One Final Shindig As Belmont Public Library Building’s Last Day Set For Wednesday, Nov. 22

Photo: On this day, writing on the wall of the Belmont Public Library was welcomed

The writing was on the walls … literally!

Adults, teens, and children got one last chance to write a fond farewell as the Belmont Public Library was given a final shindig on Saturday, Nov. 18, to celebrate the nearly 60 years it has been in the brick building on Concord Avenue.

“You can write on the wall, or you can write in the book. Tell us about your memories of the library while you’re saying goodbye,” said Kathy Keohane, a member of the Library Building Committee and chair of the Belmont Board of Library Trustees, as the building’s last day of operation will be Wednesday, Nov. 22.

Kathy Keohane, a member of the Library Building Committee and chair of the Belmont Board of Library Trustees

Holding a plastic “torch” representing something similar to the Olympic flame, Keohane told patrons and supporters that overflowed the library’s Community Room that it took an Olympian effort to reach this point

“Let’s celebrate this accomplishment in reaching this milestone … and looking toward the future for your wonderful building concerns all in Belmont for years and years to come,” said Keohane earlier.

After the closing, the library will “reopen” in temporary spaces around town:

  • Benton Library: Children’s collection
  • Chenery Upper Elementary: Staff location
  • Beech Street Center: Adult services and circulation

For a complete list of answers to frequently asked questions on the library’s temporary services, head to the library’s dedicated page on the subject.

The building committee’s target is to start to move out of the building and into the temp spaces beginning the week of Dec. 4. with the hope of running full services from those locations by Jan. 1.

After the library’s closing, “You can always reach us online chat. We have set up a new phone number on our website. We’re really trying to get through providing information to people in as many ways as we can,” said Keohane.

There will be a community update on Wednesday, Nov. 29 which will provide more detail about “where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going” relating to the library building project, she said.

As for essential dates, Keohane said demolition of the existing library will begin just after the New Year in January, with the start of construction in the March/April timeframe.

Just remember, when the new building opens in the spring of 2025, please don’t write on the walls.

[Breaking] Paolillo Will Not Seek Fifth Term On Select Board As Potential Candidates Ready Run

Photo: Mark Paolillo

For Mark Paolillo, 12 years is enough.

Serving the final year of his fourth non-consecutive term (2010-2019, 2021-currently) on the Belmont Select Board, Paolillo will not be seeking a fifth when his tenure ends in April 2024.

“I’m not going anywhere, and I still love the job, but now is the right time to step away,” Paolillo told the Belmontonian at the celebration for the closing of the Belmont Public Library on Saturday, Nov. 18.

“It’s been an honor serving my home town on the board,” said Paolillo.

Even before his announcement, several names had been circulating around town of likely candidates to fill Paolillo’s seat, from those with significant experience serving on boards and committees, and several “newcomers” who have had just a taste of local government exposure.

It’s expected the first, and possibly second, of the potential candidates will be picking up nomination papers at the Town Clerk’s office by Wednesday, Nov. 22, before Town Hall shuts down for the four-day Thanksgiving holiday.

Paolillo will continue serving on the board until the Town Election on April 2, 2024. He said he wanted to participate in the creation of the fiscal 2025 budget and work with his board colleagues, Roy Epstein and Elizabeth Dionne, and town Financial Director Jennifer Hewitt in finding consensus on the critical dollar amount of the Proposition 2 1/2 override presented to voters in April.

“This [upcoming] override vote is massive for the future of Belmont and its schools. We have to get this one right,” he said.

A popular vote-getter at town elections, Paolillo won his first three-year term in 2010, defeating incumbent Dan LeClerc with 45 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Paolillo ran unopposed in 2013 and 2021.

After leaving the board in 2019, Paolillo returned in 2021 with a mission “to help the community move past its differences” after an override that year was rejected by residents by a 1,000 vote margin.

In his dozen years on the Select Board, Paolillo – a principal with the global tax services firm Ryan – has championed financial stability and sustainability (he is a member of the Financial Task Force) and is a strong supporter of implementing the long term structural reforms outlined in the Collins Center Report.

