Town Meeting - Apr 29, 2019

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Third night of town meeting.

Select Board member Joe Curro greets students from our sister city in Japan. The mayor of our sister city addressed town meeting to express his gratitude for the 35th year of our sister city relationship, and his appreciation for the host families. He mentions that this is the 50th year of the student exchange program.

A group of exchange students make their way onto the stage of the town hall auditorium to sing for town meeting.

Next, we call the special town meeting to order, where there are six articles for consideration.

Reports. This high school building committee and finance committee submit reports. Al Tosti provides a correction to the fincom report: the town's share of the high school rebuild will be $290,851,820.

Mr. Tosti recalls the planned high school rebuild of the mid-1970s. The rebuild was overwhelmingly supported by town meeting, then voted down in an election. The school committee went back and changed the design. Again, the rebuild was supported by town meeting, but voted down during an election. During that time, the state reimbursement went from 66% to 40%, and we wound up paying more money for a lesser school. Mr. Tosti hopes we don't repeat that mistake.

STM Article 1: Arlington High School Rebuild. Jeff Thielman asks for 60 minutes to present on article 1; the time extension is granted. Mr. Thielman states that six people will present tonight on behalf of Article 1. He asks members of the high school building committee to stand and be recognized. He also recognizes representative Sean Garballey, representative Dave Rodgers, and Senator Cindy Friedman.

$86M of the rebuild will be funded by the commonwealth. Arlington needs a new high school due to increasing enrollment and a decaying building. Voting against this article will raise the cost, and put state funding at risk.

Arlington High School has 1400 students. In 2013, AHS was placed on warning status due to the conditions of the building. Classrooms are either too hot or too cold. There are leaks in the roof and windows. The facility cannot accommodate our increasing school enrollment. The school has 1.5 miles of interior hallways, due to a series of renovations between 1914 and 1981.

We are undertaking this effort in partnership with the MSBA, who provides technical and financial assistance to the town. We formed the high school building committee to work in conjunction with the MSBA and our architects. The number of students is the biggest factor in the high school cost. The new facility will have homeroom capacity for 1755 students, but that's not a hard cap.

Arlington high school is home to a preschool for 150 children, as well as the LABB collective for special education. The site is compact and complicated. It has 22 acres, rather than the 25 acres that MSBA would prefer. There is a thirty-foot grade change from the front of the site to the back. There is also chromium contamination on the site.

The comptroller, IT, and facilities offices will move out of the high school. The preschool will temporarily relocate to the Parmenter. We cannot permanently move the preschool there, because Parmenter is not large enough. The preschool will move back to the high school when it's complete.

The high school building committee held eight public forums and surveys. Our architects adjusted the design, based on survey responses.

Renovating and adding on to the existing building would cost $25M more, and take one additional year of construction. We'd also lose parts of the facility for up to a year at a time.

(Matt Janger) Principal Janger says that AHS is an exception school. We've gone from 25th in the state to 9th, and are one of the best public schools in the world. The high school graduation rate is 98%.

Only 23% of our classrooms meet size requirements, and we need to provide a wider range of educational programming than in past decades.

School staff researched schools around the state to study them. We wanted a flexible layout for the new high school. The central spaces are larger than the minimum requirements, but not as large as the maximum requirements.

The new school will have two academic wings, and the STEAM and humanities departments are located to support that organization. These wings will have wide hallways, designed to support congregation and interdisciplinary collaboration. The center spine will contain several maker spaces, and is intended to act as an interdisciplinary learning commons.

There will be two community wings, for performing arts and athletics. They're laid out to accommodate performance productions. We'll have a 900-seat theater, a band room, a chorus room, a larger gym, indoor track, and a smaller second gym. These wings will allow community activity after hours.

(John Cole) Mr. Cole notes that Arlington has rebuilt seven elementary schools and two middle schools during the last 20 years. Tonight, we have the opportunity to finish the job. This plan will allow us to stage the construction, and avoid the need for modular classrooms. It will also be $25M less expensive than trying to renovate the existing building. Once you get past the facade of the existing high school, there's not a lot there. Keeping the facade would embed existing inefficiencies into the new building.

