Belmont Softball Is Back! Marauders Down Wilmington, 3-2, To Up Record To 6-4

Photo: Belmont High School senior pitcher Ellie Espelin in action against Wilmington

During a recent softball game, an opponent asked Josie Kim a question as Belmont’s outstanding junior catcher stood on second base during a Marauders rally.

“When did you guys get so good?” quire the player.

Many people have been asking that same question this season since Belmont has been wandering in the wilderness for the past 15 years, bereft of a winning record and coming off a lonely two-win season last year.

But with the team playing at its brand-new ballpark and with the right mix of veterans and newcomers, this season’s Marauder team is no longer an automatic “W” on other teams’ schedules as it has been in the past decade.

“We have no star players, but we work as a team. We are underrated because we were so bad for such a long time,” said Kim,

On Friday, April 26, all the elements of the new era came together as the Marauders produced a program-defining victory, holding off perennial Middlesex Freedom leaders Wilmington, 3-2, at Clay Pit Pond Park (the “Pond”). The victory over the Wildcats moves the Marauders to 6-4 midway through the season.

The last time Belmont processed a winning record and earned a playoff spot was in 2008 when the 11-9 Marauders was anchored by strikeout artist Kayla Hoyer (’09), who led all eastern Mass pitchers with 232 Ks.

Belmont High’s second base Eva Grant at bat vs Wilmington.

The program’s sudden turn of fortune comes from players who participate in club softball and a group of outstanding athletes with some past experience in the sport. While the Marauders have taken a huge step towards becoming a competitive squad, growing pains remain, especially against the established teams in the Middlesex League. Case in point: a recent three-game stretch, including against Lexington (18-4) and Arlington (10-0), in which Belmont was over and out-matched.

But Friday – played before dozens of parents and fans filling the backstop stands and some created their own bleachers in left field – showed the potential for finishing the season with a record above .500, and an automatic invite to the state tournament is very real. In Friday’s game, as many balls ended up in the Pond as there were total hits; the team won with its brand of timely hitting – 11 hits, including four doubles – and outstanding defense, highlighted by a pair of double plays, each ending with Kim tagging out a Wildcat at the plate.

“It was pretty much just the throw. I just sat there and caught it. And then all I had to do was go backward with the tags,” said Kim.

Kim’s battery mate, senior ace Ellie Espelin, put her stamp on the game against the Wildcats’ first-year pitcher Izzy Maiella. Belmont’s most experienced hurler picked up seven strikeouts (on nine hits and four walks), many of which got her out of jams. On Friday, the heat worked best for Espelin.

Belmont’s battery: Catcher Josie Kim and Pitcher Ellie Espelin

“I was doing fastball [and curve] and then the change-up, but the fastball was the best pitch today,” said Espelin, with Kim nodding in approval. Taking the measure of Wilmington runs in the family, as Espelin is the sister of Belmont High baseball all-star Nate Espelin, who struck out a school record 19 batters in a 1-0 complete-game shutout over the Wildcats in 2018.

“It was a long week, and I was happy that I hit my spots most of the time,” said Espelin.

Belmont got on the scoreboard first after a one-out double by first-year first base Elsie Lakin-Shultz (2 hits), who advanced to third on an Espelin single (who helped her own cause with three hits, including a double) and scored on a fielder’s choice RBI via left fielder Mia Ferrari. Wilmington rallied in the fourth to tie the game on a walk, a single, a sacrifice, and a groundout. But the Wildcat on third was stranded as Espelin struck out the next batter looking.

Belmont would jump back into the lead in the fifth, with centerfielder Amelia Ormond scoring all the way from first on a Tessa Burroso single to center. The shortstop would cross home on the next pitch when Kim (2 hits) drilled a double to the fence in left to increase the lead to 3-1. The Wildcats would push home a run in the sixth on three infield singles.

The Wildcats would not go quietly as Wilmington’s Ali McElligott launched her second triple of the game with two outs. But Espelin would shut the door by getting Eva Boudreau to swing at a 3-0 count and ground weakly for the easy 1 to 3.