Paolillo is also known for his efforts to find consensus on the board and between town and elected officials as well as the public on the major issues facing Belmont.

“I have had amazing colleagues who have, I believe, made Belmont a better place,” he said.

‘Our Last Chapter’: Trinktisch, Craft Beer Cellars Closing New Year’s Eve As Owners Failed To Find Buyers

Photo: The location of Trinktisch and Craft Beer Cellars in Belmont Center

It was a sad day when the news was revealed in August that Suzanne Schalow and Kate Baker, the co-founders of Craft Beer Cellar and Trinktisch European Food Hall on Leonard Street in Belmont Center, were putting their local businesses up for sale.

And while it appeared the two landmark retail operations would-likely continue with new owners, the reality was announced in a social media post on Nov. 1 that both the store and restaurant will be closing for good on the last day of the year, Dec. 31.

The $1,080,000 price tag on the flagship store in the Craft Beer Cellar franchise universe with its thousands of loyal customers and the restaurant which has become a lively family destination known for its German entries and beer combinations, was too much for “a local individual, family, or group, to pick up where we will leave off,” said Schalow in August.

The headwinds preventing the sales were several: the long lasting negative impacts of the global pandemic the beer industry, retail, and restaurants, alike, on-going staffing challenges, and finally “irreconcilable differences with our landlord, which has ultimately dissolved any parties interest in purchasing our businesses, as we had hoped.”

“Time has run its course and now it’s time for us to live our last chapter,” said the couple on social media.

Thirteen years since opening a concept of selling craft beef from a narrow storefront on Leonard Street that developed into a nation wide franchise, Schalow and Baker discovered that more than a decade “without a real vacation or traveling,” running a franchise from a basement office, then adding a restaurant – a dream for the partners – took a significant toll.

“We are simply tired and ready to change gears, and feel certain that now is the time to make this change in our lives,” they said.

Schalow and Baker wanted their patrons, guests and fellow Belmont residents to know “it wasn’t you” that made their decision.

“[Y]ou’ve been wonderful and if not for YOU we would have never made it 13 lovely years!” they said. “We are so humbled to have been members of the Belmont, Belmont Business, and Belmont Center Communities for these years. We are ever grateful for your continued support, positivity, love, and friendship.”

“While not the outcome we had envisioned, we intend to enjoy our final two months of operation and will hope that we see you as often as possible, as we wrap up both businesses,” they said.

“Rest assured that we will keep working hard to provide the best in beer, wine, food, and hospitality, until the very end.”

As a coda, Schalow and Baker said they not leaving Belmont, nor will they be leaving the beer industry as they will continue to build the Craft Beer Cellar franchise brand while keeping busy visiting places, judging beers, write books, and make many more contributions to the beer universe.

“We have given our heart and soul to our businesses and now it’s time to take a step back, stay grateful for our experiences, and forge a new trail ahead,” they said.

‘Today Is A Celebration For You’: Dedication of The Belmont Middle And High School [VIDEO]

Photo: Dedicating the new Belmont Middle and High School

One thousand, six hundred and eight days. That’s the distance of time from May 2019, when the official groundbreaking for Belmont’s newest school took place in the parking lot of what was then the High School, to this past weekend in October 2023, when the town came together again, this time to celebrate the official dedication of the newly-completed Belmont Middle and High School.

The numbers say a lot about the new school: $295 million – $212 million raised from taxpayers – to construct a 450,000 square foot 7th to 12th-grade campus and renovate the existing field house and pool, with four new athletic fields, 200 plus parking spaces, and nearly 2,000 solar panels, as it houses 2,200 students.

Bill Lovallo

But for Bill Lovallo, who headed the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee since its inception, the number that stands out – besides the 166 public meetings the building committee held – will be the students who will benefit from learning in Belmont’s state-of-the-art for more than a half-century.

