Belmont Opens Cooling Centers Over Weekend During Heat Wave

Photo: The town has opened cooling center over the weekend

Due to the current heat wave, the Beech Street Center at 266 Beech St, and the Belmont Public Library at 336 Concord Ave, will be open as cooling centers this weekend, according to a press release from the town. 

The hours will be as follows: 

Beech Street Center:  

  • Saturday, July 23, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, July 24, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Belmont Public Library: 

  • Friday, July 22 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for a free movie night
  • Saturday, July 23, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

“We encourage everyone to stay cool and hydrated,” read the press release. “We ask you to check on elderly friends and neighbors, and others who may need help, during this period of high heat and humidity.”

Select Board Places New Belmont Library On November Ballot As Fundraising Reaches $5 Million Mark

Photo: It’s now up to the voters in November to decide the fate of a new Belmont Public Library.

Twenty-three years after it was first proposed, a new Belmont Public Library will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot as the Select Board unanimously approved placing a $39.5 million debt exclusion to build a 42,000 square-foot structure at the library’s present location at 336 Concord Ave. at its July 18 meeting.

“I think we’ve come to a point where we really don’t have the luxury of waiting much longer,” said Select Board Member Roy Epstein and putting the decision in the voters hands.

The decision came a week before the board was set to decide whether to place debt exclusions for the library and a new municipal skating facility before voters on the November election.

“I don’t have any problem putting up the library tonight,” said Board Member Adam Dash. ”There’s nothing left to talk about,” as the project has been throughly vetted since it began in 2018 and any more delays will result in escalated costs, he said.

The board’s vote came after an announcement earlier in the meeting when library supporters reported raising $5 million in funds and commitments to support the new building. The big news Monday was a $2 million grant – provided if the debt exclusion passes – from the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation to support the project.

“The Belmont Savings Bank was a pillar of the community for so many years, much like the library is now and will continue to be in the new building that serves the needs of the entire community,” said Gail Mann of the Board of Library Trustees. ”We are close to $5 million in funding with [more than] 850 donors with additional donations since then.”

“Five million dollars raised is incredible and it’s growing beyond that,” said Chair Mark Paolillo. “It shows the residents of this community that there’s incredible support for this library.”

“And all the dollars that get donated is one less dollar we have to issue in the debt exclusion and makes the project that much better,” said Dash.

For the campaigners who have been in the forefront of creating a new library, its efforts now transfers to convincing a majority of voters in the next 113 days to pass a debt exclusion in the $34 million range.

“There will be a political ’Yes’ campaign now that we are officially on the ballot,” said Peter Struzziero, library director. He said while he and his staff will not be advocating for a vote, they still can provide information on the project.

”We’ve held more than 50 meetings with every group, official and unofficial, that we could and we plan to hold more information sessions going forward,” said Trustee Chair Elaine Alligood.

“I think there is a lot of community support. I think there has been a ton of outreach by the trustees, the [Belmont Library] Foundation, the Friends of the Belmont Library and Peter Struzziero and his staff,” said Mann.

Struzziero said that unlike the previous two proposals which relied on state funding and support, this project ”is the first one that was ever completely driven by Belmont residents.

”It’s also the smallest building that’s ever been proposed and it’s got the most fundraising now of any project in the history of Belmont. There’s a lot of things that are different about this time around and this time, we’re confident that the voters will make the decision that’s best for the community,” said Struzziero.

Learn About A New Belmont Library At Virtual Public Forum Thursday, June 9

Photo: A drawing of the facade of the new Belmont Public Library

The Belmont Public Library Building Committee will be presenting the seventh open public forum on Thursday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m.via ZOOM. The forum will give residents and patrons an opportunity to see the new library’s plans including site plan, floor plan, budget, timeline, and exterior and interior renderings.

The forum will be held virtually: participants can register for the Zoom link or click here to join: https://tinyurl.com/yc5kf3v3

League Of Women Voters Holding Brown Bag Lunch To Hear Latest On Proposed Library

Photo: A rendering of the proposed Belmont Public Library.