While this is Espelin’s final season, Belmont has a young pitcher waiting in the wings in Olivia Ormond, who threw a four-hit shutout in her first varsity start and helped her own cause by slugging an in-the-park home run to lead the Marauders to a 16-0 victory over Cambridge Rindge and Latin on April 23.

Belmont’s Head Coach Joe Tuzzolo said, “I am impressed with the girls today. They battled the entire way. It was a tight game, and we haven’t been in that many tight games. They showed a lot of composure. We jumped to a lead and saw it disappear because Wilmington is a really good team. But our kids made the plays when it counted.”

“Since the middle of March, when we started, the kids have made great strides, and it showed today,” said Tuzzolo, who also appealed to the Belmont community.

“With the warmer weather, we’d love to see even more fans come to see us play.”

In the bleachers

Obituary: Peter Holland, Formative Figure In Belmont Education, Has Died

Photo: Peter Holland was Belmont school superintendent until 2008

Dr. Peter Holland, one of the most formative leaders in contemporary Belmont education, died recently, according to an announcement from Belmont School Committee Chair Meg Moriarty at its meeting on Tuesday, April 23.

The former Belmont schools superintendent, who lived in Lexington, was in his 80s. A memorial service will be held on May 11 at Saint Brigid Parish, 1981 Massachusetts Ave., in Lexington.

“He was an innovative and progressive thinker,” said Moriarty.

“It is so sad. [Holland] was truly a wonderful man and administrator,” said Anne Marie Mahoney, who had just been elected to the Belmont School Committee before Holland was hired in 1988. “Peter was so thoughtful, so creative, so fair.”

Holland matriculated at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, receiving a master of science in 1970. He began his teaching career as a physics teacher at Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore. He earned a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1984.

Holland was hired as Belmont School Superintendent in 1988 following the controversial tenure of Dr. William Carey. Holland would ultimately spend 21 years at the helm, during which Belmont’s schools took major steps in earning a first-rate academic reputation regionally and nationally.

Speaking to Paul Roberts in 2008, Holland recalled that “Belmont was a really good school district when I arrived. But I think we’ve taken it to a different level.” Working with his long-serving assistant Superintendent Pat Aubin, he implemented state education reform in the district and enacted the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which he was not a particular fan of.

“The level of academic work is terrific. I think a lot of that has to do with the teachers, alignment of the curriculum, good staff development, and that’s all under the direction of Aubin. She’s done a masterful job with instruction and assessment. All four of those areas have to be aligned. Pat’s accomplished that.”

One universal praise during Holland’s tenure was his ability to hire the right person for the right job. His effort to fill the Chenery Middle School with young teachers energized the building and resulted in decades of solid educational gains.

“[Holland] was good at hires. He hired really good principals, really good coordinators and directors and they stayed forever. And he supported them. His administrative council was very cohesive and just worked beautifully. He was good at letting people do their jobs. It was awesome,” said Mahoney.

“Peter was involved with every hire,” said Moriarty. “He learned their names and something about them, so when he saw them in the hallway, he could always greet them by their names and mention something special about them.”

By the end of his incumbency, the number of AP courses taught at the high school had jumped from 5 to 26, the number of National Merit finalists had doubled, and approximately 50 high school students had achieved 800 perfect SAT scores by the early 2000s. Those achievements were later recognized by the state and published in publications. In 2009, US News and World Report’s annual Best High Schools in the US edition ranked Belmont as the 100th “best” high school in the US, trailing only Boston Latin in Massachusetts. (This week, Belmont was ranked 383rd out of 25,000 high schools nationally and 16th in Massachusetts which is the top state for high school education.)

Holland also brought his unique leadership talents to the district. One of his first acts as superintendent was reorganizing the central administrative office with new staff while cutting $100,000 from its budget line. He demonstrated his leadership prowess in successfully navigating two significant events in 1995: a teachers strike in January and a fire that closed the Chenery Middle School in July.