“Today, we celebrate the name Belmont Middle and High School. Two schools coming together under one roof for the first time in Belmont,” Lovallo said to the assembled officials from the town, schools, and state legislature, along with members of the building committee and the community who gathered in the school’s auditorium/theater.

“A place to learn, to grow individually and together in knowledge and maturity. To be curious and ask questions, to be safe, to take challenges, to go places never expected, to be thoughtful and caring of others,” he said.

Bill Lovallo, chair of the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee, on an construction tour of the high school wing.

While the rainy conditions tamped down the number of participants, those who attended Saturday’s celebration had the opportunity to explore which, until recently, was one of the largest public school projects in the state that committee member Bob McLaughlin proudly foretold, “is on time and budget.”

As host, Lovallo highlighted the numerous committees, volunteers, and firms who had a hand in building the schools, with special recognition for Building Committee Vice Chair Pat Brusch, who has been involved as a member of three school building committees and the chair of the Chenery committee three decades ago.

“You are a steady hand in an erratic project environment,” he said. “You give unselfishly of your time and talents and Belmont is better for it.”

Others praised were the architectural firm Perkins+Will and the general contractor Skanska, which kept the project on an aggressive schedule despite the onset of Covid-19, which shut down most other construction projects.

State Rep. Dave Rogers noted hearing from Lovallo and others. “you just realize what an amazing team effort … [and] the importance of collaboration.” That included when the public insisted on the importance of solar power and cost increases forced some painful value engineering.

While compromising and having to make hard decisions ends in no one getting their way all the time, “Yet you have to keep working together,” which resulted in a first-class structure that Rogers said rivals many buildings at the state’s public universities and colleges.

School Committee Chair Meghan Moriarty believed L Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is the perfect analogy for the day’s celebration. On entering Oz, Dorothy is given special glasses so as not to be blinded by the city’s brilliance. It was later she discovers it was the glasses that gave the city its dazzling green appearance.

Dorothy learns “Oz is really special … is because of the relationships, how important community is,” said Moriarty. The brilliance of the open design and the learning spaces of the new school with a commitment to the needs of students now and in the future is “how this building is actually transforming the culture of teaching and learning in Belmont.”

Remembering his first day of high school in 2021, Belmont High Junior Class President Mark Brazilian spoke of the awe “how spectacular [the school] was and how lucky I was to be able to go to school and learning in such a new and state of the art school.”

“I’m certain that students are using these facilities to their fullest and I, along with the entire student body, are very thankful for all that this new school offers.”

Lovallo made a point several times to thank the community as a whole for taking on the burden of financing the project.

“Citizens of Belmont, we can’t thank you enough for your vote of confidence in 2018 when in overwhelming numbers, you endorsed this project saying ‘Yes. We need this. It is right for Belmont … [b]ecause this community is committed to investing in our future, particularly the future involving our children.”

“Today is a celebration for you,” he said.

Moving Forward: Community Preservation Invite Proposals To Submit Final Application For Funding, 3 Will Be Early Off-Cycle Decisions

Photo: A new paint job for the Homer House, just one of eight proposals submitted to the Community Preservation Committee that were approved for final applications

It was moving day last week at the Community Preservation Commiittee as eight proposals were approved to submit final applications. A final CPC decision will be made on Jan. 10, 2024.

At its regularly scheduled monthly meeting, Wednesday, Oct. 11, Chair Elizabeth Dionne said the CPA has approximately $3 million to distribute for projects involving recreation/open spaces, housing and preservation. The Community Preservation Act, adopted by Belmont voters in 2010, is financed by property tax surcharges and annual distributions received from the state’s Community Preservation Trust Fund.

The CPA will present the applications it approves in January to a vote before the annual Town Meeting in May 2024. Due to the “urgent need for funding,” three of the eight proposals will be presented as “off-cycle” applications which will be voted at the Special Town Meeting in early November.

The projects which will proceed to a final application are:

The off-cycle proposals are:

Of the projects two of the requests are connected by a single project. First, an engineering study for a proposed revitalization of the playground and activity areas at the Chenery Upper Elementary School for $105,000.

