 24.

“Our game plan was good today and the girls’ executed it really well,” said Belmont’s first year head coach Jemmy Cange. “It was a good effort from everyone.”

Under the lights, the Marauders faced a SpyPonders squad flouting a 3-1-0 record playing in front of their fans during the town’s Soccer Night in Arlington as Belmont bolstered its lineup with the return of veteran midfielders Lena Marinell and Sabrina Salls who started the season on the injured list.

It took exactly one minute for Belmont to race to the lead as Marauder’s freshman phenom Danika Zicha (six goals so far this season) did what she does best: outrace loads of defenders to the ball (a pass from Gray) and drilled the shot past the goalie.

Belmont doubled their advantage midway though the opening half as Anna Santos rounded the goalie and buried the ball from a tight angle. Belmont’s third resemble something you’d see on Saturday morning Premier League highlights as Marinell drew defenders to the right side of the box before sending a picture perfect pass onto the feet of an on-rushing Lily Hovsepian who slotted the ball into the open net.

Senior goalies Yuval Golani and Kate Grimble combined for the clean sheet, the first of the year, which they shared with the Marauders’ back three of senior Kiki Hovsepian with juniors Hannah Glavin and Lucy Kabrhel who were four along the back when Gray dropped in support.

“They were a wall back there,” said Cange.

A standout Saturday was sophomore Lucy Hynds who was a disruptive presence for the SpyPonder midfield with her physical demeanor.

“I always try to be really aggressive when I can, because I find that even when I don’t win the ball one of my teammates will when I play that way,” said Hynds who noted the team has been working hard to improve since the opener. “We’re really putting in the work and now we are getting the results.”

Belmont set the tone defensively in the second half as Arlington was reduced to taking long-range chances at goal. The match’s final score came from Zicha who rocketed a 20-meter shot from the left of the box that rested into the far right corner of the net.

Belmont will host the 3-1-2 Woburn squad on Tuesday, Sept 27 at 6:30 p.m. before welcoming Lexington at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, Sept 29.

Opinion: A ‘Yes’ Vote For A New Rink Is A Choice For A Better Future

Photo: Poster of the ‘Yes for the Rinkcampaign

By Sheryl Grace, Kayla Wiggin, Lucinda Zuniga

On November 8th, Belmont voters have the chance to save two community assets by voting yes on the Debt Exclusion for the rink and field sports facilities. The Skip Viglirolo Rink and White Field House are both well beyond their useful lives. Reports dating back to 1999 document the code issues and decaying nature of the buildings leading the town to identify these buildings as part of the infrastructure plan along with many other facilities in Belmont. The identified facilities were treated with only small Band-Aids over the past 20 years because larger Band-Aids would have cost more and still not enabled the buildings to come off of the list. Belmont has chipped away at the list completing fire stations, schools, town buildings, the pool, etc. It is now down to the rink, field house and library.  

Twenty plus years after the infrastructure list was created, the rink and White Field House are on the brink of being shuttered. The Youth Valley League already pulled out of using the rink deeming it unfit. This means that the Belmont Youth Hockey program does not have any home games in Belmont. Other skating clubs have stopped using the rink as well. The White Field House was slated to be demolished because its issues are beyond treatment and when the initial number of parking spaces requested for the new high school was made, a plan to use the field house land was hatched. Because of pandemic related cost increases related to the high school project, the demolition did not happen. This is fortunate as there was no plan for replacing the functions of the field house. The high school football, hockey, ski and lacrosse teams would currently be without a locker room and the Department of Public Works would be without storage for field maintenance equipment. 

It is very important for citizens to understand that the use of these buildings cannot be extended with even large Band-Aids for very far into the future. When shuttered, there will be a significant cost to demolish and remediate the site; football, hockey, ski, and boys lacrosse will lose the use of a locker room area for storing their sports equipment; 400 BYHA families will be driving to other rinks the entire season; the Belmont High School hockey teams will look to the school and town budgets for the $250,000 or more each year to pay for ice time and transportation; the BHS hockey teams will have either very early or very late practice times and no longer benefit from the support of a hometown crowd; the women’s and men’s hockey leagues and the S.P.O.R.T. program that use the rink will be displaced; the public skates, puck-n’-sticks and PTA skating events will cease. 