“He was just calm. It was like he was saying, ‘Everything’s great. We’re gonna get through this,'” said Mahoney.

He also established Belmont’s participation in the LABBB Collaborative, the cooperative special education program, and championed Belmont’s participation in the METCO program. While Belmont was a member of METCO, he didn’t believe it was an active member. This led to his founding the METCO Superintendents Group, which fought for equitable state funding.

Holland was especially proud of the level of students who participated in community service. When he left in 2008, 10 percent of Belmont High students received the Presidential Medal for volunteering up to 100 hours in the community. A week after his death, nearly 200 student athletes converged on Belmont Cemetary to prepare the grounds for Memorial Day.

“He felt good that students were involved with the wider society,” said Moriarty.

His involvement in Belmont education extended beyond the district office when, in 1993, Holland co-founded the Foundation for Belmont Education. As of 2024, the community group has provided $4.25 million in grants and assistance to finance more than 900 projects that support teachers and programs in the Belmont district.

The Belmont High School Library is named for Holland, who generously donated to its operation a few months before his death.

Belmont Girls’ Lacrosse ‘Bright’ Star Reaches Century Mark

Photo: Belmont High Girls Lacrosse’s Niamh Lesnik with her teammates celebrating the sophomore reaching 100 goals.

The game played Monday afternoon didn’t go Belmont’s way, a 9-8 overtime loss to Wayland. But in the fading twilight of Harris Field the team had something to celebrate: midfield Niamh Lesnik reached 100 career goals in the first half.

Niamh accomplished the milestone as a sophomore, a feat realized against top-rated Middlesex League competition while performing in the dual role of a two-way midfielder.

JLesnik joins her team mates from last year, Belmont’s “Nickel and Dime” attack pair of senior Mary Mullan and junior Tess Desantis, who reached the century mark in 2023.

(Just so you know, this is how to pronounce Niamh – which is Old Irish for “bright” – from America’s favorite Irish actress.)

Skating Rink Heading To Town Meeting To Fill $4.3 Million Budget Shortfall

Photo: Mark Haley, chair of the Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee, at Wednesday’s meeting

In a stunning admission, the Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee revealed on Wednesday, April 24, that the proposed skating rink/community center located on Concord Avenue is approximately $4.3 million over its $30 million budget, according to committee members, jeopardizing the project’s future.

The news comes just over a year after voters passed a $29.9 million debt exclusion to build a replacement for the dilapidated ‘Skip’ Viglirolo Skating Rink that stood for nearly 50 years at the same site as the new rink.

While the committee, construction contractor Skanska USA, and the owner’s project manager CHA are scrambling to make significant cuts to the project in an attempt to siphon off the red ink threatening the new rink, it appears the committee will come before the annual Town Meeting in late May seeking an infusion of dollars to bridge the shortfall.

“The long and short of it is we have to make some drastic cuts and get that number as close to $30 million as we can,” said Mark Haley, chair of the Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee.

The day before Wednesday’s meeting, Haley and representatives from Stanska and CHA met with town officials, including Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, Select Board Chair Roy Epstein, and Town Moderator Mike Widmer, on the rink’s future. While most of what was discussed remains under wraps, Haley revealed that Epstein – whose board would submit an article before Town Meeting – told him he would not bring a request before members greater than $2 million.

“If we need more money, we have to do it quickly,” said Haley, as the Select Board will need a final number in early May to have a Town Meeting vote later that month. “If we stay at the [current cost], we’re being told there is no project.”

At the end of the first night of value engineering, the committee reduced the deficit to $33.0 million, but only after major reductions to the building’s interior and exterior. This immediately sounded alarms that a reduced building is not what voters – specifically supporters – cast their ballots for.

Location of the proposed municipal skating rink off Concord Avenue

But when the members reconvened on Thursday morning, April 25, the building team was in better spirits. They believed a compromise solution that secured more reductions without challenging the programming was doable despite giving themselves only four working days before revealing a major budget rewrite on Wednesday, May 1.