The Belmont League of Women Voters will be holding a virtual Brown Bag Lunch Talk titled:

Belmont Library: Where are we? How do we get a new one? with Kathy Keohane, chair of the Library Board of Trustees, and Peter Struzziero, Belmont Library Director.

The lunch will take place on Friday, May 20 from Noon to 1:30 p.m.

The meeting will be on Zoom: Meeting ID: 880 3835 5536, Passcode: LWV or you can follow along by going to this link.

Snow Emergency Starts Thursday Night; Town Buildings Closed Friday; Friday Trash Pickup Delayed

Photo: If it’s on the street Friday, you might see it going away

With a foot of snow ready to be dumped on the heads of residents, the town of Belmont has declared a snow emergency effective Thursday, Feb. 24 at 11:45 p.m. until the town says otherwise.

A parking ban will also be in effect for all roadways and municipal and school parking lots. If the town finds your vehicle in said areas, it will be towed at your expense.

Due to the expected inclement weather and unsafe road conditions, Belmont town offices and the Belmont Public Library will be closed on Friday, Feb. 25.

And due to the Presidents Day holiday, if your usual trash and recycling pick-up day of Thursday was pushed back a day, the snowstorm will give you the distinction of having your stuff removed on Saturday. The Department of Public Works is asking residents to keep barrels off the streets and sidewalk on Friday until the snow is removed. And be sure the trash and recycling is ready to go at 7 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 26.

Belmont Schools, Library Closed Friday Due To Winter Storm, Hazardous Roads

Photo: Hazardous weather closed schools Friday

While it’s not a snow day, Belmont public school students will be sleeping in Friday as school has been cancelled due to bad winter weather.

“Due to the storm and the projected flash freezing of roads, Belmont Public Schools are closed on Friday, February 4, 2022,” reported John Phelan, superintendent of schools on Thursday.

The Belmont Public Library will also be closed on Friday.

The National Weather Service issued a Winter Weather Advisory in effect from 4 a.m. on Feb. 4, until 7 p.m. for eastern Massachusetts. The forecast calls for rain changing to freezing rain and sleet between 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. impacting the morning commute as roads become hazardous as surfaces will be impacted by flash freeze as temperatures drop into the 20s by late Friday morning.

Breaking: Belmont Under Snow Emergency Parking Ban Starting 6 AM; Town Offices, Library, Beech Street Center Will Be Closed

Photo: Ban on on-street parking and in municipal and school parking lots starts at 6 a.m.

Belmont has issued a Snow Emergency Parking Ban effective at 6 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 7 at 6 a.m. on all roadways, as well as in municipal parking lots and Belmont Public School parking lots. The ban will be in effect until further notice. 

All vehicles parked in violation of the ban will be towed at the owner’s expense

In addition, town offices, the Belmont Public Library and the Beech Street Center will close on Friday.

Trustees Want Residents To Take A Tour Sunday Through Belmont’s ‘Failing’ Library [Video]

Photo: Deteriorating infrastructure at the Belmont Public Library

On Oct. 4, the Belmont Select Board and Board of Library Trustees agreed a solution is needed for the failing library building. The constant failures – big and small – in critical library building systems are urgent, according to the Trustees; floods, leaks, electrical issues, an antiquated fire alarm system, and unreliable heating, air conditioning and elevators have put the building in a dire situation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mB1UKswJFUk

On Sunday, Oct. 17, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Belmont residents can take one of two tours of the inner workings of the library and see the condition of the building.

INDOOR OPTION: Take a small group guided tour to see the failing parts of the library building.

OUTDOOR OPTION: The committee has recreated the tour experience outdoors, using posters, video, and knowledgeable guides to walk through.

The tours are led by members of the Board of Library Trustees, Library Building Committee, and Library staff.