The study dove tails into the second, more substantial request of $1 million for the actual construction of the Chenery “complex.” Recreation Department Director Brendan Fitts told the committee this request will be an initial cost “guestimate” for the project in the $3 million range.

“What we are doing is setting aside some funding for [the reconstruction] now,” said Fitts.

“This is a high priority project,” said Dionne, saying parents, the PTA, and school officials have been clambering for an overhaul of the thread worn recreation area. “And I hope it’s only $3 million,” said Dionne whose worried there could be some “inflation” that’s being baked into the project.

In what Dionne called “starting something that I think could be a tremendous benefit for the town and its employees,” $250,000 is being asked by the town would be used to sow the seeds of increasing affordable housing directed towards assisting town employees to live in the community which they work.

“The number one reason we’ve been losing [employees] is the commute. It’s not that I don’t want to work here” said Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, but many are living west of Route 128 while municipal salaries can not support purchasing a home or to pay rents.

But rather than use this fund to purchase a property outright, Dionne envisions the fund being an annual CPC allocation approved by Town Meeting that would be used by developers to free up capital to build multi-unit residential projects in which some units would be dedicated to town employees. Belmont will be following in the footsteps of municipalities in California and in nearby Nantucket which are securing town employee housing in partnership with builders.

On the affordable living front, the Belmont Housing Trust is applying for $250,000 for the purpose of creating more affordable housing in town by investing in new developments prompted by the anticipated approval of the MBTA Communities Multifamily Zoning law. Belmont will have the ability to invest in new projects in exchange for more affordability or deeper affordability as the Trust funds projects, either through financing the development or subsidizing the operating costs.

The Belmont Woman’s Club is seeking through the HDC $99,000 to paint the exterior of the Homer House on Pleasant Street opposite Town Hall as part of its long-term renovation of the historic house.

Of the off-cycle proposals, a initial proposal of $160,000 from the Historic District Commission will make significant roof and repairs to the School Administration building on Pleasant Street. “People are putting out buckets out [when it rains]” with the damage reportedly in the superintendent’s office due to deficiencies in the roof’s flashings and gutters causing internal damage, according to Gabriel Distler, staff planner for the HDC.

Along with the roof, other time sensitive items include shoring up the main retaining wall at Town Hall while there is a need for a redesign of the commuter rail pedestrian tunnel connecting the Winn Brook neighborhood with the new Belmont Middle and High School and Concord Avenue after the MBTA and Massachusetts Department of Transportation reversed an earlier design decision to now allow a less expensive tunnel.

“I think the one thing that everyone in town agrees on is that the tunnel is really important,” said Dionne. “And if we don’t fund this [proposal], we can’t get to the design drawings that we need for [federal] funding, it delays this decades long process.

Your Invitation: Dedication Ceremony For Completed Belmont Middle/High School Sat., Oct. 21

Photo: The dedication of the completed Belmont Middle And High School will be on Saturday, Oct. 21

The Belmont Public Schools is inviting the town community to attend the dedication ceremony of the completed Belmont Middle and High School taking place on Saturday, Oct. 21.

The ceremony consists of a formal dedication program, an opportunity to view the new learning spaces and a tour the new BMHS Campus. The event will begin at the schools’ Auditorium at 11 a.m., where the district will thank the many partners who helped create the state-of-the-art school.

There will be an Open House from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., where members of the Belmont community will be able to see the student learning spaces.

In anticipation of high attendance for the event, the district requests attendees walk or car pool to the ceremony if possible and obey all campus, street and parking restrictions.

Pink Out! Field Hockey Holding Breast Cancer Awareness Fundraiser On Tuesday, Oct. 10

Photo:

The Belmont High School Field Hockey team will hold a breast cancer awareness fundraiser on Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 6:30 p.m. during its game with out-of-league opponent Brookline High at Harris Field.

Proceeds from a bake sale, a 50/50 raffle, and donations will go to the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Organization, which focuses on patient navigation and advocacy, providing resources for breast cancer patients to understand the American medical system.

If you are coming to the game, wear pink!

