Why I’m Running: Kim O’Mahony for School Committee

Photo: Kim O’Mahony

My name is Kim O’Mahony, and I am running School Committee.

My husband and I have lived in Belmont for 12 years. I have run a successful child care business in Waverley Square for the past eight years and we have three daughters attending the Butler School. I am excited to serve this town as I am deeply committed to it.  It would be a privilege to apply my experience to help Belmont move forward!

What is my experience?

I hold a BS in Accounting and worked professionally in systems analysis, auditing and business analysis. Currently, I own an early childhood education business. The combination of a business background and an expertise in education make me uniquely qualified to sit at the School Committee table. I understand zero-based budgeting and I am steeped in the developmental needs of children.  

There are many financial challenges facing the Schools, e.g., contract negotiations, ever- increasing enrollment, and the potential for a new/renovated high school. My experience positions me well to offer informed, balanced ideas that can help make a positive impact on solutions to these issues.  

While standing at the playground, on sidelines of soccer games, or attending Dolphin swim meets, I have listened to the concerns of fellow parents. What is clear to me is that the needs of our excellent school system must be balanced against the needs of the community as a whole. We are, after all, One Belmont.  

As a School Committee member, it would be my responsibility to represent my fellow community members and to bring the scope and depth of my fiscal and education experience to the table.  

I look forward to the opportunity of serving Belmont in this way.

Thank you for your consideration, and please be sure to vote on Tuesday, April 5!

Letter to the Editor: Back Bicer for School Committee

Photo: Murat Bicer

To the editor:

We encourage everyone in Belmont to consider Murat Bicer for School Committee.    

Murat is uniquely qualified and brings sound financial and investment expertise to a School Committee, which will be facing a number of challenging issues in the years ahead that have a short and long-term impact on our community.    

As a well-regarded venture capital professional in the global technology community, Murat understands what it means to evaluate complex situations and provide sound financial counsel.   He has successfully invested tens of millions of dollars in growing companies; one of the best track records in the industry. Senior executives trust Murat with evaluating critical operational decisions that have immediate consequences on his investments.    

Now take a moment and translate this kind of experience to the most important investment of all: our children. Like Murat, we have young children who are still in pre-school. Our families will have children in the school system for at least the next 15 years. We share a long-term perspective on schools and how important they are to the foundation of Belmont.

In the next couple of years, we will be faced with critical decisions: the cost of a new high school, rising class sizes, teacher contracts, and the continued influx of new families. We need the best talent possible for our community to lay out frameworks to make sensible choices and be an informed voice of reason when there are millions of dollars and our children’s educational future at stake. 

Belmont has some unique financial challenges. We want the answers to those challenges to come from talented people who objectively have the experience of investing for the future. In the next few weeks, you will see that Murat is clearly qualified to play such a role in our community.

Matt Goldstein and Dr. Adrienne Allen 

Harris Street

School Committee Chair Retiring; Three Seats Now Up for Grabs

Photo: Laurie Slap.

After serving two terms on the Belmont School Committee – including two years as its chair – Laurie Slap believes it’s a good moment to exit, stage left. 

“I’ve had a fabulous six years on the committee and that’s the right amount of time,” said Slap, who announced Tuesday night, Feb. 2, after the Belmont School Committee meeting that she was “retiring” from the committee when her term expires in April. 

Slap, who came to the board in 2010 after leading the effort to pass the debt exclusion for the Wellington Elementary, said one of her highlights from her tenure as chair was passing the $4.5 million Prop. 2 1/2 override in April 2015 that provided the school district with the necessary funds to meet the challenges of exploding district enrollment. 

“[The committee] was so excited to make the case that the schools needed resources and the override passing with the margin it did was a big one,” the Long Avenue resident said.

The other high-water mark was updating the district’s statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority to renovate and add new construction to Belmont High School. Those efforts came to fruition last week when the MSBA selected Belmont to begin the process of modernizing the nearly 50-year-old school. Slap was in attendance with Superintendent John Phelan and Belmont High Principal Dan Richards when the announcement was made by the MSBA in Boston.

“That’s a nice way to wrap up my time here,” she said.