On November 8th, Belmont has the chance to choose a better future scenario that will not only avoid the aforementioned outcomes but benefit the community greatly. The planned building will combine the current functions of the rink and White Field House, provide new functions, and be more energy and cost efficient to operate. The new functions include locker room opportunities for field sports. Many currently have no place to put their backpacks during practice or an indoor space for team discussions which is particularly unfortunate when it is torrentially raining. The building will provide bathrooms, concessions and a warming space for events in the rink and on the adjacent fields. A room above the front community area will provide additional viewing of the rink and fields to the west and be available for rental. Should the ice sheet be removed in the summer, the space would be available for Recreation Department programming which has not been possible for the past 15 years because of issues with the current sublayer of the ice. 

The cost, while not finalized, has been projected to be around $30 million. This is more than the cost of a “rink in the box” because it includes the required demolition and site remediation; design work to create a building that includes all the features requested by the Select Board that does not encroach on the fields west of the rink; a structure strong enough to support solar on the roof; the solar panels; and the green space and parking near the building. The new functions that are included in the new building that are not in the existing buildings enable support of more student athletes and enhance the energy efficiency and revenue potential of the space. Based on past ballot measures, the estimated debt translates into about $300 additional in property taxes per year for a median valued home for the duration of the debt. (This tax figure is an estimate and has not been officially provided by the Assessor’s office.) 

It is envisioned that the facility will be like other town-owned rinks in nearby communities that are revenue neutral or revenue generating. Income will come from ice rental by the Belmont Youth Hockey, mens and womens leagues, skate rental for public skate, the Valley League, nearby private schools, club programs, and recreation department programs. The building will service more than 800 student athletes a year through the youth and high school sport programs as well as all in the community that attend their games at the rink or adjacent fields. Thriving youth and high school sports programs feed community pride and are a sign of a healthy, vibrant town.

We hope that Belmont supports this tradition by voting yes on Ballot Question 6, the Debt Exclusion for the rink and field sports facilities. 

Sheryl Grace, Kayla Wiggin & Lucinda Zuniga are co-chairs of the Yes For the Rink

Welcome Home: Belmont Harriers Open New Course With A Double Victory [VIDEO]

Photo: A Belmont High harrier on their home course for the first time

After three years wandering the Middlesex League to run as visitors on opponent’s courses, Belmont High Cross Country teams finally has a place they can call their own.

And what a place to hold a meet: a new course on the a gently rolling terrain of Rock Meadow Conservation Area off Mill Street. Using existing portions of the Western Greenway, the 2.9 miles multi loop course transverse the 70-acre of high grass meadow, tree-lined trails as well as the wooden boardwalk over the deep emergent marsh. Being a loop race course, fans can stand at one location and watch the progress of the runners during the competition.

Rock Meadow replaces the former trek around Clay Pit Pond and the fields surrounding the former high school which was abandoned with the construction of the new Middle and High School project.

“The coaches [Melissa Tkacs and William Brotchie] went through a long list and Rock Meadow is such a beautiful place,” said Adam Pritchard, Belmont Schools Athletic Director, noting the land had been used by other cross country programs – Belmont Hill and Harvard intermural – in recent years. “We decided to ask the town … and we were fortunate enough to have access for three home meets.”

With a course that embraces nature in protected greenspace that highlights the changing seasons as the autumn foliage starts to take hold, Belmont’s Rock Meadow home is one of the most esthetically appealing in the Middlesex League if not eastern Massachusetts.

At the first meet of the season on Tuesday, Sept. 29, Belmont’s runners secured 15-45 victories – taking the first five places – in the boys’ and girls’ races against Stoneham. Sophomore Jared Rife (16 minutes, 44 seconds) and senior Stella Lesnik (time to come) crossed the finish line first, giving them the inaugural course and Belmont High records for the new home.

Belmont will race on their home course twice more this season; hosting Lexington on Tuesday, Sept. 27 and Reading on Wednesday, Oct. 12. The meets start at 4 p.m.

A Pair Of Speed Tables Set For Winter Street To Slow Down Cut-Through Commuters

Photo: A map of hte location of the two speed tables for Winter Street

The longstanding complaints from homeowners along lower Winter Street that vehicles are treating their street more like a drag strip than a neighborhood street has been answered.

On Tuesday, Sept. 21, the Select Board approved placing a pair of raised traffic tables on Winter between Marsh Street and Concord Avenue to slow down the increasing traffic load that includes a return of the commuter cut-through drivers.

Residents came before TAC on July 8 for “what was identified as a speeding problem,” said the Director of the Office of Community Development, Glenn Clancy, with cars and trucks racing to Route 2 and towards the dicey intersection with Concord Avenue that leads to Belmont Center.

A subsequent week-long speed data study by the Belmont Police Department confirmed the residents’ observations: nearly three of every five motorists were caught traveling above 30 mph, five mph faster than the posted speed limit in thickly settled neighborhoods.

