In the big scheme of $100 million-plus budgets, $150,000 is pretty small potatoes, but that small allotment approved by the City Council went a long way to instantly changing the trajectory of dozens of Chelsea High (CHS) students last Thursday, May 10, when they learned that the City would pay for them to finish their Associate’s Degree after graduation.
CHS Principal Priti Johari made the announcement to 94 seniors that qualified for the new pilot program approved by the Council about one month ago. At first, there was an air of disbelief.
But after about 20 minutes, there were smiles and a lot of tears from students gathered there – many of whom had given up on going to college.
Guidairys Castro said she had been accepted to UMass Dartmouth, Roger Williams and two other colleges. However, even with financial aid, it was still out of her reach, and even though she gathered more than 12 college credits at Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) through the dual enrollment program over the past two years, she said she wasn’t even going to be able to pay for finishing that Associate’s program.
“I would say this is life-changing,” she said. “It definitely changes everything for me. I wasn’t thinking about getting to go to college. This is a very good opportunity for me. I didn’t think I would have the money I needed to finish and then go on to a university. I applied to so many colleges and got accepted, but when the financial aid numbers came back, I realized it wasn’t going to happen for me. Today, that all changed.”
On Thursday, Castro sat down with the other 93 seniors who qualified, most not knowing what the big announcement was going to be. Johari said students had to complete 12 credits, and if they agree to stay in Chelsea and go to BHCC, they can finish their Associate’s Degree on the City’s dime as part of the program.
“This is a special group and a really exciting announcement,” she told them. “The City of Chelsea is investing in you. That is exciting…They want you to go to college and graduate, then come back to Chelsea. We want higher education to be more affordable. I know a lot of you have big dreams and can’t go to college because of money. City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the Council wanted to take money away as an obstacle.”
Ambrosino was heartened to hear of the scene after the announcement, and said it made him believe that the program is worthy and should be continued next year.
“I’m thrilled because this is exactly why we did that program and how we wanted it to work,” he said. “We wanted it to change people’s lives.”
Others in the room were relieved because they were going to have to pay out of pocket to finish at Bunker Hill.
Barbara Mendez and Emily Romero said they were going to have to take a year off to work full-time, perhaps more than one job, to be able to pay for going back to Bunker Hill next year.
With the announcement, that all changed.
“We were going to work for a year, but now there is no point in doing that,” said Mendez.
Both were interested in nursing, and early childhood care. The plan was to finish the Associate’s and transfer to a university – which is the popular route nowadays for students wishing to save significant money on college.
“Most of us in this room are the first to even consider college in our families,” said Romero. “It’s a big achievement for our family. They are going to be so happy to hear this. I feel this is really going to help me because I was going to have to pay out of pocket, and I didn’t know if I would have the money. It’s a great opportunity.”
For David Cruz, the scholarship is going to speed up his career path, as he wants to finish up at Bunker Hill and transfer to Bridgewater State. There, he wants to study aviation so he can be an airline pilot.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do as long as I can remember,” he said with a smile.
The applications for the new program were due on Monday, May 14, and many of the 94 eligible students were expected to apply.
The Forbes Lithograph owners have come back to the City with a plan for 700,000 sq. ft. of development and 630 residential units for the 18-plus acre site on Mill Hill – but they still only have one entrance.
The project has yet to be formally filed, but the City has requested that the owners conduct a serious neighborhood information campaign first, which the company has been doing.
The project has been scaled back significantly from its 1.5 million square foot proposal two years ago that included skyscrapers, hotels, restaurants and about 1,000 units of housing.
The current plan would have 630 units, including several units in a 16-story building. The remainder of the units would be in a couple of other smaller buildings. The would be a small amount of commercial space, with retail and office workspace uses.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said it has been scaled back, but the City will not take a stand on it until the company files with the Zoning Board in July.
“It’s significantly less dense than the plan three years ago,” he said. “They can build the units by right as they meeting the density requirement. They will definitely need some zoning relief and the City has encouraged them to together with stakeholders and their parking access plan.”
There is still some question about the access, which comes from one bridge that would be rebuilt. Another access point over the Creek will not be part of the development.
“They explained it was just cost prohibitive with the decrease in units,” he said.
Already GreenRoots has met with them twice and that organization believes that the project is still too much.
“At both meetings, GreenRoots’ staff and members, as well as adjacent residents, voiced concern over the size and density of the project; the impacts on adjacent neighborhoods including on elementary school pedestrians and traffic and public transportation; and how the public access improvements to the Chelsea Creek waterfront would not be welcoming to the community at-large,” said Director Roseann Bongiovanni. “In short, this project must be scaled back significantly. A development in the likeness of Assembly Row cannot be built in a small neighborhood that does not have property access roads into and out of the site.”
Councillor Joe Perlatonda also has numerous concerns about the proposal. He said he has met with the developer, along with Councillor Leo Robinson, recently.
“First of all, there needs to be a two-way access to get in and out of this property which the only way the city would allow this is through a bridge connecting from the site to Rt. 1A, which will cost millions of dollars,” he said. “And what about the cleanup? Do we know if the land is contaminated? Is there a solution for pest control to combat the rodents? How long will this project take?… This will take years to develop even if this gets off the ground.
My fellow councillor and I would like to see a development that would consist of duplexes and single-family homes to keep up with the neighborhood.”
The City and the School Department are preparing to begin construction on a full renovation project of the Chelsea Memorial Stadium, putting down a new turf field and a new track.