The story behind the more than 10 percent cost acceleration in the past year is familiar to any construction project. Haley revealed that due to shortages and supply chain delays, nearly every construction cost has spiked since voters approved the project. Examples included concrete costs up by more than half a million dollars, masonry $400,000, the site package $704,000, and plumbing $306,000. Add inflation to other costs, and the total price tag is currently pegged at $34.3 million.

When Haley asked if there were any questions after revealing the deficit, the Select Board Room turned eerily silent as those in the room – many hearing the amount for the first time – took in the enormity of the shortfall.

When the shock wore off, the brutal reality came into focus. If you want a rink, cutting your way to that goal will be ugly, from fairly insignificant expenses facing the chopping block to ripping out the front lobby and possibly reducing the number of locker rooms from the site.

“I was a big proponent of many of these items and not cutting them, and I’d hate to see some of them go,” said Dante Muzzioli of the Building Committee. “But if it comes down to having a project or not having a project, I’m here to make some tough decisions” during the value engineering process.

Value engineering analyzes building features, systems, equipment, and material selections to achieve essential functions and enhance results while reducing costs.

While Building Committee member Ann Marie Mahoney voiced harsh skepticism of the process -“how you can value engineer $5 million out of $35 million … without so destroying the project that it’ll makes it meaningless.” – Patricia Brusch of the Permanent Building Committee told the room value engineering is not necessarily “a really bad thing. It can make a project much better … and force you to make decisions that gets what you want.”

With 40 years of experience overseeing the construction/redesign of nearly every school in town, as well as the renovation of Town Hall and the building of the Beech Street Senior Center, Brusch said the building committee needs to be diligent in designating what in the project is a “need” (a required element), a “want” (nearly a need that is something that you’d like), or a “nice to have.”

“Everything goes on the table that can go on the table,” she said. “Everybody’s idea is an OK idea to throw on the table, no matter if it’s a sacred cow.”

“It might not be black,” stated Brusch of what the committee was about to start, saying there might be “a little gray” when working with creative people. Listen to what they say and collaborate so the committee can “still salvage what you want. In the end, you’ll have a fabulous sheet of ice in a building that the town is dying to use.”

The meeting of the Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee on Wednesday afternoon

Intending to reduce the project by $4 million, the committee, architect Ted Galante, and reps from the contractor and project manager spent nearly two hours Wednesday reviewing about two dozen budget items to determine how removing them would impact the project and it bottom line. While many of the reductions were in the five figures, the most significant cut was deferring the installation of the PV solar panels to a future date, thus reducing expenses by $1,305,000. One item surviving the process was a series of large windows along the east and west walls.

However, as the total reductions remained far removed from the $4 million target, the suggested reductions became more consequential, such as removing the building’s lobby, thus radically altering the building’s appearance to where it will represent a “gray aluminum box.” Some discussions were advanced to just order the pre-engineered building and “plop” it on the site, only to be rejected.

“There is no design, there is no aesthetic, and there is nothing that the community voted for here except the ice,” said Mahoney. Committee member Tom Caputo reiterated Mahoney’s observation, saying the cuts could be so drastic that they reduce or eliminate programs – such as using the building for summer recreation or the expected locker rooms for high school sports teams – alienating rink supporters.

When a proposal to reduce the three-season locker rooms from four to two was presented, Muzzioli said, “[t]hat is not what we promised the school department or anyone else. We took the White Field House down and said we would provide locker space.”

Committee member Anthony Ferrante said the package should be presented to the public once the recommended reductions are finalized.

“We have to go back to the town and say, ‘This is what we’re planning.’ ‘This is how we got here,” Ferrante said.

When the meeting reconvened on Thursday morning, overnight alterations by Skanska’s designers, including lowering the roof element, revisioning the lobby and building front, and repositioning the rink closer to Concord Avenue to reduce the building’s footprint and volume, gave the group added momentum on finding the right combination of cuts and alterations.

