Latest News on the New Library Project

State Library Board Denies Belmont's Request to Move New Library Site

Decision likely ends attempts by Board of Library Trustees to build a new building for the near future; must return nearly $8 million in state funding.

A last gasp attempt to save a $19.5 million new Belmont Public Library proposal was shot down when the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners denied a request by the Belmont Board of Library Trustees to build the 42,000 square-foot two story structure on the site of the present library building.

The MBLC voted Thursday, July 11, in Boston not to allow the move after the Belmont School Committee refused in April to transfer land across Concord Avenue from the present library to the Trustees as it would reduce the number of playing fields needed by Belmont High School for its sports program.

The refusal by the state to allow the change has all but effectively ended the hope of the Trustees to construct a state-of-the-art library to replace the nearly half-century old structure at 336 Concord Ave.

It is now expected that the Trustees will return the nearly $8 million in a state grant to build the new library to the MBLC that will then fund proposals from communities that were on the board's waiting list.

This marks the third time in the past 15 years that Belmont has failed to move past the grant-acceptance stage in building a new library.

"We do have an extension of the grant until December but I don't know where we go from here if we don't have a site or just as critically the support of the town," said Library Trustee Elaine Alligood, who was not in Boston when the decision was made.

Matt Lowrie, chair of the Belmont Board of Library Trustees, announced last month that the Trustees would follow the successful example used in West Springfield last year which persuaded the MBLC to allow the use of an alternative location to the site submitted to the state, which is prohibited by the state as part of the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program which awards grants to communities to build new libraries. 

But unlike the West Springfield decision made last year, which resulted when the city revoked an existing agreement with the library when it decided to use the land for school expansion, the Belmont Trustees never held title over the land which impacted the MBLC's vote to deny the request.

As a result, Belmont will not have an opportunity to seek another MBLC grant for at least five years.

Posted in Belmont Patch by Franklin Tucker (Editor), 

For more info, see the Belmont Citizen-Herald article


Selectmen: Library gets go ahead to go back to MBLC

The library renovation project is not dead yet.  Last night the Selectmen approved the library’s next move to salvage its $7.5 million grant to build a new building.  The chairman of the Belmont board of library trustees, Matt Lowrie said that he would request a meeting with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) to see if the library could use this year’s $7.5 million grant to rebuild on its current site.  Earlier this spring, the school committee voted down the transfer of a playing field to the town so that a library could be built on that land.  Normally, MBLC grants are site specific and the location cannot be changed.  However, Lowrie found precedent in the town of West Springfield which had to request a site change when its own school board voted against transferring land for the library.

Lowrie is optimistic.  “The MBLC has already determined we need a library of that size,” he said, adding that it has also approved the current location in a previous grant award.

Selectmen Chairman Mark Paolillo said he hated to lose the almost $8 million grant.  “We should at least meet with the MBLC and see what our options are.  We support that,” he said.

Capital project prioritization

The Capital Budget committee met with the Selectmen again about its prioritization methodology to rank the six outstanding town capital projects.  Chairman Anne Marie Mahoney said “we feel we have presented a tool for the Selectmen to use” in ranking projects, but that it is not the job of the capital budget committee to do the ranking.

Paolillo said that the Selectmen could only do the rankings if it has more input from residents.  He said Selectmen and Town Administrator would begin to gather the data needed to begin the ranking of projects and would reconvene in 30 to 45 days.  He hopes to somehow combine the prioritization effort with the idea of a financial task force as outlined during Town Meeting to help plan both operational and capital costs going forward for the town.

“At some point in time, these facilities will fail,” said Paolillo.  His goal is to have a plan in place to address those needs.

Belmont Awarded Grant of $7.5 Million

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners at their October 4 Board Meeting announced that it has awarded 8 Projects from the wait list for General Construction Grants to 8 communities across the Commonwealth from the 2010-2011 Grant Round. Belmont was among those recipients.  The Library was number two on the waitlist and has been awarded a grant of $7.5 million.

Libraries in this grant round are the first to benefit from revised Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP) regulations, approved by the Board in January 2010, which increase the average grant award from 35% to 50% of the eligible costs. The grant from the MBLC for Belmont is roughly 40% of the total eligible project costs.The Green Library Incentive, approved by the Board in September 2008, was also enhanced so that libraries can plan energy efficient systems and construction at the outset of the project and be eligible for additional state funding.

