See the Future of Belmont Center Monday at 7 PM at Town Hall

After nearly four years of discussion, meetings and designs, an overview of the Belmont Center Reconstruction Project will be presented to Town Meeting members and residents this evening, Monday, Sept. 8, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Belmont Town Hall auditorium at the corner of Pleasant Street and Concord Avenue.

Documentation of tonight’s presentation can be found here.

The proposed $2.6 million project is seen as improving vehicle and pedestrian traffic in and through Belmont’s business hub. The completed design – set to be finished by the end of the year – is expected to call for a new street pavement, sidewalks and crosswalks, an increase of 10 parking spaces, a new green-space common in front of the Belmont Savings Bank as well as the implantation of a modern Parking Management Plan with electronic meter parking.

The current proposed plan calls for construction to begin by mid-April 2015 with a completion date of Halloween, Oct. 31, of next year.

Just how the project will be paid for remains up in the air with a proposed financial package made up of state grants and town funds. It’s anticipated the funding will be finalized at the Fall Special Town Meeting which is scheduled for this November.

Parking is available in the Town Hall lot, along Concord Avenue, Moore Street and Pleasant Street as well as in the Claflin Street Municipal Parking Lot in Belmont Center.

Residents, business owners and Town Meeting members can email questions in advance of the meeting to .

For more information, contact the Board of Selectmen/Town Administrator’s office at 617- 993-2610.

New Underwood Pool Out to Bid Again, With Fingers Crossed

Belmont Board of Selectman Chair Andy Rojas was not happy.

At a joint meeting Wednesday morning, Sept. 3, of the Selectmen and the Underwood Pool Building Committee – the citizens group organized last year to manage the design and development of a $5.2 million pool complex to replace the historic 102-year-old Underwood Pool – Rojas and his colleagues heard that due to the dubious last-minute withdrawal of the construction firm which submitted a below budget bid and other auxiliary issues, the budget for the voter-approved two-pool facility is currently $400,000 short of the new “low” bid.

“We weren’t expecting this,” said Adam Dash, vice chair of the Building Committee. “We had a bidder who meets our estimates and you think you’re done. Then the guy backs out.”

Because of the failure to secure a bid within the building committee’s $4.16 million construction budget and since the second round of bidding will occur, at the earliest, early in the New Year, any chance of Belmont residents wading into a new pool in the summer of 2015 is all but dead.

“I’m sorry to say that we will not have a pool next year,” said Anne Paulsen, chair of the Building Committee.

Conversations with the Belmont Health Department earlier this year said safety variances for the existing century-old Underwood Pool were approved by the town and OK’d by the state on the assumption a replacement facility would be up and running in 2015.

In an attempt to salvage the pool, the committee is moving to put the project – in a slightly different arrangement to satisfy state legal requirements – back out to bid for a second round in January. They will have their fingers crossed a new crop of builders will be eager to take the job within the budget.

“It’s a big bet, and I’m opposed to casinos,” said Paulsen.

“But we have been put into a corner, and we’re hoping to get out of the corner with some redesign and some assistance from the Board of Selectmen,” she said Tuesday night, Sept. 2 as the building committee met to prep for the joint meeting.

As for Rojas, he did not mince words placing a good proportion of the blame for this developmental “fail” square on the shoulders of the pool’s architect, Thomas Scarlata, principal at Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype, and the building committee’s project manager, Deborah Marai of Pinck & Co.

“There were only two people that are trained to have the experience necessary to [create a plan]; Scarlata and Pinck,” said Rojas, pointing specifically at the amount allocated to contingency costs – an amount in a project’s budget set aside to account for errors and omissions in the plans and to pay for unknown conditions such as an overheated market – as the prime culprit in the failure to secure a builder.

“I thought the contingency was way low, and if the contingency were higher, quite frankly, we’d be building a pool right now,” said Rojas, saying the pair’s financial assumptions were “well-below industry standards.”