Slap noted that with her and member Laurie Graham’s departure late last year in addition to Elyse Shuster’s decision to give up her full-term seat to run to complete the one year remaining in Graham’s term, there are two three-year seats vacant on the committee to be filled in April and no incumbent running to retain a current position. 

As of Thursday, Feb. 4, only one resident has taken out nomination papers for the two seats. 

“[The School Committee] is a fabulous group and everyone who is associated with it, from the administration to the teachers, the students and parents,” said Slap.

“I highly recommend anyone who is looking to get involved with the town to consider running,” she said.

Modular Classrooms Heading to Chenery’s Tennis Court

Photo: The Chenery Middle School tennis courts which will house six modular classrooms in August 2016.

After putting off a decision for the past two years, Belmont School District announced last week it will place six modular classrooms on the Chenery Middle School tennis courts for the start of the 2016-17 school year in August.

The classrooms – single-story temporary prefabricated structures most notably used last to house Wellington Elementary students as the new school was being built five years ago – are being brought to the middle school to alleviate the skyrocketing enrollment in the past five years that is taxing the building’s capacity, according to Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan and members of the Capital Budget Committee. 

The decision to go with modulars is not a surprise as the district initially discussed adding temporary classrooms nearly three years ago when the Space Task Force established by former Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston concluded the Chenery “does not have enough space to support the current level of student enrollment” and won’t be able to fit the large classes funneling from the four elementary schools in the next five years.”

The solution “will result in the need for modular classrooms” by the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.

The six classrooms – equipt with their own bathrooms and powered with underground electrical wiring – each can hold up to 25 students, making a dent in the rapid increase in student enrollment in Belmont schools. 

While the Chenery is the only school selected this coming school year, the school district will evaluate the enrollment numbers at the elementary schools with the possibility of purchasing more units for one or more of the district’s four elementary schools. 

Phelan said the district has no timetable on how long the units will be used or if they will be moved from school to school when there is a need for more classrooms. 

“[They’ll be] used as long as needed,” he said. 

While Phelan said the district has yet to decide on the type or style of the “mods” to be placed at the Chenery “we are working with the same engineering firm that Winchester is using” during the construction of that district’s new High School.

On that project, Littleton-based firm Triumph Modular added eight classrooms as a new school was being built on the site of the current building. 

Closer to home, Triumph was hired by Belmont Hill School in 2013 to provide six classrooms, an open testing area, five private offices, a conference room, and restrooms for staff and students for a year and a half during construction of a school building. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 2.45.20 PM

Modular units at Belmont Hill School 2013.

According to a “rough budget” from a modular study created by the school district, the estimated cost for lease the mods for three years comes to $1.12 million compared to the upfront cost of $1.23 million buying the units. 

“The one benefit with buying [the modulars] is that there is a resale market for the newer units” as opposed to the type the district bought in the past, said Ann Marie Mahoney, Capital Budget chair. 

While the school district has yet decided if they will lease or buy the units – “a cost analysis [is] underway” to determine the financially wise course, said Phelan – the likely purchase of the modular structures could result in the Capital Budget Committee using its entire $1.1 million budget acquiring the units.

“We can’t keep asking taxpayers to bond another million dollar expense,” said Mahoney.

“But then we can’t meet requests from the other departments this budget cycle,” she said.

“It will simplify our Town Meeting report,” Mahoney said wistfully.


Graham Resigns from School Committee; Three Seats Up in April Town Election

Photo: Laurie Graham at the Friends of Belmont Education Spelling Bee in Nov. 2015. 

Long-time Belmont School Committee member Laurie Graham has resigned after serving nearly eight years on the board, three of those as chair leading the committee during some of the most financially challenging times in recent history. 

Graham’s resignation, announced at last week’s school committee meeting, is effective Jan. 20, 2016.

“I hope that I have added in some measure to a more cordial and respectful working relationship with other committees but one that is not only less tense but which also produces positive results and outcomes for our students,” Graham told the Belmontonian. 

Her departure will likely result in three seats being filled at the 2016 Town Election on Tuesday, April 5. While traditionally, the seat of someone who resigns is occupied by a nominee selected by a joint meeting of the School Committee and Board of Selectmen, with the resignation coming within four months of Town Election, it is likely the two bodies will allow the one-year position to be picked by the voters. 