An Open Letter To The Planning Board On Creating Less Restrictive Zoning Bylaws On Business

Photo: Meg Moriarty

An Open Letter to the Planning Board:

Supporting business development in Belmont can be good for our schools. Relaxing restrictive zoning bylaws for restaurants in Belmont should provide commercial tax revenue that pays for operating the schools, sponsorship, and support for school programs and after-school activities, job opportunities for Belmont students, and places for Belmont students and families to enjoy.

I have seen the support that local businesses provide in Belmont, both on the School Committee and the Butler PTA. I have also seen It throughout Massachusetts as a professional evaluator of programs that foster broader participation and deeper engagement of students with science, technology, engineering, and math.

This support can be both financial and non-financial support. Based on my professional experience in communities with dense local business development, local businesses partner with schools, sponsor educational programs, provide resources, and donate funds. Local businesses sponsor sports teams, arts programs, and other extracurricular activities, alleviating the financial burden on schools and allowing them to offer a wider range of activities for students. Such partnerships enhance the educational experience for students.

Engaging with local businesses fosters a sense of community. Business leaders and employees may participate in school events, mentor students, and collaborate with schools to develop curricula that align with the skills needed in the local job market. Local businesses also provide jobs for students and prepare them for future employment.

Businesses also generate tax revenue. Although the necessary, short-term option for increasing funding for Belmont schools is to pass an override in April, supporting business development is a feasible long-term strategy for generating additional tax revenue that can fund our schools while offloading the tax burden felt by many in our community. Making our zoning bylaws friendlier to restaurants is a necessary step for encouraging business development.

As a School Committee member, parent, and educator, I spend a lot of time thinking about the core ingredients of effective schools and learning opportunities for all students. I am in good company with my education preoccupation in Belmont: the schools are one of the top reasons that people move to Belmont.

And, being involved in local politics, I notice that we all share the same agenda: increase sources of revenue to offload the tax burden on individuals. Getting clear on how we can achieve that goal means we all get to row in the same direction. Making zoning bylaws less restrictive will help us move closer to generating more tax revenue for maintaining and even expanding or improving learning opportunities for all students in Belmont.

Meg Moriarty, Garfield Road

Belmont School Committee Chair

Angus On The Run: Teen Town Meeting Member Seeks School Committee Seat

Photo: Angus Abercrombie, 19, has confirmed he will be running for school committee in the 2024 Town Election

In June 2022, Angus Abercrombie crossed the raised daïs at Harris Field to receive his high school diploma from Belmont High School in spirit; he was attending the Democratic Party’s State Convention that day as one would expect from an ambitious young man with his eyes on his political future.

If everything goes according to his plans, by June 2024, Abercrombie will be setting school policy, approving the school district’s multimillion budget, and negotiating with school unions – whose members only two years before were his teachers – as the 19-year-old Winn Street resident has announced his campaign for one of two seats up for grabs on the Belmont School Committee next year.

Abercrombie is the first person to submit a Statement of Organization of Candidate’s Committee with the Town Clerk’s Office (Nomination papers are still weeks away from being available). The Emerson freshman already has a campaign web page up and running and is active on X (formally Twitter), TikToc, Facebook, and Instagram, where Abercrombie is seen chummy with local, state, and national Democratic leaders.

A lifelong Belmont resident educated in the Belmont public schools, Abercrombie ran and was elected to Town Meeting in April, which at the time caught the attention of the Boston Globe. Since then, the Democratic Party activist has been featured in the Globe, WBZ-TV, and National Public Radio, which described him as one of a growing number of “Gen Z politicians pushing to become leaders of today.”

At first glance, dismissing the teenager as a passing fade would be to the challengers’ disadvantage. An energetic campaigner, Abercrombie topped Precinct 8 Town Meeting results with 544 votes, the second largest town-wide tally. He is a frequent participant at public, board, committee, and school meetings where he is gaining a reputation for thoughtful, engaging comments.

School Committee Chair Meghan Moriarty and Jamal Saeh are up for reelection in April 2024.

