What’s In A Name? Plenty As New School Building To Get A Moniker

Photo: Could this be the new Hogwarts School, Belmont Campus? 

With groundbreaking for the new 7-12 grade school building just 10 weeks away, there’s one thing still missing from the $295 million project.

What’s it called? And like a newborn, you need to get it right off the bat as you’re not getting a second chance. 

Belmont Superintendent John Phelan told the Belmont School Committee on Tuesday, March 26, the Belmont High Building Committee will accept a name from the Policy Subcommittee for the building by May 1 with students and teachers being asked over the next week to contribute to the list of names and assist in whittling down the hopefuls to a handful.

Collecting and coordinating the naming effort are Belmont High Building Committee members Chenery Principal McAllister and Belmont High educator Jamie Shea.

With the countdown starting for when the five-year project commences in late May, Phelan said the Massachusetts School Building Authority – which partnered with the School District in building the new school – knowing that signage and written material will need to be ready by groundbreaking gave the Building Committee “complete permission” to come up with a name that “we would be moving forward.”

After Belmont High sophomore Grace Kane asked if the name change would be effective on May 1, Phelan said “out of respect” for the students at the current school will continue attending “Belmont High School” for the remainder of their schooling.

Phelan read out the names that have been collected over the past two years from teachers, students, and resident in visioning sessions held early in the design process.

The current list includes:

  • Belmont High School
  • Belmont Middle/High schools
  • Belmont High School Upper School/Lower School
  • Belmont High School, Lower Division/Upper Division
  • Belmont Secondary School, Upper school/Lower school
  • Belmont 7-12 School, Upper School/Lower School
  • Belmont High School Academy/Belmont Junior Academy
  • Belmont Academy Upper School/Lower School
  • Belmont Academies
  • Belmont Junior/Senior High schools

“They all revolve around trying to capture that Belmont High should be part of the branding but also with the full acknowledgment that we have a middle school that will now accompany the school,” said Phelan. A name should provide “middle school students a name of their own to call where they go to school,” he noted. 

There are examples of how school districts named buildings that house more than the traditional 9-12 grade arrangement. The town of Lee has “Lee Middle and High School.” Carver, located way far away, named its school “Carver Middle High School,” West Bridgewater has a brand new 7-12 “Middle-Senior High School” and the communities of Dennis and Yarmouth is known as “Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School.”

Thinking out of the box, the town of Easton named its high school after the son of the shovel magnate Oliver Ames and Westford kept “Academy” to its high school as it was a private school until the 1920s. 

And why not HSS Academy? Constance Billard-St.Judes School? North Shore High School? And, of course, there’s Hogwarts School, Belmont Campus.

As for Phelan?

“It’ll probably be Belmont High School,” he said to the committee.

Belmont’s ‘Triple A’ Worth Millions In School Bonding Market

Photo: Selectman Mark Paolillo signing the 30-year bond note.

Some may ask what’s the big deal if Belmont is a double or triple A? “Is there any real difference by having an added A to your name?” referring to the agencies which assign credit ratings for issuers of debt obligations, or bonds.

In Belmont’s case, that single letter was worth a cool six million in savings to property owners, according to Belmont Town Treasurer Floyd Carman who attended the Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday, March 18.

“Let me start by saying we should all be proud of these results, we all contributed,” said Carman, referring to town and school officials and the board.

“This is why it is important for people to know the importance of the triple-A bond rating,” said Board Chair Adam Dash. 

Carman’s Monday visit was for the three-member board to sign off on 30-year bond notes that took place on March 12 totaling $108,100,000 that included $100 million in the first of three payments to build the new 7-12 school building which starts construction this June, $7.4 million for the renovation and expansion of the Belmont Police Department police station and $700,000 for the multi-year water main replacement program. The bonds attracted seven bidders and were sold at a 3.31 percent interest rate locked in for 30 years to JP Morgan.

Yet Belmont will only be financing $102,030,000 of that debt. According to Carman, the difference of $6,070,000 is what the town received in “premium money.”

“This is the best possible outcome you could have had with a sale of bonds,” said Dash, which Carman called a combination of “luck and our excellent ratings.” The luck part due to timing as recent actions by the Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell in stop hiking up the discount rate which impacts interest rates.