The other two seats are three-year appointments currently held by incumbents Laurie Slap, the current committee chair, and Elyse Shuster. Both have told the Belmontonian they would wait until the New Year before announcing if they will run for re-election. 

Graham, who won three town-wide elections starting in 2008 while, topped the school committee ticket in 2014 with 3,640 votes.

For the past six years, Graham worked out of her home as a contractor with a group of independent publishers reps and that has given her the flexibility to attend day-time sub-committee meetings as well as participate as a school committee liaison or appointed to other committees in town for both day and evening meetings.

That changed when she started a new job, as an office manager in a tax office, in downtown Boston. It has become clear to me that with a commute, no real time to attend meetings back in Belmont as well as the busy time coming these next few months that it made sense for me to step down now and not wait until the upcoming April election. 

“It has become clear to me that with a commute, no real time to attend meetings back in Belmont as well as the busy time coming these next few months that it made sense for me to step down now and not wait until the upcoming April election,” she said.

School Committee OK’s Land Survey for Possible Rink/Rec Center

Photo: The varsity softball field.

The promise of a new ice skating rink and multi-purpose recreation center serving Belmont’s residents and sports teams took a baby step forward as the Belmont School Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday, Dec. 1 to allow a survey of school-owned property near Belmont High School by the non-profit seeking to build the facility.

The decision gives permission for the Belmont Youth Hockey Association to hire a firm to perform evaluation work on school property currently occupied by the Belmont High Varsity Softball field to determine if the surface is suitable for the construction of a recreation center and ice surface. 

“It’s a small step forward, but it is forward,” said Bob Mulroy, who has become the association’s point person for the project, that would include an NHL-sized skating rink, a second “half” skating surface that transforms into a field house for half the year, modern locker rooms, a community fitness center, and many more amenities.

According to Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan, the land survey will allow the association to return to the committee with a more detailed and concrete feasibility study. 

The $6.5 million complex – which would include off-street, on-site parking – would be overseen by a non-profit public/private partnership that would incorporate a wide array of town departments, the school committee, youth hockey and funders on the board.

In exchange for the land to build the center, Belmont schools, and high school teams will have use of the facilities at no cost. 

District Enrollment Keeps Marching Higher as School Year Begins

Photo: More students have entered Belmont schools in the past three months.

The news on student enrollment levels in Belmont’s six public schools from School Superintendent John Phelan continues along a familiar theme of the past five years: more are still coming.

At the Sept. 8 School Committee meeting, Phelan reported that between June 1 to Sept. 3, 72 net additional students in Kindergarten through 12th grade entered the system which now serves a total enrollment of 4,362.

Since 2009, approximately 400 additional students have been added to the district’s rolls. 

Phelan said he is “very optimistic” of the total figure as it was close to actual number of children counted on the first day of school, Wednesday, Sept. 2, which saw an attendance rate of 97.5 percent.

“Everyone came and were welcomed to class,” said Phelan.

Notable in the new enrollment data is the jump in the number of students at the Chenery Middle School which crossed the 1,300 student mark with 1,320 pupils, an increase of 38 students in the past 90 days.

But Phelan said he’s confident that total and middle school numbers will rise as every day “two or three more students” were being enrolled in the first week of school opening.

To keep up with the rising numbers, Belmont High has converted existing modular space behind the school into classrooms, the only school that will be using non-permanent structures this year. In June, Phelan said it looked increasingly possible that added physical space will be required in the 2016-17 school year to accommodate the new students. 

School Committee Gives Initial Nod to Proposed New Rink/Rec Center

Photo: Bob Mulroy.

The Belmont School Committee gave its initial “OK” Tuesday night, Sept. 8, for a youth sports organization to begin the process that could result in the construction of a new multi-purpose town recreation center. 

“We are not just looking at our needs, but … of the entire community,” said Bob Mulroy, who gave the presentation for Belmont Youth Hockey Association, which is leading the project that would include an NHL-sized skating rink, a second “half” skating surface that would transform into a field house for half the year, modern locker rooms, a community fitness center, and many more amenities.

While the proposal has received high marks from public and elected officials in August when the Board of Selectmen was presented with the proposal, those deciding the fate of the project are taking a long-view of the process. 

