Just how much should Belmont spend to be quiet?
The answer could come to a vote at the annual Town Meeting this June whether the town should spend upwards of $500,000 or more to mitigate noise coming from the roof top heating and cooling equipment at the Wellington Elementary School.
That was the upshot from the most recent Belmont Planning Board meeting held Dec. 11 where the Wellington School Building Committee updated the board on their latest attempts to alleviate the noise emanating from large roof compressors on the Orchard Street-side of the school.
The work is the aftermath of numerous complaints heard earlier this year by the Planning Board from a handful of residents living adjacent to the town's newest municipal building who contend the noise and possibly vibrations – when it turns on in the morning and during the evening – is hampering their home lives.
The Building Committee's William Lovallo said final installment of sheet metal screenings on the roof will occur during the Christmas break. The additions will effectively work like a automobile's muffler in redirecting the HVAC-created sounds away from the impacted homes.
The roof modifications resulted from a meeting in February with abutters who continue to challenge the Committee on its efforts – such as programing the equipment to operate at specific times – to reduce the sounds produced from the Wellington.
Once the modifications are installed, a noise study will be conducted in February to determine if there is a significant reduction in sound with a similar study conducted a year earlier, said Lovallo. The committee will then meet with the neighbors to discuss the study.
After the meeting, Lovallo told Belmont Patch that the total cost of the project will run between $150,000 to $200,000.
But even if the present project results in a quieter environment, it will be up to the residents to signal their satisfaction of the committee's efforts to reduce noise, according to Planning Board Chairman Sami Baghdady and Andy Rojas, the Board of Selectmen's representative to the Board.
“We’re a town, there’s an issue, and we have to address it together," said Baghdady.
No certificate of final occupancy
Without the Planning Board's OK, the building – opened in September 2011 – can not obtain a certificate of final occupancy which in turns delays in settling the town's account with the Massachusetts School Building Authority which funded a bit more than a quarter of the $40 million state-of-the-art facility.
The building is operating under a series of monthly temporary occupancy certificates.
Lovallo has not been shy saying the school is within the town's noise bylaw limits specified in the building contract.
“That doesn’t mean that there aren’t noise issues that are bothering neighbors.” Lovallo said, yet telling Belmont Patch that the committee is unable to much more than its current plan.
Yet Baghdady noted that "[W]e’re talking about quality of life issues, regardless of what the bylaw says.”
Unlike a private developer, the Wellington was built by the town under the supervision of a 15-member committee whose primary job was to make sure contractors and builders were on schedule, bills paid and state and town requirements met. The committee is scheduled to disband soon after the final occupancy certificate is issued.
Yet Baghdady and the board have declared at the February meeting it will look to the homeowners and their opinion whether to approve the occupancy permit since the residents were made a promise by committee member Mark Haley before the beginning of construction that "there would be no increase in the level of noise coming from the
"The responsibility is on us as a town to try and make it good,” Rojas said, also noting a possible collaborative solution at the Wellington will set precedence for future noise requirements and construction in Belmont.
“Whatever we learn here is going to affect a lot of other buildings,” Rojas added.
Both Baghdady and Rojas said if the residents are not satisfied with the latest construction, further mitigation efforts will likely be directed through the Board of Selectmen which would need to author a Town Meeting warrant article for a yet-to-determined appropriation for further work on the school's roof.
A Building Committee source said any additional noise reduction work could cost upward of "$500,000 if not more."
Another possible avenue would be through a request to the Capital Budget Committee that funds larger ticket items each year that are approved by Town Meeting.
Yet how receptive Town Meeting will be to fund a relatively expense solution for a handful of residents in what many observers are calling a trying budget climate remains uncertain.