Based on the findings, TAC held a meeting in early September where all but one of the households supported Clancy’s and the TAC’s recommendation of installing three-inch tall tables at either end of that stretch of Winter Street.

“[A raised table] is a technique that we’ve used in Belmont for the last several years, which has been effective,” said Clancy, pointing to its use on School Street adjacent to the Burbank School.

“They are designed to slow traffic down. They are not designed to jolt or jar traffic” but be a visual clue for drivers to reduce their speed, said Clancy.

When Board Chair Mark Paolillo worried that more residents would petition for tables so that the town would be swamped with them over time, Clancy said a recent data study of Belmont Street from Trapelo to Common found the average speed was 21 mph.

“It is surprising when you do the studies how often the data actually shows that the average speed is below 25 mph,” said Clancy.

The project’s total cost will be $4,600 and will be funded from the annual pavement management account. The installation will occur in the following months.

Shanah Tovah: Rosh Hashanah Begins Sunset Sunday

Photo: Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset on Sunday, Sept. 25

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins at sunset (at 6:36 p.m.), Sunday, Sept. 25 and lasts until Tuesday evening, Sept. 27

Rosh Hashanah – which in Hebrew translates to “head of the year” – is a time of inner renewal and divine atonement. It begins the the High Holidays culminating with Yom Kippur on Tuesday evening, Oct. 4. It is a time for observant people to acknowledge their sins of the previous year and are judged for their transgressions by God.

The holiday will affect after-school activities and athletic events in Belmont’s public schools. Under current district rules, teachers should be aware of the holiday when assigning homework and tests as some students will be attending religious services. 

Meals include apples dipped in honey to symbolize a sweet new year and at least one brisket dinner. Other traditions include participating in tashlich, Hebrew for “casting off” in which people go to a nearby body of water – Clay Pit Pond is a popular site – and throw in pieces of bread, which signifies the washing away of sin.

Select Board OKs $500K In ARPA Funds For DPW’s New Salt Shed

Photo: The existing salt shed at the DPW yard, currently closed for safety reasons.

Each year – winter, really – Belmont uses 5,100 tons of salt on town roads to keep the streets safe and manageable when ever it snows.

And you gotta store it somewhere. For the past 35 years, the salt –  basically sodium chloride much like table salt – has been stored in a bee-hive shaped shed located at the Department of Public Works yard. At 36 feet tall and 72 feet in diameter, the octagonal structure was constructed with six-foot steel reinforced concrete retaining walls that supported the wood beam dome.

But storing corrosive material such as salt in a location for decades end up doing bad things. For years, workers witnessed the six-foot steel reinforced concrete wall rusting through and showing signs of failure. In addition, the narrowness of the entry into the shed has resulted in the town’s excavator hitting the walls inside a dark interior as it maneuvered inside the structure to retrieve salt.

In July, workers began hearing what sounded like a “door opening and closing,” said DPW Director Jay Marcotte. Looking inside the shed, employees discovered the wooden dome was lifting off from the concrete wall. The DPW had seen enough, chaining a gate to the shed and closed it down.

A subsequent investigation found the wood frame was collapsing and actually being supported by the salt pile. Removing the salt when the first snows event occurs would likely cause the roof to collapse with possible injuries.

The solution: Replace wood with fabric. BETA Engineering, the town’s consultant, recommends an engineered fabric metal structure manufactured and installed by Clear Span Fabric Structures of South Windsor CT. A specialist in creating salt sheds, the firm recommended a 65 foot wide, 80 foot long and 36 feet high fabric covered structure with block footings and interior lighting.

One main advantage using this structure is it can be moved to accommodate future town plans for the DPW site.

A breakdown of the cost:

  • $50,000 to BETA Group,
  • $375,000 to Clear Span for the material and installation;
  • $50,000 to remove the current shed and move and tarp the existing salt; and
  • $25,000 for prep work.

The funds to build the new shed is allocated from the town’s American Rescue Plan Act account, which leaves a balance of approximately $4 million.

The existing dome and the concrete supporting walls will be removed, the salt covered with a tarp and a new structure built at the same location. Construction will take place in the next 8 to 10 weeks with the onsite installation taking 3 to 4 weeks. The new shed should be ready around mid-December, according to Marcotte.

Belmont Boys’ Soccer Miss (Many) Chances v. Melrose In Home Opener, Tie Watertown On Soccer Night In Belmont

Photo: Belmont High senior Lucas Alvarez-Fernandez in action vs Melrose High on Monday, Sept. 12 at Belmont’s Harris Field

You don’t need to travel to the southwestern part of the US to witness a drought. You could have just come to Harris Field last week to see Belmont High Boys’ Soccer play its first two home games of the 2022 season to experience a real dry spell.