The trustees invite all those who helped in the process of planning the grant application and all residents who supported us along the way to attend a thank you celebration at the library on Saturday, October 13 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.  The celebration will be outside in front of the library, weather permitting. Otherwise it will be held upstairs in the main lobby.

If you are interested in helping build excitement about the new library, or if you’re willing to volunteer to help with a campaign or maybe you just want to make a donation - please contact the Belmont Library Foundation.  You may visit their website at or send an email to  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Selectmen approve Underwood Pool RFP
State Senate proclamation on the 100th annual of Underwood Pool

By Abigail Bartalini/Belmont Citizen-Herald
Posted Sep 11, 2012 @ 02:27 PM

Belmont, Mass. — At the Sept. 11 meeting, the Board of Selectmen approved director of Public Works Peter Castanino’s revised Request for Proposal (RFP) regarding the Underwood Pool.

Neither Castanino nor Selectmen Ralph Jones was present for the meeting.

Chairman Mark Paolillo said with the help of Assistant Town Administrator Kellie Hebert and Selectmen Andres Rojas, Castanino revised his RFP for technical services related to the feasibility and preliminary design of recreational facilities at the existing Underwood pool site.

Paolillo said the Selectmen, as well as members of the School Committee, Library Trustees and the Historic District Commission all had an opportunity to review the RFP and were able to make comments that were reflected in the revised version.

“So with that,” said Paolillo during the meeting. “It’s a good working RFP and I think we’re willing to move forward.”

Rojas confirmed he also reviewed the RFP and offered his comments to Castanino regarding some technical and engineering issues all of which were included in the revised version and he is also in favor of moving forward.

Paolillo briefly recapped what is stated in Castanino’s RFP.

“At one of our meetings, Peter Castanino outlined a potential plan or concept plan, said Paolillo. “Whereby the Underwood Pool, which seems to me is facing some issues that we experienced this summer.”

Paolillo mentioned the removal of the diving board in June by the Health Department because of state code violations and the pool’s temporary shut down in August due to a failed filtration system.

“The fact is, the pool is rather old and is in need of replacement,” said Paolillo. “This board is committed to looking for ways to do that.”

Paolillo said the pool will mostly like be relocated if it makes sense, as well as use the existing pool site for a soccer field, one that would replace the field that would be eliminated if the Belmont Public Library project were to move forward.

“This is simply a RFP to understand what our options are,” said Paolillo.

Paolillo said the RFP will be issued this week for various consultants, which the selectmen have a number of recommendations.

At a future meeting, moving forward, a contract will be awarded. But until then, the Selectmen needs to continue learning about their options and continue research.

Paolillo mentioned there was a town meeting vote back in 1912 where the Underwood family actually gifted the land to the Town of Belmont to be used for recreational purposes or any other purpose the selectmen deems appropriate.

“I haven’t seen the vote yet but I am anxious to see it,” said Paolillo. “I am excited about the future possibilities and learning more about what we can do there.”

State Senate proclamation on the 100th annual of Underwood Pool

Before the RFP discussion, Paolillo read an official citation from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Senate extending its congratulations to the Town of Belmont recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Underwood Pool, beloved by generations of children and their families.

Paolillo said Senator Brownsberger could not be in Belmont for the Selectmen’s Meeting to read the citation himself as he had office hours that evening.

The next Board of Selectmen meeting is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 24.

Moving Underwood Pool Could Remove New Library Hurdle

Still yet vetted, plan on relocating pool could free incinerator to be sold, adding a vital playing field for school and town and freeing land for a new town library.
By Franklin Tucker July 3, 2012

It all began when Department of Public Works Director Peter Castinino attended the annual Town Meeting two months ago.

There are so many capital needs in town, he said. Maybe there is a way to solve a few all at once.

After attending a meeting concerning the proposed town library and talking with those running the newly created Community Preservation Committee, he took a walk to the Underwood Playground and looked over the historic municipal pool.

In mid-June, he brought Board of Selectmen Chairman Mark Paolillo to the same small bluff where they could see the 100-year-old pool, the Belmont Public Library and the Belmont High School playing fields across Concord Avenue in a single view.

By relocating the historic Underwood Pool nearly 25 paces up the slope to where the playground is situated, "[We] may solve a number of problems facing the town," recalled Castinino after attending the Belmont Board of Selectmen's meeting in the Town Hall auditorium Monday, July 2.

And if the ambitious plan pans out – which all sides agree is not a certainty – several municipal facilities long on the town's planning agenda could face a more certain future.

"I went up there with [Paolillo] and still liked the idea," said Castinino.