“I do think a few ideas have been tossed out [Thursday] that don’t compromise the program and in some way represent cost savings that preserve or bring back [elements] that last night we were talking about disappearing,” said Caputo.

Given their marching orders, the committee will meet on Wednesday, May 1, at 7:30 a.m., with a complete list of cuts and their savings. Haley said he and Mahoney would meet early next week with town officials “to discuss finding more money.” One possible funding source a member threw out during the meeting is the town account created from the Kendall School fire settlement funds.

League Of Women Voters, Warrant Committee Holding Briefing On Town Meeting Segment A On Wednesday

Photo: The Belmont League of Women Voters will co-host this virtual briefing

The Belmont League of Women Voters and the town’s Warrant Committee will co-host a virtual Warrant Briefing preceding the first night of the 2024 Town Meeting on Wednesday, April 24, at 7 p.m.

Here is the opportunity for Town Meeting members and residents to ask questions about articles in the non-budget warrant – known as Segment A – that will come before the annual Town Meeting starting on Monday, April 29. Town officials and department heads will be present to provide information.

Chair of the Warrant Committee Geoffrey Lubien will moderate the meeting.

Town Meeting Members and residents will have several viewing options to attend on Wednesday:

  •; Zoom meeting ID: 861 3704 4412
  • Live broadcast: Belmont Ch 8 (Comcast); Ch 28 (Verizon)
  • Livestream or on-demand at

What’s Open, Closed On Patriots’ Day; Trash/Recycling Delayed A Day

Photo: Most retail shops and offices are open on Patriots’ Day

Patriots’ Day, the Bay State’s homegrown holiday, commemorates the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Menotomy on April 19, 1775, the first of the American Revolutionary War. 

While the first shot was fired in Lexington and the Regulars were halted at North Bridge in Concord, more than half of all casualties that day occurred in modern-day Arlington. Minutemen from surrounding towns converged on Menotomy to ambush the British over the short distance from Foot of the Rocks (at the intersection of Lowell Street and Massachusetts Avenue) to Spy Pond on their retreat back to Boston.

Arlington will celebrate on Patriots’ Day to greet National Lancers riders reenacting Paul Revere and Williams Dawes’s famous ride warning, “The Regulars are out!” The celebration will occuz r at Whittemore Park, in front of the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum, 611 Mass. Ave. While awaiting the riders, you’re invited to join the activities: crafts, snacks, and a scavenger hunt beginning at 11 a.m. The riders are expected around noon.

Most of the day’s attention is focused on the Boston Athletic Association’s annual 26.2 miles marathon. It will be a great day for runners and fans as the forecast calls for highs in the mid-60s, with some clouds during the race.

So, what’s opened and what’s closed?


  • Belmont Town Hall, offices, and buildings are closed, as is the Belmont Public Library currently in the Beech Street Center and the Benton Library.
  • Belmont public schools are closed Monday as they are shut for the week-long spring-time break.
  • State offices such as the Register of Motor Vehicles and courts are closed.

Due to the holiday, trash and recycling curbside pickup is delayed a day. If your removal day is Monday, don’t! Bring it to the side of the road on Tuesday.

And Massachusetts residents get an extra day to submit or mail their federal and state taxes. The deadline is Tuesday, April 16 at 11:59 p.m.,


As it is a state holiday, the US Post Offices on Concord Avenue and in Waverley Square are open as are federal offices.

Star Market on Trapelo Road is open as are retail and convenience stores, eateries and restaurants, and liquor establishments.

