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Incinerator Site Now Key for New Library

Placing lacrosse field at Concord Avenue location looking like solution to field access.

While the former town incinerator and the proposed new Belmont Public Library are both located on Concord Avenue – albeit two-and-a-half miles from each other – it would appear at first glance that the development paths for each are mutually exclusive.

One is the physical capping of a landfill – Belmont's Town Meeting voted Tuesday, May 29, to spend $825,000 to begin that process – while the other will be a state-of-the-art town building for media and books.

But the future of these significant Belmont public projects appear ready to be linked as town, library and school officials begin hammering out a deal that could secure each a successful transition from blueprints to reality.

And that decision will likely be made as soon as mid-June when the Selectmen meet with the town's consultant on how to cap the landfill.

In a real world version of the old-school electronic game Tetris, the group – with the unlikely name of the Subcommittee Board of Selectmen, School Committee and Library Trustee Committee (or, as dubbed by Board of Library Trustee Chairman Matt Lowrie, the "Combined MegaAwesome Group" or C-MAG) – is attempted to fit a library and two athletic fields into a few tight spaces without upsetting one or all of the stakeholders.

And those organizations – represented at a meeting held in the Selectmen's Room of Town Hall last Thursday, May 24 – include the library, the schools, the town, recreation teams and the selectmen.

Lowrie told the assembled brain trust that discussions on resolving the issues surrounding the location of the new library must be done in an expedited manner as the Board will likely receive in July a much anticipated state grant of nearly $9 million dollar to construct the $19 million structure across Concord Avenue from the existing building.

The announcement of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners grant will begin a countdown in which the Selectmen, Trustees, the School Committee and the town must all agree on a myriad of issues related to the new structure before the annual Special Town Meeting which will occur likely in November when the Trustees will ask the town for bonding authority to build the library.

The success or failure of the compromise will almost certainly impact the future of nearly half-a-dozen public buildings including new homes for the Police, Public Works and Municipal Light departments.

And it all comes down to replacing a single playing field.

Lowrie told his fellow officials that the new library's proposed location – which cannot be moved from the location in the grant location – will require the taking of a good portion on the softball known as the Concord Avenue Field.

"Timing is tight," said Lowrie, noting that the Trustees will need to ask the Special Town Meeing in November to approve a bond authorization of about $10 million for the building.

The library believed a year ago it would be able to use land for a new field after the town purchased the Purecoat North metal plating facility on Hittinger Street for the construction of a new electric substation for the Belmont Municipal Light Department.

But that plan evaporated in January when the town decided to abandoned the costly and environmentally unsound Hittinger site for a Flanders Road location off Brighton Street for the substation.

For Lowrie and the Trustees, the challenge has become a search for suitable land for a replacement field in a town where seemingly every inch of open place is taken by one sport or another all-year round.

Suggestions to overlap the softball and practice fields at the current site as a multi-season, multi-purpose space was deemed impractical by Belmont High School Athletic Director James Davis as the diamond's infield will need to be dirt and that would impede onto the fields.

No space to play

Other existing fields around town – Winn Brook Elementary, Chenery Middle Schoool, Town Field (off of Beech Street) and Pequosette Park across from the Belmont Fire Headquarters – have existing commitments from mostly a wide array of youth sports.

Even a small area adjacent to the Purecoat site is used by Belmont Youth Baseball's instructional league and it would require moving lights to the edge of a residential neighborhood, said Peter Noone, representing the town's baseball community.

So, if there was no existing land available, how about creating more? And that is where the long-abandoned incinerator site is being seen as solving that myriad of questions.

After nearly a decade since the state asked for plans for capping the site, Belmont Town Meeting approved the nearly $1 million to begin the process with a series of plans and the demolition of the incinerator building last used in 1972. 

The town has been viewing three uses at the incinerator site: open space, recreation fields and a possible solar farm. According to DPW Director Peter Castanino, the area will be used by the town for leaf composting and as a place to dump excess snow.

And Clancy was ready with an architectural concept plan from the town's adviser on the incinerator project, CDM Smith, showing that a field could be situated in the recovered landfill.

There will be water protection issues and the need for Department of Environmental Protection approval but Clancy believes Smith's expertise in the area.

"I think we'll be OK in the long run (on the environmental issues,)" said Clancy.

Yet a proposal to transplant the softball field to a modern all-turf field at the incinerator was immediately nixed by Kingston due to the landmark Title IX law.

Established in 1972, the federal statue prohibits discrimination or equal access  on the basis of sex in education or activities receiving federal funding.

And while the softball team would be sole owners of a state-of-the-field, it would require only females to travel off-campus to their games, denying them equal access to nearby high school facilities.

Additional long-term costs

School Committee Chairwoman Laurie Graham also noted that the incinerator option needs to discover a way to pay from the reoccurring costs of busing teams up to the site for at least one sports season during an environment of reduced budgets.