For more information, visit www.NewLibraryFund.org

Trustees Presents ‘Dire’ Status Of Library Building To Select Board Monday

Photo: Belmont Public Library

When the Belmont Board of Library Trustees comes before the Select Board on Monday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m., it will with a simple request concerning the building on Concord Avenue that has for more than a half century housed the books, services and collections that is the Belmont Public Library: What’s the next step?

For more than 25 years, the trustees and volunteers have pointed to the aging building – opened in 1965 – with increasing concern that one of the most popular libraries in its population group in Massachusetts was falling into a condition of disrepair of its infrastructure and the lack of space to meet the library’s programming needs.

Since then, the deterioration of the building has accelerated to the point where the options facing the town going forward has dwindled to a stark pair in the view of the trustees: be a town without a library or commit to a new future.

”We are at the end of the road,” said Kathleen Keohane, the Trustee’s vice chair. “We have kicked this can down the road so many times. And unfortunately, we are about to hit the wall. It’s that dire.”

Trustee Chair Elaine Alligood ran down the list of structural failings: when it rains, there are leaks that pop up everywhere, a fire alarm system is out-of-code since 1992, heating and electrical systems whose useful life ended 20 years ago and are chronically in disrepair, a roof that is so fragile it can’t accept a modern HVAC system while the elevator has to checked at the end of each day to see if anyone is stuck inside because the alarm doesn’t work.

Any significant and needed repair in any part of the building will almost certainly create a cascade of required alterations which would accelerate the cost past the point of reasonable expenditures.

“We’ve deferred those big ticket items because if you repair one system, it pulls a thread that requires another expensive repair,” said Keohane, who said if one or two repairs exceeds a certain amount, it activates a trigger that requires the entire building to meet millions of dollars of American Disabilities Act-mandated improvements “which would be fiscally irresponsible for the trustees to ask the town to meet.”

The trustees said the time has come for a clear eyed decision on the future of a centerpiece of the Belmont community.

“It is a challenging time and if there were any other time to do it don’t you know we would do it then,” said Ellen Schreiber, a member of the non-profit Belmont Library Foundation that promotes and fundraisers in behalf of the library. “But we have no choice. The library is an urgent situation.”

Despite its popularity – during the pandemic the library’s circulation remained steady at 474,000 items – the trustees attempts to spur the construction of a building that would meet the needs a modern library failed to garner town and community support or the cooperation of the school committee in the latest attempt nearly a decade ago.

On Oct. 4, the trustees will present to the Select Board with the facts.

The latest Library Building Committee – authorized by Town Meeting in 2017 – spent two years holding meetings with the community and focus groups using a 2016 feasibility study to determine the best way forward on the future of the library building. In November 2019, the committee presented a final schematic design created by Oudens Ello Architecture that took into account public and stakeholders feedback that revealed a plan of a modern library that would meet its patrons and the community’s needs.

“The new building design is focused on giving us more space [25 percent increase in square footage], will be ADA compliant and address all the failing infrastructure and business systems that are decades in the making,” said Keohane.

The trustees and the foundation will present what has been raised for a new library, a community fundraising initiative that will take place this month and an estimated cost for a new building. The last price tag was in the $34 million range.

Now nearing two years since the report’s release, the trustees say the building’s decline can not be halted with stop gaps or unrealistic hopes that renovations can add years to the building’s lifespan.

“So it’s up to the Select Board with our assistance to decide what is the next step,” said Keohane.

Belmont Schools Summer Reading List Targeted By Fox News For Alleged ‘Race-centric’ Curricula

Photo: Fox News has highlighted books on the Belmont Schools Summer Reading List they contend targets ‘Whiteness’

Along with the opening of the Underwood Pool, summer arrives in Belmont when the Public Library releases its summer reading list for the town’s public school students.

Designed to encourage pupils to make reading a habit while raising both their interest in and level of reading, the summer collection runs the gamut from Too Many Cats by Lori Haskins Houran that kindergarteners read with their parents, the fantasy series The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer for middle schoolers and acclaimed novels such as Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits that rising sophomores in the English honors program will pick up.