The Belmontonian interviewed Abercrombie after the 2025 Budget Public Forum at Town Hall.

You have submitted organization papers with the Town Clerk. Are you considering running for School Committee?

Abercrombie: Yes, I’ve decided to seek a seat on the School Committee.

Why?

Abercrombie: “[Belmont] is really at an inflection point. We’re about to ask voters for the biggest override ever, and we need to prove that we have the leadership to spend that money how it needs to allocated. I’ve attended our schools recently and I’ve watched the cuts get made to programs and increased fees that were imposed from when I was in kindergarten to the Winn Brook [Elementary] and the High School . I’ve watched every part of the school experience – not just in the classroom but also transportation issues, sports, activity fees – becoming tougher and tougher, especially for our families who don’t have the time and money to push for their kids outside of school. I want to advocate for them on the committee.

You’ve said you will bring the insight and interests of students to the school committee which, you’ve noted, is the largest constituency who doesn’t have the opportunity to be heard via the ballot box.

Abercrombie: Absolutely. There are a lot of students who have a deep attachment to this community. But the first time they’re actually able to vote on the issues that matter of this community, they’re often going ready to go off to college and university. That makes it really difficult for us to properly hear their voices and for the people who are in the halls of power to weigh those voices correctly.

What are the three main goals that you will bring to the school committee?

Abercrombie: Number one, we need to fix our long-term Special Education program with good wraparound services. Ensuring we are serving every student’s needs, and when possible and appropriate, keeping them in-district.

Number two, transportation. The way students get to school, right now, is unfeasible. It’s getting students to and from school in a climate conscious, low-traffic impact, and safe manner. And that also means pushing back school start times because student drivers who are tired are not safe drivers.

Number three is communication. Leveraging my background in campaigns, communications, and community organizing to better connect and engage families with school programming. We can’t allow students to fall through the cracks just because their parents don’t have time for what is sometimes a full time job; keeping up-to-date on in-school opportunities and needs.

You’re 19 and a full-time college student at Emerson. How do you respond to those who believe you lack the experience to take on the job?

Abercrombie: Well, last year at Emerson College, I ran the allocation of a $1.1 million budget. I did it. Everyone has spoken to has been happy about how that budget went down. Look, Belmont has six people on our school committee who bring different experiences, and we need to make sure that every part of the conversation about our schools is represented on our school committee. That includes parents, students, and people in the town who are not currently in either of those groups, but still deeply feel the effects of our school department. That’s why I’m running.

Belmont Police To Obtain Service Dog Through Largess Of The Allisons.

Photo: The Labrador Retriever is coming to the Belmont Police Department

Elisabeth and Graham Allison have been benefactors to the town of Belmont and its residents for many years, giving of their time and funds. And in the latest example of their largess, the Belmont Police Department will soon be the home of its first service dog.

At a recent meeting of the Select Board, the Allisons donated $9,525 for the purchase and training of a service animal. Unlike the department’s canine that goes on patrol with an officer, the service dog “will create a less stressful and more welcoming environment,” said Elisabeth Allison.

Elisabeth Allison told the board the donation will allow Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac to follow a trend begun by Middlesex District Attorney and Belmont resident Marion Ryan and that other police departments – including Reading, Maynard, and Tewksbury – have adopted.

“They are praising this program … I did some research, we put together a proposal, and I presented it [the Allisons] and they fully supported it,” said MacIsaac.

The service dog will venture outside the police station “to create a bond with the Belmont Police community, improve our public/police relations, and comfort the community during times of high stress,” said MacIsaac, noting the times a young person or someone in trauma or anxiety have been in the police headquarters for hours, “and it would be very beneficial to have a comfort dog present.”

The support from the board for the new addition to the police force was unanimous. “I’ve really seen how a dog can improve stressful and mental health situations,” said Elizabeth Dionne.

The dog will be arriving in December. And the bred? Why, the Labrador Retriever. Elisabeth Allison – a noted dog lover – said the Lab is often regarded as “the world’s best all-round dog who is ideal for this service.”