“I see this as the first step … I don’t see this as a significant substance discussion but just to understand what the proposal is before us,” said School Committee Chair Laurie Slap, as the committee members voted the proposal was “worth exploring.”

The $6.5 million complex – which would include off-street, on-site parking – would be overseen by a non-profit public/private partnership that would incorporate a wide array of town departments, the school committee, youth hockey and funders on the board.

In exchange for the land to build the center, Belmont schools, and high school teams will have use of the facility at no cost. 

Both sides acknowledge the first significant hurdle to clear is where to locate the center. Under BYHA’s ideal scenario, the complex would be built on the current home of the Belmont High softball team abutting the Mobile service station and across Concord Avenue from the Belmont Public Library.

But that is the same site where in May 2013 the school committee rejected a request by the Board of Library Overseers to place a new $19.5 million town library, actually killing the hopes of supporters for more than a decade.

The alternative location would place the recreation center on the existing rink footprint, across Concord Avenue from the Underwood Pool.

“We are aware that fields are crucial in town, and we are not looking to reduce that [amount],” said Mulroy.

The proposal would both help find solutions to real recreational needs – providing adequate changing space and locker rooms for all sports teams – in Belmont as well as replace the 45-year-old “Skip” Viglirolo Skating Rink, which Mulroy described as “toast.”

The rink, with gaps in the walls, few comforts, and antiquated mechanical systems, has past its useful life “long ago,” said Mulroy.

Belmont Youth Hockey is the rinks biggest customer, taking three-quarters of the available rental time.

Mulroy told the meeting the cost to renovate the current structures to current code would be the same as building a new recreation center. 

Under the current blueprint, the proposed center would include:

  • A 25,000 sq.-ft. NHL-sized rink (approximately 200 feet by 85 foot).
  • A half-sized skating rink used for seven months then transformed into a field house for tennis, soccer and community events.
  • Six modern year-round locker rooms.
  • A 5,000 sq.-ft. health club/gym open to the public.
  • Exercise classrooms.
  • A skate shop.
  • Concession stand.
  • Meeting rooms.
  • Athletic offices.
  • A trainers/medical center.

The proposed building would cost between $8 and $9 million, with construction priced between $6 to $7 million financed with private debt. The cost of field renovations would be $1 million with the funds coming from a Community Preservation Committee grant and the final $1 million used to outfit the new space and purchase equipment.

The reasoning behind adding a second, smaller rink to the NHL-sized sheet of ice is financial, said Mulroy. Under economic models of similar existing arenas in New England, Mulroy said the Recreation Center will take in just over $1 million in income annually with expenses of $600,000 for a net “profit” of just under $500,000 a year. 

Mulroy told the Belmontonian after the meeting that several funding sources are prepared to step forward to provide the debt financing. 

Mulroy said he anticipated the planning and design stage – when the details on financing, governance, and zoning will be hammered out – to take a year with construction an additional nine months. He believes the entire project will take 24 months to complete.

From the town’s perspective, the private/public venture is a win/win on many fronts; it is financially sustainable without requiring town funding to run, it takes an enormous expense off of the town’s “to-do” list of capital projects, and it provides Belmont with a new facility at limited cost.

While amenable to the project, School Committee members joined Board of Selectmen Chair Sami Baghdady that many details on financing, governance and a myriad of issues “will need to be flushed out over time” before final approval is granted. 

Member Elyse Shuster suggested that the school committee use the proposal to begin a discussion on the “whole [Belmont High School] campus” as an integrated whole. 

“I would encourage us to think about integrating the [the high school’s Higgenbottom Pool] and making it a true recreational facility,” she said.

Psst: Can You Keep a Secret? Private/Public Scheme to Build New Skating Rink

Photo: “Skip” Viglirolo Skating Rink.

It’s the worst kept secret in Belmont: a proposal to build a new private/public skating rink and field house on the site of the existing nearly half century old “Skip” Viglirolo rink and the White Field House adjacent to Harris Field off Concord Avenue.

Not that this latest news required a “spoiler” alert for its official unveiling at a big joint meeting at the Chenery Middle School on Tuesday, Sept. 8, as information surrounding the proposal has leaked to the public over the summer.