“The Library and School Department have worked on summer reading lists for many years, long before I arrived in Belmont in 2015,” said Belmont Public Library Director Peter Struzziero. “It’s always been a great partnership that we look forward to every year.”

For all previous years, the list has been the exclusive purview of school-aged students hoping they made a good choice to read on warm summer days. That all changed when late last week, an ominous headline came across computer screens courtesy of the online version of Fox News: “Massachusetts school district pushes grade schoolers to read books about ‘White privilege,’ ‘Whiteness‘.

That district? Belmont, where books, according to the article, that condemns “Whiteness” are in the recommended summer reading list for grade school students “amid a national uproar over race-centric curricula in schools.” The likely furor the article mentions is linked to the teaching of critical race theory, a catch phrase used by conservative groups and right wing media to condemn studying that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

A primer on critical race theory can be found at Education Week.

While there is no evidence that critical race theory is taught in any K-12 district in the country – although some teachers who have participated in a professional development sessions have encountered topic – Fox News has refocused its daily coverage towards allegations of students being bullied for being white and forcing them to attend classes that condemn their race. Since March, Fox News programs have mentioned the topic 1,300 times in a little over a 100 days.

The Fox article, authored by Peter Hasson, said the offending books are within a category titled “Race, Culture, and Activism” that are “recommended” for grade school students including one titled Not my Idea: A Book About Whiteness, by Anastasia Higginbotham.

“The imaginary terms [provided by “the devil” to white children that will] offer “stolen land,” “stolen riches” and “special favors,” explained Hasson. It adds that “WHITENESS gets” “your soul” and “to mess endlessly with the lives of your friends, neighbors, loved ones and all fellow humans of COLOR.” “The end contains a section for signature and notes [l]and, riches and favors may be revoked at any time, for any reason,'” in Hasson’s summarized.

Other targeted titles include Jenny Devenny’s Race Cars: A Children’s Book About White Privilege and Stamped, by Ibram Kendi, who is described by Hasson as a “far-left academic” who has called for “an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals.”

The Fox article came a day after right-wing activist Christopher Rufo tweeted that Belmont was one of 30 communities in the US – five in Massachusetts – using Not my Idea either in classes or are on reading lists. Rufo’s tactics, research and goals have come under increasing fire. As one critic noted, Rufo “takes critical-race theory as a concept, strips it of all meaning, and repurposes it as a catchall for white grievances.”

Racist email follows ‘whiteness’ claim

Reaction to the Fox article and Rufo’s tweet came quickly as an email saturated with White racist and White supremacist tropes – calling for a “Thank You White People Day” – was sent late on July 8 by a “Brian Jenkins” to each member of the School Committee, the district’s Central Office, the district’s six PTOs and the Friends of Belmont Education.

Responding to the Fox article, Belmont Superintendent John Phelan noted the reading list is created “in partnership with our Public Library and are not assigned by the school department.” rather, it is made up of “suggested titles for families to use at their discretion.”

At the June 29 school committee meeting, Phelan addressed just how the list is developed, with an acknowledgment that “I know there have been some questions about how this process is conducted each year.” The selected books, including those highlighted by Fox, are a collaboration between Belmont librarians, district’s curriculum leaders, elementary school principals and assistant superintendent Janice Darius. The library begins the process by reviewing the list from previous years and adding notable new reads.

“They send a draft of the list to the curriculum leaders to review so it will align with each grades curriculum in representing the diversity, cultural, language and race of our students,” said Phelan. Books are taken off the list because they’re already part of a grade level curriculum, if they should belong to a different grade level’s list or “they may be too controversial,” he said.

It is school curriculum leaders who add new books to replace those titles taken off. “The list is then reviewed by the elementary principals, the assistant superintendent and, finally, through my office as well,” said Phelan. The list is then sent to out to all teachers, families and posted on the district’s website.