According to committee documents, the construction contingency was $250,000 or about six percent of the total construction cost.

“Scarlata swore up and down that his contingency was high enough. I have no confidence in them anymore,” said Rojas.

“I hate to be correct on things like this,” Rojas said after the meeting. He said his experience, as a landscape architect, with state and federal projects of a similar size, requires 10 to 15 percent contingency “because they know there is a volatility in the bid environment.”

“[Scarlata] miscalculated the project. It was that simple. Just think if we had $600,000 in reserve. We would not be here,” said Rojas.

Yet Pinck’s Marai told the building committee Tuesday night the cost estimates, performed by two independent and veteran estimators, “were solid.”

In addition, the project did attract the interest of a bidder who was willing to work with the town’s numbers and two others “were really close,” said Marai.

Paulsen did express support for BH+A and Pinck, saying that while there are some who are disappointed with the contingency amount, “they have not said they haven’t done great work on this project.”

“We discussed the contingency with them ahead of time, and they thought they were quite responsible,” she said.

Just swimmingly until last week

Just a month earlier, it appeared to the Building Committee that the new municipal pool was proceeding swimmingly as Seaver Construction placed a bid of $3.84 million, well within the budget. And well below the two nearest bids, including one from New England Builders and Contractors, Inc. at $4.55 million.

Then within the past fortnight, the Woburn-based contractor suddenly withdrew its bid, stating it had made an error in its calculations, saying it had inadvertently left a “0” off – using $17,500 instead of $175,000 – for winterizing the site.

While correcting the mistake would allow Seaver to remain under budget, it told town officials that it would withdraw its bid rather than lower their profit margin.

Several in attendance Wednesday viewed Seaver’s claim as dubious, at best; the assumption is the company believed it was undercutting its profit margin severely after viewing the other bids that came in at approximately $4.6 million.

By Tuesday, Sept. 2, as the Building Committee gathered at Town Hall to prep for its meeting with the Selectmen, Paulsen informed the committee that she was “sorry we’re here with such grim news.”

The committee heard that the possibility of asking the November Special Town Meeting to approve an appropriation to make up the funding difference as well as creating a new set of design changes and calculations “is not realistic due to the tight time frame,” said Pinck’s Marai.

Marai presented three options to move forward; the committee rejected one – abandon the project and return the money to the town and CPA – out of hand.

The option to reduce the cost of the pool by the $400,000 gap was deemed so draconian that it would render the pool a shadow of the town resident’s expectation.

“The workarounds are just not worth it,” said Committee member Joel Mooney pointing out that even making significant cuts would result in added fees for new designs and consulting expenses.

The committee’s preferred alternative is to take a second bite of the apple by rejecting the current suitors, make just enough changes to the pool’s design to satisfy the state regulations requiring a second bid to be significantly different than the first and send the project out once again.

One major change being floated by Mooney is altering the number of pools from two to one, saving on pumps and filtration systems.

“But that is not a fait accompli,” said Paulsen, saying that is just a suggestion on reaching the state’s benchmark.

There is some belief that a January rebid will be more successful in ferreting out contractors who will be eager to work within a budget, said Marai. But, as stated at Tuesday’s meeting, the bidding process is unpredictable at the best of times.

“It could have been that the estimates were off because they weren’t anticipating a hot market or it’s just a bad time to bid. That’s the trouble. Once you go back out, you can’t anticipate what’s going to happen even if you make changes,” said Peter Castinino, director of the Department of Public Works.

“Darn this improved economy,” said Dash.

Selectman Mark Paolillo, who did not want to see the pool reduced in size and scope, suggested a public/private partnership be seriously explored to reduce the difference.

On Wednesday, the Selectmen were also eager to bring a wildcard into the mix, Town Meeting. The selectmen want the building committee to present a report at November’s Special Town Meeting and possibly to the general public this fall that includes scenario on changes, from minor alterations, significant cost reductions, and some which lie in the middle.