Marathon Monday on the MBTA

While the Red Line subway at Harvard and Alewife will be running on a weekday schedule, buses are on a weekend timetable. In addition:

  • Various bus routes on the marathon route’s North and South sides will be detoured.
  • Due to congestion, bikes are prohibited on any MBTA vehicles on Patriots’ Day.
  • Copley Station will be closed Monday. 
  • View the MBTA’s Patriots’ Day schedule here

Fourth Graders Appeal Rescues STEM Night At The Burbank; Thursday, April 11 At 6 PM

Photo: The Burbank School

A few months back, it didn’t look like the annual STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – Night would occur at the Mary Lee Burbank Elementary School this year, according to Kathy Posey, STEM Committee member of the Burbank PTA. There didn’t appear to be enough time to plan the event, and finding volunteers is difficult.

But don’t underestimate the will of Burbank students.

About six weeks ago, the Burbank PTA received a petition from the fourth-grade students requesting that STEM Night be planned for this year. The good news is that thanks to parent volunteers, local community organizations, and businesses, STEM Night is happening. On Thursday, April 11, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the Burbank students will learn about the excitement that STEM bring to everyday life.

Given the short time the event could be planned, the STEM Committee aimed to have 15 to 20 interactive exhibits. This past week, more than 30 interactive exhibits will encourage students to engage in STEM activities! The exhibitors include:

  • Belmont High School Science Club Air Trajectory: Students will try their hand at a catapult that shoots ping-pong and golf balls.
  • Belmont Police Department Drones and Fingerprints: Students will learn how the police drone works.  They will also learn how fingerprints are lifted from a crime scene and try it themselves.
  • Eversource Pedal Power: Students will pedal a bike to learn whether an incandescent or LED light bulb requires more power.
  • Record Robotics Robot Fun: Students will drive a robot as it shoots soft donut-shaped pieces at different heights, and students will catch them.
  • Matt Taylor, the newly elected Belmont Select Board member, and a Burbank parent, will present Everyday Things Up Close: Students will look at items we use all the time but at 60x to 120x magnification. What will they see?

Burbank owes a special thanks to Belmont Orthodontics and Belmont Pediatric Dentistry for their generous support has that helped defray event costs and allowed the PTA to raise funds for continued classroom enrichments, teacher support and community building events, such as STEM Night.

Foundation For Belmont Education Name Outstanding Teachers, Farrell Award Winner

Photo: Greg Bruce, (middle) the 2024 S. Warren Farrell Award for Educational Excellence honoree

The Foundation for Belmont Education has announced the recipients of the 2024 Outstanding Teacher Awards and the S. Warren Farrell Award for Educational Excellence. Sponsored by the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation, the recipients – selected among nominations submitted by students, parents, colleagues, and the community – will be honored at a public ceremony at the Chenery Upper Elementary School on Monday, April 29.

Greg Bruce, a Special Education teacher at Belmont High School and head coach of the current state champion Boy’s Rugby squad, is this year’s Farrell Excellence Award honoree, recognizes his long standing dedication and leadership both in the classroom and in the larger community. 

The Outstanding Teachers honorees are recognized for their excellence in the classroom and for consistently making a difference in the lives of Belmont’s students. 

 2024 Outstanding Teacher Award recipients are:

  • Joshua Streit, Belmont High School, Social Studies
  • Brenton Lussier, Belmont Middle School, Math
  • Sara Carson, Chenery Upper Elementary School, Music
  • Kendra Nnyanzi, Wellington Elementary School, Grade 1
  • Catherine Monnin, Winn Brook Elementary School, Grade 2
  • Molly Quinn, Butler Elementary School, Social Worker
  • Wendy Hurwitz, Burbank Elementary School, Grade K

The ceremony for this year’s recipients will be held on Monday, April 29, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Chenery Upper Elementary School auditorium where cookies and light refreshments will be served. The award celebration, sponsored by Belmont Savings Bank Foundation, is open to everyone.

State Rep Rogers Announces April Office Hours 

Photo: State Rep Dave Rogers

State Rep. Dave Rogers has announced his April office hours. They will be:

  • Tuesday, April 9, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.
  • Tuesday, April 15, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Belmont Cafe, 80 Leonard St.
  • Thursday, April 18, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Dunkin Donuts in North Cambridge, 2480 Massachusetts Ave
  • Monday, April 22, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Robbins Library in Arlington, 700 Massachusetts Ave.