The AHSBC plans to replicate the Fusco building in part of the new facility. They'll also attempt to preserve a number of artifacts from the existing school, and incorporate them into the new building.

Mr. Cole says there are pragmatic benefits to the site plan. We will have more field space in the rear of the school and more educational outdoor space. Separate wings will allow more daylight into classrooms.

The new building will have a 24' wide driveway, with drop off areas in front and the rear. There will be a connection to the Minuteman bikeway. The design will allow us to construct a parking deck, if needed in the future.

During first phase of construction, we'll construct two wings in front of the existing building. The new wings will be set back 80' from the street. Phase 2 will involve demolition and rebuilding in the rear. Phase 3 will demolish and rebuild the remainder of the project. There will be a little more demolition after that, and the project should be complete by 2024.

(Ryan Katovsky) Mr. Katovsky says the project has considered energy efficiency and sustainability from the very beginning. The new building is designed to be very energy efficient, and will use less than half the amount of energy that the existing school uses. There will be geothermal heat pumps and solar panels.

We've gotten technical assistance from utility companies, and we plan to perform more conservation analysis before making final design choices. Ten percent of the parking spaces will have EV chargers, and the remaining 90% will be EV-ready (meaning the parking lot will be built with conduit installed, to support future electric charging stations).

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine asks town meeting to authorize the appropriation for this project. Doing so will give us a 30% reimbursement rate from the state. The MSBA will monitor the project and provide oversight, and costs cannot increase beyond the amount approved by town meeting. We've built a 12% contingency fee into the budget.

Mr. Chapdelaine says we've compared our high school project to similar school rebuilds. We are similar to Waltham, Saugus, Belmont and Somerville. Construction costs are increasing at the rate of approximately 4%/year.

The expected tax impact is $496/year for the owner of a $464k house. (srevilak: that works out to $1.07/mil).

Arlington created a facilities department in 2015. Management and preventive maintenance will ensure that the new building is well cared for.

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman poses the question "what would a no vote mean?". It means that the new school would cost more money. We have to address the condition of the facility in order to maintain school accreditation. A no vote means starting all over again.

Lincoln rejected MSBA funding in 2012. As a result, they wound up having to rebuild their elementary school without state aid, and at triple the cost. A renovation would cost the town $250M, rather than the $209M we're looking at in this project. And, we'd get all of the shortcomings of the current school building.

Mr. Thielman shows an architect's fly-through video of the new high school design.

(Cindy Friedman) Senator Friedman says she's been following the town's progress with the MSBA. MSBA funding is competitive, and every project has to start the application project anew. MSBA funds fewer projects each year, due to increasing construction costs and the limited amount of funds MSBA has to give. Voting no means starting from scratch, which will set the project back at least five years.

Our high school needed to be rebuilt, as far back as the 1980s. The new school is what our kids deserve.

This ends the presentation on Article 1. We take a short break and come back for debate.

(Joe Tully) Mr. Tully says he's supported every override, but not this one. In the past several years, our forecasting of students has been spotty. Mr. Tully asks if we can guarantee there won't be another incoming wave of students.

Kathleen Bodie states that the school department has done two analyses. We graduated 318 students last year, but have 586 is the current Kindergarten class. We still see enrollment growth.

Mr Tully asks whether the current high school has 1400 students. Ms. Bodie says yes.

Mr. Tully asks how many students the new high school can accommodate. Ms. Bodie says the new school will be built for 1755 students.

Mr. Tully asks when we'll hit that level of enrollment. Ms. Bodie believes we'll open at the design number (1755 students) in 2024. However, the 1755 is based on homeroom capacity; the new building has the ability to accommodate more students. Making predictions further out is too difficult to do.