"We already have a huge transportation bill," said Graham.

In addition, amenities such as shelter for the teams, a changing room and restroom facilities will need to be added to the field, said Davis.

And while Paolillo said he can commit the board to finding a financial solution now, "I really can't make that same promise tomorrow," he said.

Lowrie then made a semi-pledge that "maybe (the trustees) could look into finding the money to fund the (school's transportation costs.)"

The growing consensus among the assembled was:

• Move the girls softball diamond over about two hundred feet to the right so back stop will be located at the corner of the ice skating rink. It would also require moving the existing light poles.

• The incinerator site will become a lacrosse field for practice and games for sub-varsity teams. It would also have a ball field on the site. It would also be used as a soccer field for town recreation sports teams in the fall.

• The town will use the site for composing, DPW staging and excess snow storage.

• The library will help defray the costs of busing teams and having a trainer at the site.

With timing at a premium, the school committee could take a vote on the incinerator plan in the middle of June as well as the Board of Selectmen taking action on approving capping the site that would support recreational use.

The town would pay for the capping with slightly more than $4 million in a landfill stabilization fund. It is estimated that the most inexpensive amount to top the incinerator site would be around $2.9 million which would support open space use. Recreation use will cost more, in the $3.5 million range.

Moving in this direction would likely prevent any interest in the site by developers. Last month, town officials noted that there were a pair of inquiries of the incinerator site for possible commercial development.

But speaking Tuesday after Town Meeting, Paolillo said the board has a fiduciary duty to review any and every commercial proposal that the Selectmen are presented.

In addition, there remains a lingering question of the incinerator's ownership with claims from the state and town still unresolved.

"It is somewhat unclear what the status of who owns what. We need to decide that this year," said Paolillo. At Town Meeting Tuesday, Robert McLaughlin – who has researched the issue in the past – told the representatives that "no one knows" the ownership of the site.

The construction of the new library will begin a long-awaited domino affect for town departments.

The existing library site will be "given" to the Police Department while their present site and the old Municipal Light Department building on Concord Avenue would be sold for commercial development. 

The DPW facility and the Belmont Municipal Light Department headquarters will also be put into motion to find new homes for each.

But above all, the groups agreed they will need to present a common front on the plan to the public.

"This is a huge, big step and we have to give the public some explanation of our thinking and our resolution," said Graham. "He have to say, 'This is our thinking.'"

Lowrie second the strategy, adding that the public must realize that there is no realistic second option.

"We've looked everywhere and now every (stakeholders) is as well off as before. We need to show the public that the incinerator is the only way to accomplish this," he said.

"We need all the answers before we can present this," said Paolillo.

Editors note: Those attending last week's meeting included:

Matt Lowrie, chairman of the Board of Library Trustees and Library Director Maureen Conners, Superintendent Thomas Kingston, Belmont Athletic Director James Davis, Laurie Graham, chairwoman of the School Committee and member Dan Scharfman, Glenn Clancy, director of Community Development and DPW Director Peter Castanino, Selectmen Chairman Mark Paolillo and Belmont Youth Baseball's Peter Noone.