As for Paolillo, he believes moving the pool "is a great concept that we should take up."

"I agree that it needs to be more fully flushed out but we need to move forward on this for sure," he said after the meeting.

Under the DPW director's preliminary scenario, the oldest outdoor municipal pool in the country would be moved about 100 feet to the flat plateau towards School Street and the Wellington Elementary School where the current playground is now.

A new pool would allow the DPW to end its decades long piece-meal approach to keep the outdated and threadbare facility up and running. The structure does not meet current state codes for safety – leading to the recent removal of the diving board – and construction while the filtration system is overburdened and the bathhouse is on its last legs.

In addition, the location – next to an underground brook (which is under the elevated sidewalk and parking lot abutting the pool) – is creating pressures on the pool that will eventually lead to structural failure.

By moving the pool, Castinino also solves two daunting challenges facing the Board of Library Trustees and the Belmont School Department.

Since last year, the Trustees indicated to the state that it would build the town's new library on a section of School Department land next to and behind the Mobil service station.

But the new library would force the schools to lose a playing field, which would require another parcel to be found which so far has been unsuccessful.

The current solution being debated creates a new all-purpose field to the former site of the town's incinerator on Concord Avenue near the Lexington townline. Under current proposals, the capping of the site would cost a good chunk of the $4 million plus set aside in the town's landfill stabilization fund.

But the proposal would require busing teams the two-and-a-half miles to the incinerator and hiring an athletic trainer to be on site as is required by state law. Under current plans, the Library Trustees would pick up the tab.

Castinino's plan would take the sunken portion of land abutting the current pool to be transformed into a soccer/lacrosse field, eliminating the need for a costly field to be built and supported.

"It would certainly be better for us logistically because the students would be near the school," said Laurie Graham, Belmont School Committee chairwoman who was attending the meeting.

On the School Committee's agenda

While the entire School Committee has yet to take a position on the plan, the  playing field issue is on the committee's July 31 meeting agenda.

But critical for library supporters, the move would finally sure up the question of where the new library will be constructed.

The library site resolution also brings back to the fore what successive Board of Selectmen have favored, moving the Police Department headquarters from its longtime home at Concord Avenue and Pleasant Street to the present library site.

As part of the long-standing aims of the town, with the Police Department relocated lower on Concord Avenue, the police station and the adjacent former headquarters of the Belmont Municipal Light Department would be placed on the market for redevelopment.

With the playing field no longer being considered, the incinerator can be actively marketed for a possible commercial use. There is currently one interested party for the roughly 17 acre site.

While not providing a name, two Selectmen – Andy Rojas and Ralph Jones – did indicate that it would be a business that would use the site for "marshaling" some sort of vehicle fleet for logistics use being close to routes 2 and 128.

Paolillo said the any commercial business locating on the land would be required by the town to pay for capping the landfill. The net result for Belmont would be a nearly $4.5 million windfall from the stabilization fund.

The resulting funds from the incinerator site and the expected sale this year of town land on Woodfall Road "could pay for a large part of a new pool," said Paolillo.

Yet as Selectmen, the Schools and Castinino all admit, the plan has yet to be vetted and there appears to be a myriad of obstacles in its way to success. The most pressing being the question of the incinerator's ownership. The town will be meeting with three state departments and offices this summer to begin what could become a drawn out process.

Along with untangling the Gordian knot of state and town claims, Jones said the state may require some municipal use at the site as a condition of ownership which would require some legal maneuvering to allow a private enterprise to purchase the location.

Second is timing: the Board of Library Trustees believe they will receive in the coming months a roughly $9 million state library building grant to construct the $19 million new library. If that occurs, the board will be coming before the Special Town Meeting in November to approve selling nearly $10 million in bonds to construct the two-story facility across Concord Avenue from the present location.

It is unlikely the incinerator site sale or a complete blueprint for the pool's relocation would be complete by the Special Town Meeting, leaving a great deal of assumptions and questions for town representatives to consider.

There will also be concerns on the new pool's total cost and how to pay for it – pending legislation is currently working its way through the legislature to permit the town's funded Community Preservation Committee to pay to build or restore existing recreational facilities – and the reaction of abutters and neighbors.

But with the initial enthusiastic response from the schools and selectmen, Castinino believes the proposal is a positive first step.

"I see these issues all to be connected so we can solve them," Castinino said.

Incinerator Site Now Key for New Library

Placing lacrosse field at Concord Avenue location looking like solution to field access.
By Franklin Tucker/Belmont Patch
May 31, 2012

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.