Mr. Tully asks about the maximum number of students the building could accommodate. Ms. Bodie says 2000. Mr. Janger states that the building has been designed so that we can add additional space if needed.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar supports the article. He has two daughters that will benefit from the build building. We've renovated buildings for kindergarten through sixth grade. Arlington's high school was ranked fifth in the state, despite all of the shortcomings of the building. It would be horrible if the high school continued to crumble, and had its accreditation revoked. No one loves a compromise. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Renovation will not work. Mr. Yontar believes the building committee did good, hard work.

(Adam Pachter) Mr. Pachter has been a town meeting member for 16 years. He believes this article is important, and urges a yes vote for a safe, comprehensive, 21st century school. He states that the person who opposes loudest is not always right. Standards have changed since the 1980s. Our high school is like a twenty year old car -- you can only keep fixing it to a point. Like a twenty year old car, our high school will never run like new again. The school is not safe. The courtyard was closed because teachers were afraid that students would be injured by falling debris. Now is our chance to get $86M in funding from the state. Plenty of other towns would be happy to receive that money.

(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden states that her grandchild will enter Arlington high school. She states that we need a high school that's renovated and designed to last for centuries. The high school has been terribly neglected. The Fusco building has plenty of natural light and air circulation. She believes we should renovate the high school, like the old mill buildings in Lawrence. She states that the Robbins library renovation will only cost $12M and that the Gibbs was renovated for far less than what the high school will cost. She believes that renovation could be done during one summer, for a cost of $29M, and that it's ludicrous to compare our high school to Waltham or Somerville. She believes that demolishing a historic building will give students the wrong impression. Ms. Worden ends her statement with a set of pejorative remarks about communism.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman will vote yes on this article. His daughter went to the old Thompson school, which was full of deficiencies. He campaigned to help get the Minuteman school rebuilt. Our kids deserve the best we can give them. He believes this effort is right, just, and equitable. The committee presentation was good. Mr. Ruderman notes that the state reimbursement rate is 50%, but we'd only get 30% reimbursement for this project. He asks what parts of the project were ineligible.

Adam Chapdelaine says the main difference comes from construction costs. MSBA allows $337/square foot, but our per-foot costs are higher. We also proposed a large gym and auditorium than MSBA recommends.

Mr. Ruderman asks why our per-foot costs are higher than the reimbursable amount. Mr. Chapdelaine says that the MSBA is struggling to cope with higher construction costs, and their own budgeting limits.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says that if we vote this down, a 4% year over year increase in construction costs will increase the total bill by 21%. Throughout this project, people have claimed there wasn't opportunity for public input, but they've made these claims at meetings for public input. He strongly supports the high school rebuild.

(John Deist) Mr. Deist would like to address homeowners. Location, location, location. Arlington real estate is red hot. Our homes have appreciated 70% over ten years. Last year they appreciated 6%, compared to an inflation rate of 1%. He believes a new high school will be a very good investment.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden yields his time to Arlington resident David Baldwin.

Mr. Baldwin has been a historic preservationist for 50 years. He states that our children are our future, and they deserve good schools, and historic buildings. Children feel lonely, and historic buildings will help them. Our high school building is on an endangered historic building list. He believes that historic preservation gives life to buildings and provides a connection to the past. He believes we have a responsibility to preserve history.

(Gordon Jameson) Mr. Jameson moves the question.

We vote on the motion to terminate debate. Motion to terminate passes, 166--50.

Article passes, 208--10.

STM Article 2: Acquisition of Real Estate. The recommended vote of this article was no action. No action approved by a voice vote.

STM Article 3: Future Zoning Bylaw Amendments. Article 3 seeks an appropriation to fund development of zoning bylaw amendments in support of Arlington's Master Plan. It would focus on commercial and industrial zoning.

(Joanne Preston) Ms. Preston states that last Monday, there was evidence that our consultants did not produce a well-designed set of zoning amendments. She believes the (multi-family and mixed-use) zoning changes were not appropriate and would have caused displacement. She things Arlington has many experts who understand the town's needs and objectives. She believes that we should use volunteers before hiring outside experts, and urges a no vote.

