Letter To The Editor: A Yes Vote On Question 4 Is An Investment In Belmont’s Future

Photo: One of the modular units at the Burbank. 

To the editor:

If you’re like me, you really love living here in Belmont. I’ve yet to find another suburb of Boston that has quite the same small-town community feel. Belmont residents – from those who have lived here their entire lives to those who are newly arrived – know how special our community is, and understand the importance of preserving and nurturing what makes Belmont unlike any other town in Massachusetts. Investing in our community with a YES vote in support of the 7-12 school preserves and protects what has made Belmont so special all these years.

On Nov. 6, it is up to all of us to decide what kind of town we want to be moving forward. Do we want to preserve what we love about the Belmont community by investing in it, or do we want to stand idle with no sustainable solution to the increasing demands on our school system?  

The reality is this: No matter what happens on Nov. 6, our taxes are going up to address the crisis of overcrowding and the dire needs of our high school.  The decision we all have to make is where do I want my taxes going when it comes to our town’s education system?  

  • A NO vote means we’re paying an expected $247 million to rebuild and repair a crumbling, asbestos-filled high school building (that is not ADA compliant), along with overcrowded elementary schools and 48 modular trailers to house our children. 48 modulars! Are you wondering what 48 modulars look like? Take a walk behind the Burbank School and check out the monstrous structure that looms over half of the blacktop playspace. That is only four modulars. Imagine twelve times that number, all across our schools.
  • A YES vote is an investment of $213 million (that’s right, it’s projected to cost $34 million less than the costs of a NO vote) to solve our overcrowding crisis while also ensuring our children are learning in up-to-date schools that provide a safe, supportive, nurturing environment.

Still undecided? Stop by that Burbank School blacktop one morning around 8:35 a.m. No, not to see the modular trailers, but to see the children waiting to enter the school. These kids are incredible. They are truly special, just like our town. And these kids, along with all of Belmont’s current elementary school children, would be the first students to step into the new 7-12 school once it opens. Join me in looking back on Nov. 6 as the day that you decided to invest in these kids and the future of our incredible town.

I hope you will join me in voting YES on Tuesday, Nov. 6th.

Reed Bundy

School Street 

Town Meeting Member Precinct 1

Schools Asking $2.6 Million For Burbank Modulars At Special Town Meeting

Photo: Modular classrooms.

The Belmont School Committee will seek $2.6 million from November’s Special Town meeting to purchase and install four modular classrooms and pay for long-anticipated repairs at the Burbank Elementary School.

The classrooms are expected to be up and running by the first day of the 2018-19 school year in September 2018, according to Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan who spoke before the Belmont School Committee Tuesday night, Sept. 26.

Phelan told the school committee his talk ‘is a preview of the presentation” he will be making to the 290 Town Meeting members on Nov. 13, which is an update of a report in June after the Burbank was selected to receive the modulars. 

The added short-term space is needed due to the rapid growth of student enrollment throughout the district. In the past year, 132 new students entered the system taking the school population to 4,540 as of September 2017. Additionally, there are more teachers in the elementary schools to help reduce class sizes that reach into the mid to high 20s.

The Burbank’s four modulars, which will cost $1,070,400, will be sited adjacent to the rear of the school building which will allow for a covered walkway between the two structures. A good chunk of the money – $1.1 million – will be dedicated to utility work including bringing electrical, water and gas from School Street to the rear of the school. 

The funds will also pay for the repair and expansion of the parking lot and the overhaul of the asphalt playground area, including possibly adding a turf playing surface at “Maeve’s Corner” a shaded area whose grass surface is turned muddy throughout the year.

“These upgrades at the Burbank were overdue. That back playground should have been replaced years ago. The parking has been insufficient,” said Phelan. 

As in June, the furniture, instructional materials and technology will be paid out of the department’s account rather than add to an already substantial request. 

‘We are asking a lot from the town by asking more money for the modulars, said Phelan. “We want to be mindful that we are advocating for the schools as part of the larger community.”                                    

Chenery’s Modulars Have Arrived, Flat Tires and All [Video]

Photo: The new look at the Chenery: modular units on the tennis court.

When Branchaud Road’s Milo Pikcilingis heard the trucks in the Chenery Middle School parking lot around 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, he had to see what was happening.

As he peered outside, he saw big flatbeds carrying what looked like buildings coming towards his house. Milo’s day was set! 

In fact, what Milo saw were modular classrooms – bathrooms included – ready to be placed on what  was once the school’s tennis courts. 

“So far so good,” said site manager Rich Russo from Littleton-based Triumph Modular overseeing the construction.

The six classrooms – equipt with their own bathrooms and powered with underground electrical wiring – will hold up to 25 students, making a dent in the rapid increase in student enrollment in Belmont schools. The district bought the units for $1.4 million, funded from the town’s “free” cash account. 

“A new modular has a lifespan of between 10 to 15 years, and even longer if maintained,” said Russo.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

For the rest of the day, Russo’s crew would gently back the large units so they would slide in-between units and then moved sideways into place. 

Constructed in the mid-west, the units were shipped to Triumph’s Littleton office before making its final journey to Belmont. On the way here, the crew lost nearly 400 tires due to the pressure of transporting the heavy structure.

Russo said it will take five weeks to make the units ready for students.

As for Milo, his attention to everything going on caught the attention of the workers who made him a “manager,” providing him a hard hat and neon yellow safety vest.

“I’m amazed how fast they built it,” said Milo’s dad, Aaron Pikcilingis as his mom, Laura Burnes, and older sister, Eloise, came by to also watch the excitement.