For instance, Belmont taxpayers will not be financing $100 million for the new school, but $94,428,000, which will result in a savings of $1.2 million from the town’s operating budget. Preserving the town’s AAA rating will “save” taxpayers between $50 to $60 a year from the initial cost projection for the school project.

Belmont’s credit score was confirmed by two rating agencies – Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s – which assessed the town had an exceptional degree of creditworthiness and could easily meet its financial commitments. The highest rating is a rare honor as only 9 of 350 cities and towns in Massachusetts hold a AAA rating. 

The process of retaining the bond rating began in February when the town’s finance team made up of Carman, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, Town Accountant Chitra Subramanian, Assistant Town Administrator Jon Marshall, Belmont Assessor Dan Dargon, School Department Director of Finance, Business and Operations Tony DiCologero and Glen Castro, the town’s budget analyst, spent the better part of the day on rating calls with S&P and Moody’s, answering questions “to make sure this financing was first rate.”

“They really harped on good financial management and good fiscal and retirement policies. They don’t want any surprises,” said Carman, who told one of the rating agencies last April that the town was coming in with the three large projects.

“It’s a team effort,” said Carman on gaining and then maintaining a triple-A rating. “You have to have all your key financial people together. This didn’t just pop up overnight. We’ve been planning for this for two years.” 

Paying for the debt on the bonds will see real estate taxes increase annually by $760 on the average single family home (in 2019 valued at $1,090,000) effective on Jan. 1, 2020.

Officially On The Hook: Selectmen Approve Bonding For New 7-12 School

Photo: The latest from Perkins + Will architects, facing Clay Pit Pond.

There was the debate, the vote by residents, the approval of Town Meeting. And on Monday, Jan. 7, the Belmont Board of Selectmen made it official in a five-minute signing: the town’s taxpayers are now on the hook to pay for the new 7-12 school building set to open five years down the road.

And the final dollar amount that’s on Belmont’s bill was calculated by Town Accountant Floyd Carman at (drum roll, please) $212,764,911. 

That number is the difference of the total project cost set by the architect Perkins + Will and general contractor Skanska at $295,159,189, subtracting $1,750,000 approved by Town Meeting last year for preliminary design and $80,644,278 in a state grant approved by the town’s partner, the Massachusetts School Building Authority, on Aug. 29, 2018. 

If for whatever reason, the project expenses overrun the projected cost, the selectmen will be required to seek the additional funds from Town Meeting, a prospect Carman believes would not be an enjoyable one. 

Carman told the selectmen the town is set to make its first borrowing of $100 million in March which taxpayers will see in February 2020. The second borrowing for $85 million will take place in March 2021 with its impact felt in February 2021. The final short-term borrowing of $27 million will be in March 2021. The borrowing will hike taxes on a $1 million home by $1,800 in February 2022.

Drillin’ for … Thermals As 7-12 School Project Gets Underway

Photo: They’re drillin’ on the rugby field, lookin’ for geothermal heat.

It could have been mistaken for an oil derrick drillin’ for Texas Tea (1960s cultural reference) a few meters from the track at Harris Field adjacent Concord Avenue.

But what the team was boring 500 feet into the earth since Dec. 12 was to measure the underground thermal properties and used that information to design the geothermal system as part of the heating and cooling system for the new 7-12 grade school building on the site of Belmont High School set for completion in 2023.

It is just one part of a handful of on-site projects now underway under the care of Skanska, the multinational firm which was selected the project’s construction manager this past May.

According to Skanska, preliminary work on the new building is underway to prepare for the beginning of construction in June 2019:

  • Less than a week after town voters approved a $213 million debt exclusion to construct the new school, a complete survey of the entire campus site began on Nov. 14 and ran through Nov. 30.
  • The geothermal test wells will run through Jan. 11, 2019
  • On the same day as the drilling commenced, a trailer housing the project team was moved into the rear of Belmont High School and will remain through June 2019 when construction of the site begins.
  • And the day after the school goes on winter recess, the entryway to the Wenner Field House – from the outside doors near the weight room to the field house – will be closed as the ceiling is removed and fireproofing abatement begins, lasting until New Year’s Eve 2018. 

As for the derricks on the rugby field, three geothermal wells will be installed around the existing Belmont High School for testing. A closed loop HDPE pipe will be installed inside the borehole and the borehole will be completely grouted to form the geothermal well and thermal conductivity testing will begin. A temporary manhole cover will be set over each of the geothermal wells and the area around will be restored upon completion.