(Beth Friedman) Ms. Friedman urges a no vote on article 3. She states that town's planning department has ten employees, and they should have enough expertise to address the master plan. She believes that outside consultants don't know our town and don't understand our issues.

(Gordon Jameson) Mr. Jameson reminds town meeting that we voted overwhelmingly in support of the master plan. He also notes that the residential study group declined to develop the residential design guidelines proposed under article 5.

Jenny Raitt says the Zoning Bylaw Working Group will review zoning changes produced by this appropriation. We used $35k of a $55k appropriation to redo the sign bylaws. This appropriation will be used to review industrial zoning.

Mr. Jameson feels this is a good idea to take a look at how we're using our land.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton supports the article, but still plans to volunteer for free. She thinks it's nice to have facts, rather than just opinions.

(Al Tosti) Mr. Tosti was upset with the multi-family and mixed-use proposals out of concern for balancing the budget. He believes we need commercial buildings to raise tax revenue. Boston and Cambridge have lots of commercial buildings and they're rolling in cash. Cambridge had $350M in free cash this year. This study will look at our industrial districts, which is where we really need to expand.

(Daniel Jalkut) Motion to terminate debate.

Article passes, 192--20.

STM Article 4: Disposition of Real Estate. Doug Heim presents the article. Article 4 would allow the town to dispose of a 216 square foot parcel, which the town took by tax title in the 1940s. It's a well. The property came to our attention through an abutter, who was concerned about its deteriorating condition.

(Paul Schlictman) Mr. Schlictman says it took him an hour to find this parcel on a map. He believe it provides no utility to the town and favors disposition.

(Ted Sharpe) Mr. Sharpe believes we shouldn't try to speculate on real estate, and should dispose of land we don't need. Mr. Sharpe thinks we shouldn't try to extort value from the property.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman states that the property was formerly owned by the Middlesex Aqueduct Company, which is no longer in business. He supports disposition.

Article passes, 218--0.

STM Article 5: Residential Design Guidelines. Mr. Tosti introduces the article. The goal is to develop a set of residential guidelines, so the ZBA and ARB have a set of guidelines to work from when conducting special permit hearings.

Jenny Raitt states that many communities have residential design guidelines. The ones proposed here would apply to single- and two-family districts: R0, R1, and R2. We would also examine design review processes. Right now, we really don't have a process for design review.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon says this proposal emerged from DPCD staff work with the residential study group while looking at teardowns. One of the major issues with teardowns is the design of the new buildings. He believes that many of these issues can be addressed with design guidelines, and a design review process. Mr. Hanlon thinks this will be a terrific step forward.

(Ted Peluso) Mr. Peluso thinks we should approve this article. He believes we should look at design guidelines, because residential construction will be happening again.

(Ed Tremblay) Mr. Tremblay asks which consultants we're going to use.

Adam Chapdelaine states that we'd choose the consultants through an RFP process. We don't know who's going to respond to the RFP.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher favors this article. She believes that design guidelines could address some of the concerns raised during the debate on article 16 (Affordable Housing Requirements). Her neighborhood has seen 12 teardowns during the last ten year. The character of our town is changing, and we're vilifying MAPC. She doesn't think that's appropriate. It's town meeting's job to evaluate the consultant's work.

(?) The town meeting member supports the article, and believes that design criteria should be part of the zoning code.

(Ethan Zimmer) Mr. Zimmer asks how design guidelines would interact with the zoning bylaw and building code.

Ms. Raitt says the guidelines would be advisory for boards. Zoning does not dictate design. Guidelines developed under this article would be available to any applicant. An advisory body could conduct design reviews, before the applicant goes before the ZBA.

Mr. Zimmer asks if the design guidelines would have to be adopted by town meeting. Ms. Raitt says they would.

(Paul Schlictman) Motion to terminate debate.

Article passes, 197--6.

STM Article 6: Mugar Property Application Review. Doug Heim provides a brief summary of the article.

Article passes, 197--6.

The special town meeting is dissolved, and we adjourn for the evening.