Green space first May 31, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Destroying a field near the high school and thus forcing students onto buses is a, well let's just call it bad, idea. The library trustees (and those who allowed them to send in the initial grant application) should be ashamed to have even proposed such a fiasco. Even with the "free" state money, the town would be on the hook for $10M in bonds (plus interest costs) to complete the enlarged library (with its acres of parking), plus the costs for completing environmental remediation of the landfill and then building a new field that will be essentially inaccessible! Given the competing needs for repairing the town's infrastructure (I'd put DPW, police, the High School, and Butler School well ahead of the library), this is utter folly. Kudos to Laurie Graham and the School Committee for standing by their students! It's a significant safety, logistic, and financial issue to have to bus students to a field. (And, no, I don't have kids in the school system now.)
Waverly Watchdog June 01, 2012 at 09:57 PM
More ways to waste Taxpayer money on new toys for the few. The library STILL has to go before the voters, fortunately. JUST SAY NO... HELL NO !!!
zuttes June 02, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Your comment expresses my feelings and I have heard the same concerns from any one I have talked to about building a new library on the field near the High School. To do this and put a sports field in such an inaccessible area makes no sense.
zuttes June 02, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Right on!
joe June 02, 2012 at 07:38 PM
How about putting the library were it is. there is open space in front of the pool for parking. Or put it were the temporary grade school was in the high school parking lot and use some of the tennis courts for parking. The old library restored may be a good police location.
Occupied June 02, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Since the library's Board of Trustees think so highly of the incinerator site, perhaps they would like to build the library there. It's not out of the way, right? They could "defray the cost" of transportation.
zuttes June 03, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Perfect solution.
PJ Looney June 03, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Lets see which is more comical... Building another Single Use Over-sized Pimped Out Building in Belmont or Bullying the School Committee into risking the safety of children by forcing their transport to the old Town dump where they can play among the ticks and mosquito's. The only reason we are in this situation is because the Library Board (possibly with the assistance of a Selectman) moved forward with this site against the warnings of multiple groups in Town. The responsible thing to do would be to reapply for funds in 5-7 years when you can find a non controversial site and when the Library is getting closer to needing major renovations or replacement.. It also wouldn't hurt to lobby the State to eliminate the single use requirement.
David Chase June 03, 2012 at 01:13 PM
The problem with the current library location is the (lack of) distance to Wellington Brook behind it; building from scratch that close to "wetlands" is a (legal, conservation) problem. This probably gets in the way of using the open space in front of the pool for parking, since the brook doesn't enter its culvert until very near their boundary (my guess is that we could not dodge the wetlands preservation rules by accidentally putting the rest of the brook in a pipe). Renovation of the current structure beyond a certain level also triggers legal requirements for ADA access that reduce the effective capacity of the building. Tennis courts are also "athletic fields", so they would also be missed. Another option might be to swap land with the Rec Department; (I am pretty sure that) the fields at Winn Brook are Rec Department fields, not School fields. If a tunnel were built under the RR tracks at Alexander Avenue, these fields would relatively accessible to the high school without driving. Tunnels are an expensive hassle, but not unheard of -- there's one under the commuter rail near Winchester HS, for example.
taxpayer too June 03, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Since when is a public library "toys for the few"??? How about education and access for all. I guess that's how you feel about fire departments and public schools as well? Public-spirited of you. I'd rather my kids have bus-free access to public library resources than a lacrosse field. Especially since even if it takes a bus ride, it sounds like a nice lacrosse field with multiple other town uses.
nancy b dignan June 03, 2012 at 08:14 PM
There are no non controversial sites in this town. The idea of a new athletic field on the incinerator site is not a bad one. Just look at Danahy Park in Cambridge and Skyline Park in Brookline which are beautiful, have turf, and do not have ticks . What is being considered is moving only one of the fields across the street from the library, either the softball field OR the jv soccer/ lax field. If we had another turf field in town, it could alleviate the necessity of "making up" many games due to bad weather and depending on ownership and if lights were installed, actually allow more usage than we currently have. It is well worth having the necessary discourse now before shutting the entire proposal down and saying goodbye to millions of dollars in grant money.. There are many projects this town needs and the library is one that the entire town will and can use.
Viking June 05, 2012 at 10:47 AM
Could this be more nutty? 1) We absolutely do not need a new library. The staff and trustees have been featherbedding (entertainment, free child care, events that could be held in any other town building) the one we have for years. Technology is rapidly replacing the need for books. Computers take up a lot less space than books, so there is more than enough space in the current library for its original informational purposes. 2) Giving up playing fields adjacent to the high school for fields that students must be bused to is beyond ridiculous. 3) Commercial interests have inquired about the incinerator site, and the town desperately needs commercial tax revenues (140 apartments in Cushing Sq. and 400 on the O'Neil land threaten an additional tax burden to the town). Sell the incinerator site and lets earn some money from it. Case closed.
Viking June 05, 2012 at 10:51 AM
@dignan: " . . . saying goodbye to millions of grant money"? State grant money does not grow on trees, it comes out of our taxes. If towns were less deluded by these grants and turned them down (as many have already done with the library grants) our state taxes would not be so high. And what about the additional $10 million that we would have to spend to build a new library? That's not going to grow on a tree either.
zuttes June 05, 2012 at 11:37 AM
I agree on all points you have listed and all the people I have discussed this with feel the same. Hopefully this will mean case closed when it comes to voting.
zuttes June 05, 2012 at 11:40 AM
This is not the time to spend taxpayers money on something we don't need when the town and country are in such a fiscal mess.
David Chase June 05, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Many books, including some that I checked out from the Belmont library, are only available in paper form so far, so it is unlikely that we will be done with books that quickly. The current library risks needing expensive repairs that will exceed the amount of spending that triggers ADA compliance requirements; at that point, we will be on the hook for a lot of spending that will leave us with a smaller library (less space for books, more for accessibility), and probably without any subsidy from the state.
Michele Banker June 06, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Hmmm. Let's think about this issue in terms of number of town residents who each day are the users of the library vs. the lacrosse or softball players. Hmmm. I believe each and every day that over a thousand individuals give or take a hundred or so use the library facilities vs. the 20-50 or 100 individuals who daily use the field for lacrosse or softball. The library serves the entire community; its resources are bursting at the seams. People literally sit on top of one another in the main research area. Repairs and updates are not cost effective and moving forward in the 21st century, the current facility will not be able to serve the people of the town. The band-aid approach is not in the best interests of this vital, heavily-used town-wide, resource. I whole-heartedly support the serious, collaborative work of the committee to arrive at a solution for each of the stakeholders that best serves the needs of the community.

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