According to four separate sources, the project – final cost is still to be determined but its likely several million dollars – to replace the existing structures have been on the minds of many for decades.

Now, after recent examples of private donors using their wallets and connects to successfully improve, maintain or rebuild municipal and school properties – laying down the new varsity court in the Wenner Field House being the latest – a new group has set their sights on what many consider a town asset that has seen its best days pass it by, the “Skip” Viglirolo Skating Rink. 

Built in 1969 during the rise of the Boston Bruins and Bobby Orr, the rink’s limitations and faults are legendary to visitors, players and parents. The physical structure was never fully constructed with heavy sheet metal side walls with gaping openings that allow both the weather – whether it is blistering cold or spring time warmth – and birds to migrate inside.

There is no heat or comfortable seating for viewers; the locker rooms are old, and the lighting is far from adequate while the only “warm up” space for spectators is the small snack room.

Editor’s note: One visitor from Calgary, Canada – no stranger to wind swept blizzard conditions – told the Belmontonian editor in 2002 there were warmer outdoor rinks in his hometown than the indoor Viglirolo rink.

But despite its threadbare condition, the rink is an asset to the town and hockey programs from beginners to high school varsity programs, providing a place to skate and practice at an affordable price. 

“Many towns would die to have its own rink,” said one

In addition, the White Field House – dedicated to a Belmont High alum who died during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 – while structurally sound, doesn’t provide space for the large number of female athletes who could use a changing area adjacent to the main athletic field.

In past documents, town officials and Capital Budgets placed the rink was one of the town’s major capital expenses that required addressing.

The sources – all who spoke on background as they promised not to reveal the proposal – said a spokesperson representing a group of residents advanced an initial proposal in early 2015 to a Financial Task Force subcommittee during the later stages of its tenure. to replace the dilapidated rink with a new structure and provide a new field house using private fund.

The initial response from town and government committees was enthusiastic yet guarded. While the outline was interesting, the group was told much more work needed to be done in both how the deal would be financed and, just as important, provide greater detail concerning the governance and use of the facility once it is built.

Recently, a dispute has been brewing in Wilmington over the Ristuccia Arena, constructed with the town’s help in the 1980s to provide access to town youth and adult hockey programs, which is accused of now catering to professional hockey teams, private school programs and elite skating clubs over local interests. 

The private group returned in late July for a formal presentation to the Belmont Board of Selectmen with representatives of town departments and the Captial Budget and Warrant committees as well as the Planning Board in attendance. 

Highlights of the proposal:

  • A new rink design will require taking some land from surrounding practice fields using by Belmont High School and youth sports programs.
  • The design of the rink and field house will allow for on-site parking, which will relieve traffic and parking congestion along Concord Avenue.
  • The town will benefit financially from the rink’s hourly rental fee that will be an income
  • Belmont Savings Bank will take a major role in financing the proposal.

While the Selectmen, department heads and governmental committees who attended the presentation came away eager to move forward with the plan, the land on which the rink and field house reside is “owned” by the Belmont School Committee. The six-member committee will need to sign off on any proposal to see it advance from the blueprint stage.

This marks the second time the School Committee will be asked to allow land assigned to athletic fields to be used for a development; in May 2013, the committee denied a request from the Library Board of Trustees to use a small section of the same playing field for a proposed $19 million library. 

While nearly all  is enthused about the proposal, all sides decided to keep a somewhat tight lid on the plan in deference to the School Department who will have the first say about whether the proposal will work or not.

“We don’t want a repeat of the library fiasco,” said one source. 

Custodians, Cafeteria Workers Strike Three-Year Deal with Schools

Photo: Custodians at work.

The men and women who keep Belmont’s six schools clean and tidy and help feed 4,100 students will be getting a small pay raise after the Belmont School Committee approved a three-year contract with the union representing the workers.

The committee unanimously approved the memorandum of agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) which represents the 33 employees – 18 custodians and 15 cafeteria workers employed more than 20 hours.

The compensation package, retroactive to July 1, 2014 and running through 2017, will see workers receive wage increases of:

  • 0.5 percent as of July 1, 2014,
  • 2.25 percent as of July 1, 2015,
  • 2 percent as of July 1, 2016, and 
  • 0.25 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

The agreement also includes a performance review and how the workers account for snow days.