LIVE: Special Town Meeting, May 4

Photo: Proponents of the Minuteman Tech School funding out in force.

7:30 p.m.: It’s time to convene the Special Town Meeting in which members will discuss and vote on three articles:

  1. funding for a new Minuteman Regional High School,
  2. conveying $1.75 million from the sale of Woodfall Road to the Belmont High School Building Committee for a feasibility study
  3. Take $1.45 million out of free cash to pay for six modular classrooms to be placed at the Chenery.

But first recognition of Richard Betts’ contribution to the town.

The $144 million Minuteman funding project is not finding any love among town committees: voted unfavorably by the Board of Selectmen, Warrant Committee, and the Capital Budget Committee. 

The articles will be heard in reverse order with Minuteman to end the night. 

7:42 p.m.: The proclamation for Dick Betts, “Mr. Belmont.”Passionate of Belmont’s history, author of several books on this town, and Town Engineer. 

7:47 p.m.: Article 3 is up, the modular classrooms. Selectmen, Warrant, and Capital Budget all unanimously approves the transfer. Superintendent John Phelan explains that enrollment continues to skyrocket, and it was decided that modular will relieve pressure on the school where rooms not built for learning are being used. 

Mike Lebinson, chair of the Warrant Committee, gives a talk about free cash. The town should have on hand about three percent of the last year’s budget or about $3 million. The town has about $7.6 million of free cash as of July 1, 15. So in June during the budget Town Meeting, the town is looking to spend $1.45 million on the modular, $1.7  on fiscal ’17 budget allocation and $317,000 for OPEB, which leaves $4.1 million, well above the recommended amount. 

Chris Doyle, Pct. 1, with nothing said about a permanent fix, are modular a long-range solution. Phelan said with the building of the new high school; it will give an opportunity to find a long-term solution throughout the system. David Alper, Pct. 6, said this will not increase the number of teachers, just make learning easier.

The vote is taken and … the article passes 237-5.

8:02 p.m.: Now Article 2: This will give the $1.75 million that came from the sale of town-owned property off Woodfall Road to the BHS Building Committee so it can have a feasibility study performed. Selectmen, Warrant, and Capital Budget all voted unanimously to pass the article. William Lovallo, the chair of the BHSBC, gives an overview of what the committee will be doing over the next two years. The amendment, by Selectmen Jim Williams, would change the funding source to the Kendall Insurance Fund. Williams said there were three options to fund the feasibility study with a short-term bond, free cash or the Kendall fund which is from the insurance settlement from the Kendall school. The Woodfall Road money would go into free cash. Williams said the article was only presented to allow Town Meeting a choice what to use.

Mark Paolillo, selectman chair, said the $1.75 million is one-time money which would have been placed into a Capital Stabilization Fund, which supports capital needs of four major capital needs: the new High School, DPW, Police, and Library. Back a year ago, Ann Marie Mahoney, chair of the CBC, said the Woodfall Road money would be going into these funds anyway. Paul Roberts, Pct. 1, said since there are two accounts performing the same task, why not take funds from Kendall fund and place it in the Capital Stabilization Fund. Paolillo likes that idea. 

Back a year ago, Ann Marie Mahoney, chair of the CBC, said the Woodfall Road money would be going into these funds anyway. Paul Roberts, Pct. 1, said since there are two accounts performing the same task, why not take funds from Kendall fund and place it in the Capital Stabilization Fund. Paolillo likes that idea. 

Paul Roberts, Pct. 1, said since two accounts are performing the same task, why not take funds from Kendall fund and place it in the Capital Stabilization Fund. Paolillo likes that idea.

Julie Crockett, Pct. 5, said why not pay for the feasibility study with the Kendall fund and then place the Woodfall Road money into the Debt Stabilization Fund. 

Williams once again reiterates that we wanted to give the Town Meeting the chance to decide and place the Woodfall Road money into free cash. 

Jack Weis, Pct. 1, said by placing in the money into free cash, it preserves how the fund is used in an aggregate way.

The vote of the amendment by Williams is taken, and it is defeated 176 to 76. 

Back to the main motion. Chris Doyle, Pct. 1, asks what is the scope of the feasibility study; can it include eighth graders in a new school. Phelan said the study would have the opportunity to ask for several architectural plans that will ask those questions.

The vote of the main motion takes place and passes, 237-7.

Now the Minuteman vote: buckle up and let’s go. 

Jack Weis, Pct. 1, who is Belmont’s rep on the Minuteman School Committee, said he will make a neutral presentation “so you can decide.” Weis said the reason for a new building is due to age – it was built in 1974 – and overuse. The condition of the building could force the school to lose its accreditation. Since 2010, the school has been undergoing a feasibility study since 2010. One thing that it will not do is build for less than 600 students. While Weis believes that the building is too big, “but I get tripped up” when asking himself “will be better off if we vote no.” The better path, said Weis, is to seek approval of a new school. 

“But this is the wrong school at the wrong time” said Mark Paolillo. “The building is too big.” 

“I just can’t get to yes with a $144 million building for 630 students,” said Paolillo, who suggested taking “option 2” which is taking a second look at the project.

Bob McLaughlin, Pct 2, makes a passionate plea against the new school, noting that there are too many questions left unanswered.

Now the questions and opinions from the members. 

With many members expressing a great amount of frustration with the process and the school’s administration, Belmont Special Town Meeting votes down the $144 million funding plan for a new Minuteman Career and Technical High School building, 81-141.

 

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