After a successful away campaign to open the season, with victories over Stoneham (3-0) and Winchester (3-1), the Marauders’ scoring prowess went hiding as the squad was shut out by Melrose 2-0 and drew 0-0 with Watertown under the lights on Soccer Night in Belmont.

But it was not for lack of effort. In both losses, Belmont held the majority of possession and had the better chances at the net. But where the team controlled the midfield with its trademark deft passing that led to open shots, none beat the opposing keeper.

Going into its home game against Reading on Tuesday, Sept. 20, Belmont stands at 2-1-1.

“We knew right from the beginning of the season that we had all the pieces in place, except for potentially those guys that are going to get the ball in the net,” said second-year head coach Niman Kenkre after the Watertown game. That wasn’t the case in the first two games as senior Lucas Alvarez-Fernandez and sophomore Daniel Liu opened their accounts with a pair of goals with goalie Thomas Borkowski keeping a clean sheet at Stoneham.

Against Melrose on Monday, Sept. 12, Belmont was on the front foot in the first half with Liu hitting the post, and a Patrick Tang pass/shot dribbled along the goal line unable to find a friendly foot to steer it home. The attacks continued in the second half with junior Nikolas Stefanovic‘s cleaver back heel in front of the net just missed being a highlight reel tally while junior Sachil Kenkre had a couple of attempts that sailed just over the bar. Those almost/nearly opportunities came to bite the Marauders

Before a large crowd on Saturday, Belmont demonstrated its skill in advancing the ball with medium to short passes through the heart of the Raiders’ midfield. But once again, shots on the net were launched over the bar rather than steered into the net or the Marauders’ attempted one-too-many passes or touches that allowed an good Watertown defense to take the block. While the game officially ended in a tie, the game went to penalty shots to determine the winner of the Phoenix Cup, the Soccer Night in Belmont trophy. Despite two excellent saves by Borkowski, Watertown would take home the silverware this year.

“I’ve got to figure out how we’re gonna get goals because we don’t have that hunger in the box right now, and I may need to change some things tactically. It’s two games in a row where we’ve had perfect possession, excellent chances, and we couldn’t bundle the ball over the line,” he said.

And while Belmont is facing admittingly “big games” in the week against Reading on Tuesday and Arlington on Saturday, there’s no panic on the Marauder sideline, among the coaches or players.

“It’s not the end of the world. It’s early in the season when we’re ready to right the ship,” said Kenkre.

“I’m not unhappy with the way that we’re playing. We just need to play that way for 80 minutes, not 40 or 60.”

‘Belmont’s’ Conley’s Pub & Grille Sold To A Familiar Face

Photo: Conley’s Pub: Belmont’s favorite bar not in Belmont

A familiar face returns as the new owner of Belmont’s favorite bar not in Belmont, Conley’s Pub & Grille.

Last week, owner Stephen Conley – who opened the bar/restaurant in 2001 – sold the location to JKT Watertown Partners LLC which leased the property to pub entrepreneur Jim O’Rourke. Renovations are reportedly taking place this week “with the possibility of it reopening the following wleek with the same name, concept, and staff,” according to Boston Restaurant Talk.

“That’s a wrap,” Conley wrote on his pub’s Facebook page.

“I simply do not have words for all this has meant to me and my family. It’s hard to put into words,” said Conley. “The community, the staff, the customers. I hope everyone knows I appreciate it all. Like, all of it. I had my name out front. And there’s a commitment to living up to that name. And honoring all that it entails.”

While located at 164 Belmont St. in Watertown, Conley’s has long been the hangout for Belmont residents which have considered the watering hole and eatery its own.

O’Rourke owns the First House Pub in Winchester and The Heights Pub in Arlington Heights and is co-owner of the recently opened Fresh Pond Beer Garden in the Fresh Pond Mall in Cambridge. His locations are described as “family-friendly neighborhood spot[s] that offer comfort food, pub grub, and classic American fare,”

The Arlington native’s connection with Conley’s began more than a decade ago when he started working there part time.

“When Conley’s expanded, the owner asked me to come on full time as a chef/manager. I worked there until First House Pub opened in 2015,” O’Rourke told Your Arlington in 2021. Conley and O’Rourke were co-owners of First House at its opening.

As he “moves on to his next chapter,” Conley had one final comment to convey.

“Thank you Belmont. Thank you Watertown. You’ve been left in incredibly capable hands. See you soon. On the other side of the bar.”