“If there are changes to the design, it must go to Town Meeting since they approved a specific design,” said Selectman Sami Baghdady.

As of now, the town can accept either of the two remaining bids until Sept. 26.

Belmont Town Administrator David Kale quipped that the town would welcome any resident making a grant for $400,000 to the project before the deadline.



Officials Ponder Future of New Underwood Pool

What now?

After the sudden withdrawal on Aug. 28 of the (only) low bidder to construct the $5.2 million new Underwood Pools complex, town officials are scrambling to discover a way to keep the project “on time and budget” to allow the facility to open for the 2015 summer recreation season.

That process begins on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. when the Underwood Pool Building Committee – the public group that coordinated the new facility’s final design and its detailed budget – will meet to discuss the current lay of the land and the series of options. The committee will bring their suggestions to the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 8 a.m.

The committee “would like to review the options going forward with the Town Administrator [David Kale] and the Board of Selectmen,” said Committee member Adam Dash in a press release issued last week.

Under the Building Committee’s tentative timeline, construction on the two-pool complex was scheduled to begin in September with completion by the first day of summer 2015, replacing the 102-year-old existing historic structure that closed for the final time on Monday, Sept. 1.

Woburn-based Seaver Construction was the only of the five bidders that came in under the committee’s $4.16 million construction budget. Soon after submitting its $3.84 million plan, the construction firm withdrew its offer claiming it made a “clerical error” in determining their cost in completing the project. Belmont officials noted that despite the miscalculation, Seaver would have stayed within the Building Committee’s budget.

The next closest proffer to build the complex came from New England Builders and Contractors, Inc. at $4.55 million.

While both committee members and town officials are keeping their opinions close to their vests before the two public meetings, the new Underwood Pool appears to be impacted by a dramatic shift in the demand for the same contractors who can build Belmont’s pools. In the past year, there has been a boom in private-sector building throughout Boston, according to a May 12, 2014 article in

With billions of dollars in the pipeline in greater metropolitan Boston – from Boston’s waterfront to Watertown’s Assembly Square – the demand for general contractors has skyrocketed, and so have their fees. Nor does it appear that this trend will subside anytime soon.

“As for the private marketplace, Mark Warren, senior vice president and managing director of WSP’s Building Systems, believes there is enough work throughout the metro region for years to come.

“Everyone says you are going to saturate the market at some point,” he says. “But there is research showing that existing space is being consumed and that more is needed.”

We’re Closed: Belmont Shuts Down for Labor Day Weekend

The Labor Day holiday the last big get away weekend of the summer and Belmont is shutting down early.

All Belmont Town offices and Belmont Light will close their doors at 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 29; the last early-close of the summer. Beginning Sept. 5, offices will close at 4 p.m.

The Belmont Public Library will close at 5 p.m. Friday and stay shut until Tuesday, Sept. 2, at 9 a.m. So check out DVDs, CDs and beach reads today.

Labor Day is one of ten holidays recognized by the federal government, although the feds don’t require employers to pay workers for this holiday. Businesses traditionally provide their employees with a paid holiday as part of a benefits package because most other employers do the same.

What else will be closed on Monday, Sept. 1?

US Postal Service offices and regular deliveries.

Banks; although some branches will be open in some supermarkets.

MBTA: Operating on a Sunday schedule. See for details.


• Retail stores

• Coffee shops; Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are open

• Supermarkets

• Convenience stores and,

• Establishments that sell beer and wine are also allowed to be open. Bars and taverns are also open but Belmont doesn’t have any so …

New Underwood Pool in Flux as Low Bidder Leaves Belmont High and Dry

The sudden departure of the construction company set to build the new Underwood Pool complex has left the future the town’s facility in flux as officials prepare to convene to discuss Belmont’s options in completing the project by next year.