“Yesterday it was a tennis court and today, classrooms. Amazing.”

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Financial Watchdog Committee OK With Funding for New HS Design, Modulars

Photo: Belmont Superintendent John Phelan at the Warrant Committee.

The Warrant Committee unanimously supported proposed funding sources for two outstanding school capital needs: the purchase of six modular classrooms to be located at the Chenery Middle School and the hiring of a project manager and funding for a feasibility study and schematic designs for the renovated/new high school.

The vote by the committee, which is the financial “watchdog” for the Belmont Town Meeting, came after short presentations by school and town officials at the Chenery Middle School Wednesday night, April 13.

What makes the funding approach different from the traditional method of issuing bonds to raise the funds, the town is arranging to pay for these needs via in-town financing.

The $1.4 million proposed by the School District for six modular classrooms to be located on the Chenery Middle School tennis courts will come from the town’s “free cash” account; the $1.75 million to pay for creating plans and hiring a property manager for the new Belmont High School project will come from the proceeds of the sale of town-owned property off Woodfall Road to a luxury residential developer.

The new classrooms – which will be ready for the start of the upcoming school year in September – are needed as the district grapples with continued overcrowding as enrollment levels continue to skyrocket, with a projected 400 additional students entering the system from Oct. 2015 to Oct. 2019.

“And we have a very real need at the Middle School” when it comes to finding space to use for teaching, said Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan, pointing out that classes are being taught in areas previously used as offices and storage rooms.

The modular classroom will be purchased rather than leased after an analysis conducted by the town’s Facilities Department found it is cost beneficial to own the pre-hab structures if held for more than three years, according to Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan.

According to the superintendent, “we will be in need of this space for some time,” upwards to a decade, said Phelan.

“If I could find the money and the space, I would ask for six more classrooms,” he said.

The direct transfer of the $1.75 million from the sale of the Woodfall Road property to the newly created Belmont High School Building Committee “just made sense” as the sale was a “one-time funds from the sale of a capital asset,” said Sami Baghdady, chair of the Board of Selectmen and the board’s representative on the committee

These funds will pay for the initial stages of the renovation/new construction of the high school including feasibility and design studies that are required to be financed within 220 days after the project is approved by the Massachusetts School Building Authority in January.

While there are other financial avenues the town could have traveled to pay for the project – free cash and a special account known as the Kendell Fund which has more than $3.3 million – a discussion among town leaders and the Treasurer’s office that the Kendell fund should preserve to finance studies of future capital projects including a Police Station, DPW Yard, and town library.

While there will be a need for additional funds down the road, the Woodfall Road money should be “enough funds to get the Belmont High Building Committee through the initial feasibility phase.”

No Need for Modulars at Belmont Schools in Coming School Year

Photo: Newton’s Oak Hill Middle School recently used eight modulars to fill a temporary space need, adding 4,800 sq.-ft. to the district’s footprint.

During the worst of the record snow fall in February, it appeared a certainty that many of Belmont’s six schools would see small villages of modular structures spring up in the fall to meet the need of housing the explosion of students – 317 in the past five years – entering the district.

But under the warmth of summer skies, the outlook for temporary classrooms moving into spaces adjacent the schools has diminished so much that the district will be able to handle the current enrollment within the footprint of the half-dozen schools, Belmont Superintendent John Phelan told the Belmont School Committee at its June 9 meeting.

But Phelan said he could only make that assurance for the upcoming 2015-16 school calendar. After that, with a projection of more than 800 additional students entering the district over 10 years by the 2018-19 school year, the school department will need to work closely with the town’s Capital Budget Committee to discuss options on meeting classroom demands.

“We will form a committee to meet this fall to re-examine and solidify our enrollment projections and brainstorm short- and long-term solutions,” said Phelan, saying the group will consist of school committee members and town officials including those serving on Capital Budget.

But the need for temporary classrooms will not be necessary in the coming school year, said Phelan. Each of the schools were able to “create” space to be utilized for learning;

  • The four elementary schools will use existing space and the increase in full-time equivalent staffing to expand programming to meet the rising enrollment; 
  • A computer lab at the Chenery Middle School will be retrofitted into classroom space to accommodate the increase in students; and 
  • The High School will use the existing modular classrooms units in the back of the school adjacent the commuter rail tracks. As of now, there will be no need to move the Belmont Food Pantry which is located in two of the rooms. 

Yet if enrollment trends continue as predicted in recent models, “we will need to discuss our options with the School Committee and the Capital Committee,” said Phelan. 

In the past two years, Belmont town and school officials have used the idiom that the school district has been “bursting at the seams” with the rapid increase in student enrollment – 330 more students – since 2009.

In February, Phelan noted that skyrocketing student rolls would likely require the district to consider using modular classrooms – single-story prefabricated buildings most notably used in Belmont to house Wellington Elementary students as the new school was being built.

A report on enrollment commissioned by former Belmont Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston in 2013 bluntly stated the Chenery Middle School “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 at the school located on Washington Street. 

Nor is the situation at the aging Belmont High School any better. The school is currently “out of space,” said the report, with 31 rooms shared by two teachers and four rooms by three teachers.

Modular classrooms are growing in popularity in many school districts to meet space demands. Modulars can be brought onto a site and set up in a matter of days, with lower annual utility and operating costs then a permanent building. 

Newton’s Oak Hill Middle School recently used eight modulars to fill a temporary space need, adding 4,800 sq.-ft. to the district’s footprint.