Feel free to contact Rogers’ office anytime with questions by phone at 617-722-2263 or email at

Select Board Votes To Return To A Live Only Annual Town Meeting

Photo: The newly organized Select Board: (from left) Member Roy Epstein, Chair Elizabeth Dionne, and Vice Chair Matt Taylor.

For the first time since 2019, the annual Town Meeting will be in person without a virtual component to assist members who may find it difficult to attend due to medical concerns or competing interests.

The vote on what format the town meeting will use—required by a state law that will sunset next year—was held at an abbreviated Friday morning session on April 5, during the board’s yearly organizational meeting. Elizabeth Dionne was selected as the group’s Chair, Taylor as vice chair, and Roy Epstein reverted to being a member. Epstein will continue to chair the board to allow for continuity during the two Town Meeting segments in April and June.

Dionne will take the middle seat at board meetings beginning July 1, the first day of the fiscal year.

The newly constituted board’s initial business was determining the setup of the annual Town Meeting. Town Moderator Mike Widmer and Town Clerk Ellen Cushman—the two officials who manage the Town Meeting—were asked for their recommendations on whether the meeting should be held in person, in a hybrid setting, or virtually, as has been the case for the past four years.

Widmer emphasized his own “strong feeling of the importance of an in-person meeting,” citing the value of community engagement and active debate, which has been tempered ever since the meetings were held virtually due to restrictions on large gatherings after the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020.

When the town switched to a hybrid mix of live and virtual attendees at the 2023 annual meeting, more than 25 percent of members chose to stay at home rather than venture to the high school auditorium. This high number of virtual attendees “undermines the in-person nature of the event,” Widmer said, begging the question of even having an in-the-flesh gathering.

“Because if you think a remote meeting is the equivalent to a live meeting, you may as well dispense with live meetings,” said Epstein.

Cushman acknowledged the challenges of hybrid meetings on the time of town staff and the added cost of $2,100 per hybrid session. Like Widmer, Cushman believed that a live meeting allows members to “read the room” during debate on articles.

“And it’s not just the social aspect … it’s deciding to listen a little more closely when you hear that people are in favor of someone, it’s deciding to understand a little bit better when people aren’t in favor,” said Cushman. “I’m leaning towards, in person [Town Meeting], for connections, community, and understanding.”

Dionne said that in addition to the fact that the quality of debate is better in person and an important piece of community building, “[u]nfortunately … during remote-only meetings, it was fairly clear that often times people were not paying attention to the presentations, based on questions that were asked that had clearly been already answered.”

While the virtual component of a hybrid format was meant for emergencies. “that’s not how it was used,” said Dionne.

He said that he “love[s] in-person town meetings. I think everyone should give it a try,” Taylor told his colleagues that the issue facing the board is “access to being a representative … the ability to attend town meeting still, if you have an illness, or mobility concerns or caring for family or other needs, that might otherwise need you to miss Town Meeting, and not be able to represent our precinct,” which a hybrid option can make a difference.

For Dionne, it is up to members to decide if they can be full-time Town Meeting members.

‘There are different points in your life that you can take on this challenge. ‘Can I give eight nights?’ ‘Can I do that for my community?’ Or is it just not the time I can do that because I care for an elderly parent or children at home. I’m a single parent, and I fear I cannot make childcare arrangements. So [members] need to make that choice long before the Town Meeting happens. Whether they really can do that and I appreciate that it’s not everyone can do it all the time,” she said.

While the board was open to setting aside a small number of hybrid slots for members who need medical care or have unexpected events, the cost and how to allocate the virtual spots could not be resolved.

The board voted 2-1 (Taylor voting no) that the 2024 annual Town Meeting be held in person only, starting with Segment A, the non-budget articles, on April 30 at 7 p.m.

“Put [the date] in your book,” said O’Brien.