“We are disappointed that Seaver Construction decided to withdraw its bid, as we were looking forward to working with them to build the new Underwood Pool,” said Adam Dash, the vice chair of the Underwood Pool Building Committee which oversees the pool’s design and construction.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen has announced that it will be holding a special meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 8 a.m. to discuss the fate of the new complex with the Underwood Pool Building Committee at Town Hall.

Under the Building Committee’s tentative timeline, construction on the two-pool complex was scheduled to begin in September with completion by the first day of summer 2015, replacing the 102-year-old existing structure.

There is no official word whether the committee’s time schedule remains viable at this late date.

Not only was the Woburn-based company the lowest of four bids to build the $5.2 million project, Seaver was also the only firm to stay within the established budget.

According to a press release from the Belmont Department of Public Works, Seaver withdrew its bid “on the grounds of having made a clerical error” in determining their cost in completing the project.

Under state law, public construction regulations prevent adjustments from being made after bids are submitted.

But even calculating in the error, according to the DPW, Seaver’s bid would have still been within the project’s budget and would have remained the low bid.

Seaver has built several projects in Belmont, including il Casale Restaurant in Belmont Center, converting a private house into the Belmont Hill School new Alumni Center and a high-end residential home at 365 Marsh St.

Dash said the committee “would like to review the options going forward with the Town Administrator [David Kale] and the Board of Selectmen.”


Starbucks Staying Put During Cushing Village Build

Like the little house in the Pixar film, “Up,” the Cushing Square Starbucks Coffee cafe will stay put at its current location as the proposed Cushing Village development – the three building, 186,000-sq.-ft. residential housing, retail and garage complex – goes up around the popular cafe, according to a town official.

And when Starbucks does move, it will not require 20,000 balloons but a few hand trucks to transport the shop as it will go into one of the newly-completed building.

According to Glenn Clancy, Belmont’s director of the town’s Office of Community Development, Starbucks will remain in the former Friendly’s restaurant structure at 112 Trapelo Rd. “with relocation coordinated with the construction of the new buildings.”

The announcement comes as developer Acton-based Smith Legacy Partners withdrew its application before the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals last week to temporary relocated the busy Cushing Square Starbucks to a pair of store fronts at 6-8 Trapelo Rd.

Residents who have been critical of the proposed relocation plans by Cushing Village’s developer Chris Starr to place the national coffee retailer to the corner of Belmont Street and Trapelo Road across from the neighborhoods where they live.

“We are pleased that the proposal was withdrawn and that [Mr.] Starr seems to have found a way to uphold his original statements that Starbucks would not need to relocate during construction,” said a joint statement to the Belmontonian from four neighborhood residents.

Since the proposal was made public at the May meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, residents voiced their concerns the store would generate additional parking on nearby side streets while promoting greater trash and litter, creating safety issues and other nuisances.

The development team was scheduled to present the latest proposal incorporating mitigation plans on Sept. 9.

By pulling its application, the developer has “withdrawn without prejudice which means they retain the right to resubmit in the future should they choose to do that,” said Clancy.

The town has yet to receive the development team’s new development scheme or construction timetable.

“[W]e are waiting on final confirmation,” Clancy told the Belmontonian.

The neighborhood group is also waiting to catch the latest word on the development team’s plans.

“Commenting on a possible future proposal would be premature, though the arguments made by the neighbors remain valid, and we will, of course, closely monitor developments over the coming months,” said the group made up of Rita Carpenter, Doug Koplow, Mark Clark and Dr. David Alper.

Developer Drops Plan To Move Starbucks … For Now

A controversial proposal before the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals to relocate the Cushing Square Starbucks for nearly a year to a site near residential neighborhoods near the intersection of Belmont Street and Trapelo Road was suddenly scuttled this week by the applicant, developer Smith Legacy Partners.

But a source within Belmont Town Hall noted Smith Legacy’s action could lead to a new proposal being brought before the ZBA in October.