“I do not think that it is the School Committee’s role to select which books are on the list. We will continue to listen to and communicate with community members and share input received with the district and library.”

Belmont School Committee Chair Amy Checkoway

Phelan reiterated that the the K-7 list are suggested books for families, and “they are not required reading in any way.” These are suggestions for our kindergarten through seventh grade families. There’s one book on the list that is required of our eighth graders; The Giver by Lois Lowry. All other books on the eighth grade lists are also suggestions, said Phelan.

Responding to the Fox article with the Belmontonian, Struzziero said the books in the targeted category “teach about some of the history of racial injustice in our country and attempt to give messages about equality, justice, peace, kindness and many other themes that we want to inspire in all our students.”

“We hope this list will inspire discussion and learning among our families, provide a way to better understand history, and encourage us all to better understand each other. This is really only a highlight of the many books we have available on these topics,” he said.

Speaking directly at Fox News which he said “took into consideration a certain point of view” in its coverage, Stuzzierio said there’s no shortage of opinions on literature or on education of the young. “I won’t comment on what’s credible or not, all opinions are valuable, and we are always happy to have feedback on how to make the Library and it’s collections the best it can be,” he said.

Placing the books highlighted in the the Fox article in great context, Stuzzierio said many were selected at the culmination of the library’s first-ever Community Read last year with its central focus on antiracism. Partnering with more than 700 residents and groups as varied as Belmont Against Racism, the Belmont Religious Council, the Human Rights Commission and the Belmont Chinese American Association, “the community spoke loudly about the place that we want Belmont today,” he said. “It was joyful, community building, and a healing expression of how Belmont supports itself to be such a great place to live and work. It’s been one of the most inspiring chapters in my career,”

As for moving forward on future lists, Stuzzierio said “we’ve heard from many citizens with feedback on this year’s summer reading list. Most citizens thought it was wonderful and a great accent to the work we do, some others had feedback on titles they thought should be removed from the list, or others still included names of additional titles,” he added.

Resident raises his own concern on summer list

One such resident who has been made his concerns known for the past three years is David Benoit. The retired law enforcement officer has been critical of one specific book used by the district since 2018; The Hate U Give, a young adult novel by Angie Thomas that Benoit contends “teaches that opposing views justify violent destructive riots, assaults, and arson” to “highly impressionable BHS students.” This month, Benoit called out the district for placing on the 2021 summer reading list the book Something Happened In Our Town by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, Ann Hazzard and Jennifer Zivoin, for elementary grades K-5, which he said is “poisoning the minds of young innocent children.”

Benoit’s letter and a short conversation with him will be published on Saturday.

Stuzzierio said the will use “all the feedback to review our lists and see in what ways we may build upon it for next year. We look forward to working with the School Department on this process,” he said. 

Speaking to the Belmontonian, School Committee Chair Amy Checkoway said the committee will continue to listen to and communicate with community members who are supportive of the books and with those who have concerns about some of the books and further discuss these items at upcoming meetings.

While the committee will plan to review the current lists in August, “I do not think that it is the School Committee’s role to select which books are on the list. We will continue to listen to and communicate with community members and share input received with the district and library,” she said.

When asked what the best approach for the school community to confront political-based charges the district is teaching a “race-centric curricula,” Checkoway said everyone needs “to remain focused on efforts that are already underway in the Belmont Public Schools to ensure that all students and staff have the opportunity to be successful and feel welcome, seen, represented, and supported in our schools including through our curricula.”

She added the committee supports a district-wide racial equity audit to be conducted by an outside firm beginning in the summer with a focus on helping to identify what the district and committee are doing well and areas of improvement in a range of areas including school climate, student outcomes, hiring and advancement practices, student discipline, and more.

“I also look forward to welcoming a new Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion who will report to the superintendent and provide much needed capacity to advance the district’s equity work and support faculty, staff, students, and families,” said Checkoway.

“There is a lot of good work that is happening and plenty of work that remains.”