While Town Meeting representatives all across Massachusetts have the burden of sitting through endless committee explanations, Powerpoint presentations and public debate on the minutia of town governance, Belmont Town Meeting members have an additional hardship: the seats themselves.
With the majority of Town Meeting sessions held in the Belmont High School auditorium, reps had little option then to take their chances with the infamous seats in the hall.
Some of the seats – installed in 1970 – squeak, others poke, more twist lumbars into pretzel-like contours, most do all three at the same time.
“I don’t see how they expect us to conduct the business of the town in such conditions,” Nancy Reppucci, a Precinct 1 Town Meeting representative told the Belmontonian after speaking on the matter to the Belmont Board of Selectmen on March 31.
Reppucci said the five-decade old chairs, built on steel frames and secured to the floor in rows, have deteriorated to the point where it is impossible for many members with weak backs to attempt sitting on them.
It has gotten so bad, said Reppucci, that dozens of the approximately 300 representatives are requesting straight-back chairs for their use. But that number is limited due to the auditorium’s fire code.
Yet, as then-Selectman Chair Mark Paolillo noted to Reppucci, any attempt to replace the seats with new or used rows would be considered a major renovation and immediately require the town to make the auditorium compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act code, which would cost the town untold money it doesn’t have.
In addition, the town is seeking the renovation of the High School which would include the auditorium.
But since Reppucci’s plea, a temporary solution to sore backs and other body parts has been hatched to cushion the blow to high school students, parents who attend events at the school and, of course, Town Meeting members who are spending time in the auditorium.
In conjunction with Belmont Town Administrator David Kale and Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston and under the leadership of Gerald Boyle, the town’s joint Facilities Manager, 222 of the worst of the worst chairs will be repaired in an attempt to resolve the “ongoing issue” that “has impacted the functionality of the auditorium,” said Boyle.
The town has received a bid from South Shore Upholstery Service to re-upholster a total of 222 seat cushions at the High School Auditorium, at a cost of approximately $72 each, explained Boyle, for a total of approximately $16,000.
“The total of 222 represents all the seats in the lower center section, but we will rearrange seat cushions from the entire auditorium so the worst 222 are re-upholstered. We will do them in three phases of about 75 each,” said Boyle.
And to Reppucci’s and many of the Town Meeting members relief, the work is expected to be completed prior to the first night of Town Meeting on May 6.