The developer’s withdrawing the requests scheduled to be heard at the ZBA’s Sept. 9 meeting agenda shuts the door on Smith Legacy’s proposal to decamp Starbucks to a pair of store fronts at 6-8 Trapelo Rd.

The move was deemed necessary as construction is reportedly scheduled to begin in October on Cushing Village, the 186,000 sq.-ft. multi-building residential/retail/parking complex being built by developer Chris Starr, Smith Legacy Partners’ lead partner.

The developer’s trial balloon, first floated in May, was met with considerable consternation from residents who live on nearby streets during a pair of ZBA meetings in May and June. Residents believed the store would have a negative impact on parking while generating greater trash and litter, creating safety issues and other nuisances.

ZBA members also expressed concerns on placing the busy cafe in a semi-residential area where a popular ice cream business would be just a few feet away.

While an initial assessment of Smith Legacy’s action would appear to close the door on the developer’s attempts at relocating the popular store, a Town Hall insider said the move can be seen as a strategic retreat.

If the ZBA denied Smith Legacy’s application at the Sept. 9 meeting, it would have been effectively barred from returning back with a similar proposal for the next 24 months, said the Town Hall source.

By withdrawing the application, Smith Legacy can submit a new plan to the ZBA at the board’s following meeting. Just how significantly different a new proposal will need to be – in terms of location, size and parking – will become clearer with a closer examination of the ZBA’s rules and regulations, said the source.

E-mails and calls have been sent to Smith Legacy and the town. Return to the Belmontonian for updates on Friday morning, Aug. 22.

The End: Clark House Now Just Rubble

The Thomas Clark House was built by a master housewright in 1760.

It was demolished two-and-a-half centuries later by a mid-sized excavator this afternoon, Thursday, Aug. 21.

The pre-Revolutionary War era house, that stood on its Common Street homestead until 2012 before being moved to its last site on Concord Avenue, was torn down by a general contractor hired by the deed holder, the Architectural Heritage Foundation

The demolition of the center-entrance Georgian-style structure took place after a significant amount of material, from floorboards to window sills, were removed over the past week.

By this afternoon, all left of one of Belmont’s oldest and historic homes was reduced to a pile of wood, bricks and plumbing, waiting to be loaded on a flatbed truck to be taken to a landfill.

Restoring Memories: Group Set to Mend Belmont’s Vet Memorials

The pain of John Ray’s brother’s death nearly half-a-century ago still haunts him.

“Even to this day, I still have dreams that he comes back to me,” said Ray speaking of his older brother, Walter “Donny” Ray, killed in action in Vietnam in November 1967.

Ray, along with Edward “Teddy” Lee – his teammate on Belmont High School’s 1964 state championship football team – and six other young men died fighting in Vietnam. They join the nearly 200 from Belmont, who died for their country in conflicts ranging from the Civil War to Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Monday, a group of veterans and friends and relatives of Ray and Lee came before the Belmont Board of Selectmen Monday, Aug. 18, to seek its support to raise nearly $350,000 to restore three monuments honoring those young residents who sacrificed their lives in defense of the country.

“This is about honoring our soldiers … and to find the capital to do this and really recognizing what the veterans have done for us,” said former selectman William Skelley, speaking for the newly-formed Belmont Veterans’ Memorial Project.

Kevin Ryan, a retired US Army brigadier general and currently a director at Harvard’s Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, said the group’s mission is to repair two existing monuments – the World War I monument across from the MBTA commuter rail station abutting Common Street and the flag pole memorial for all veterans at Clay Pit Pond near Belmont High School – and creating a new site for the WWII dead.

While Belmont has done what he believes is an excellent job acknowledging veterans, over the years, the locations have fallen in disrepair, said Ryan. Vegetation has overgrown the Clay Pit Pond site, and the location is not tidy and the memorial is small and not well presented. The WWI memorial is threadbare under years of gray paint with the stone work in need of repair.

“What we want to do is refurbish some of the sites, spruce them up and add a couple of sites as memorial for veterans” including moving the memorials for World War II, Korea, Vietnam and subsequent conflict currently located in the main lobby of the Belmont Public Library, said Ryan.

“We want it out into the open so people can [see] them more readily,” said Ryan.

“I don’t know about you but the library was not a place I hung out all the time as a kid or as an adult,” said Ryan.

A portion of the $350,000 will be used to clean and repair the WWI monument revealing the pink granite and also for repairs. Additional funds will create a WWII memorial possibly in the front of the White Field House abutting Concord Avenue named for James Paul White, who died in the Battle of the Bugle.

The majority of the funds, approximately $240,000, will go into major improvements at the Clay Pit Memorial. It will include renovating the site and adding plaques from each conflict with the names of those who died mounted on boulders or low stone walls “blending with the current monument and the surrounding landscape,” Ryan said.

The group said it hoped to raise from veteran and donations such as $150 for brick paver, $20,000 for a memorial bench and $10,000 each from major donors.

At the suggestion of the Selectmen, the group will approach the town’s Community Preservation Committee in September on the possibility of qualifying for a grant from the town’s Community Preservation Act Fund. Grants from the fund – supplied by a surcharge of the real estate tax levy – and used for open space protection, historic preservation, affordable housing and outdoor recreation.

After the Selectmen enthusiastically approved the project’s goals and efforts, both the veterans and family of those who will be recognized celebrated this initial victory.

Teddy Lee’s sister, Patty and Barbara, hugged many who came to support the new group’s efforts.

“It’s very touching,” said Patty.

“You can’t forget these young men, and it’s important to everyone to know what they did,” added Barbara.

Belmont Resident Caught in Insider Trading Scheme

When providing a friend a tip at the Oakley Country Club on Belmont Street, best leave it to what club to use off the 18th hole and not what financial institution your bank is about to purchase.

If Belmont resident John Patrick O’Neill had heeded that advice, he and his golfing partner and fellow Oakley member, Robert Bray, wouldn’t have found themselves under arrest Monday by the United States Attorney’s Office. That office, along with a separate civil action filed by the Securities & Exchange Commission, accused the pair of an alleged blatant case of insider stock trading.

O’Neill, who currently works at TD Bank, was released on $200,000 bond after his arrest on conspiracy to commit securities fraud charges.

According to a series of press releases by several law enforcement agencies released Monday, Aug. 18, O’Neill, a senior vice president and senior credit officer at the time at Eastern Bank, told his golfing buddy Bray on June 11, 2010 that his bank was close to purchasing Boston-based Wainwright Bank and Trust. O’Neill was a member of Eastern Bank’s due diligence team evaluating Wainwright in the weeks leading up to the deal.

The next trading day, Monday, June 14, the Cambridge native hot tailed it to his stockbroker to buy 25,000 shares of Wainwright stock, which he acknowledged to the broker “kinda sounds crazy” as the stock had shown little trading activity selling between $8.85 and $9.90 per share. Eventually, Bray purchased 31,000 shares over the next two weeks, accounting for a whopping 56 percent of the total trading volume in Wainwright over the fortnight.

On June 29, according the US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, Eastern Bank announced its agreement to acquire Wainwright for $19 per share in cash, a premium of nearly 100 percent more than the stock’s prior closing price. Bray then sold his 31,000 shares for a profit of more than $300,000.

But as Vincent Lisi, special agent in charge of the FBI in Boston said Monday, “there are many tripwires in place to detect suspiciously timed trades and as a result of those tripwires numerous people in the Boston area have been charged with insider trading based on parallel FBI and SEC investigations.”

“The risk versus reward calculation for insider trading should be clear based on the increasing number of those recently charged,” said Lisi.

The maximum sentence under the statute is five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,00 or twice the gross gain or loss.