Gerry McCue of the School Department said they will begin replacement of the field and track at the end of May.
“We have a synthetic turf field at the high school and it’s at the end of it useful life,” he said. “It was installed 17 years ago. They don’t last forever and it’s time to think about a new field. We’ve been working with the City because the cost was so high and we need to have it in the Capital Improvement Plan. We found at the same time the track was in desperate need of repair as well.”
After meeting with the Planning Department and stakeholders, such as the Pop Warner and Chelsea High coaches, they began designing the field and track.
As part of the project, they will push the track slightly up towards the Parkway to accommodate lighting in a better fashion. They will also prepare for a Phase 2 to the project, which will be built out later in the summer after being bid in July.
“That Phase 2 will provide new lights outside of the track and a new restroom facility,” he said. “We’re also going to create a Master Plan for our remaining baseball fields and the high school and the Burke Complex.”
That second phase is estimated to cost $900,000, with the lights accounting for $800,000 of that.
Phase 1 has already hit a kink in the chain, though, as bids came in at $2 million for a project with a $1.7 million budget. McCue said they would look at cost-cutting measures.
One of those measures is the addition of a large Chelsea ‘C’ in the middle of the new turf field. That might have to be cut out of the project due to the higher bid. Another possible cut is re-doing the scoreboard, which could be taken up at another time.
A second sand pit for pole vault and long jump is also a possibility.
By next fall, the Stadium should have a whole new look.
“We will probably start the project the day after Memorial Day, but it looks like that could slide into mid-June,” he said. “We were hoping to have everything buttoned up by mid-September, but it could end up being late September. It will be an exciting project to see completed next fall.”
The City is preparing to begin construction on the final leg of a five-phase infrastructure redevelopment of Everett Avenue – focusing this construction season on the stretch between Carter Street and Route 16.
The $2 million state-funded project will represent the last of five areas that have been completely rebuilt with sidewalks, road reconstruction, lighting and other amenities.
“We’ve finished all of the environmental studies and design and engineering and we’ve hired GTA Company of Everett as the contractor,” said Planner Alex Train. “We’ll be commencing construction sometime in May.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said it is exciting to be able to finish something that has been going on for so long.
“We’ve excited to finally complete the final part of the Everett Avenue Urban Renewal Area,” he said. “It should tie in with the development of the Fairfield apartment buildings where the Chelsea Clock building was at. We’re looking forward to this proceeding to construction.”
The Everett Avenue infrastructure project began some years ago when the new Market Basket opened, and proceeded through the area one step at a time using the MassWorks state grants.
“We’ve had five total years and five grants,” said Train. “It’s exciting and it’s exciting that it’s spurring the economic development in the area like the FBI and One North. It’s a dramatic improvement and we’re excited to see it come to a finished point…We still want to rehabilitate Spruce Street between Everett Avenue and Williams Street, but I think we’ll be looking to the downtown Broadway next.”
The current project this year will involve putting in new water mains, new fire hydrants, new sidewalks, ornamental lighting, a full-depth reconstruction of the roadway and improvements to the Carter Street/Everett Avenue intersection at Chelsea High School.
“We’re also coordinating with DCR, who controls the light at the Parkway, to make sure they are synchronized and work in tandem,” he said.
The construction schedule will run for one year and will continue until October of this year, picking up in the spring of 2019 with the final paving.
Beyond that, Ambrosino said they would apply for another MassWorks grant for 2019 that would focus on downtown Broadway.
“I think the focus is now going to move to the downtown for this grant,” he said. “I think our construction costs for what we want to do downtown are going to exceed the $5 million the City has thus far authorized.”
He said the City could potentially get $2 million to $3 million in MassWorks funding to add to the City money already set aside for Broadway rehabilitation. Those two resources should give the City a huge jump on funding improvements to Broadway corridor next spring and summer.
With a proposal that increases spending by nearly $10 million, City Manager Tom Ambrosino submitted a City Budget to the Council this week for consideration at the May 7 meeting.
The $174 million budget is rather lean and creates only two new positions, but does contribute extra money to the School Department and covers the final year pay increases of several union contracts.
As submitted, the budget is out of balance by $790,000 – which Ambrosino said would not be a big deal to cover in the months ahead.
“We continue our improvements in the downtown and our support for the schools,” he said. “We have created two new positions in the DPW, one in the Water Department and a Junior Engineer.”
There are no new positions for Police and Fire this year, in contrast to the last two years when record numbers were added to the Fire Department through federal and local funding.
“There are not new positions in those departments this year,” he said. “We’ll maintain the current contingents.”
There are now 111 Police officers on, and just shy of 100 firefighters.
Other fixed costs included increases in health insurance, rubbish disposal/collection, and retirement system funding.
The two new positions relate to growth and water meters, he said.
The junior engineer will help the city with all of the ongoing projects, while the Water Department employee will be a liaison to the public regarding the many issues with the City’s current water meters.
Ambrosino said he has instructed the Department to begin the process of getting new water meters, but until then, the new employee would help sort out customer complaints.
“The City is looking into new water meters because our existing meters are old and not functioning well,” he said.
For the School Department, he said they gave an additional $1 million on top of the $1 million added last year. He said they have given the schools 5 percent more than required by the state this year.
However, he said that cannot continue forever.
“There is a balancing act in how much a City can contribute to the School Department without putting its own budget out of whack,” he said.
The School Department is primarily funded by state money, and the City is required to pay a certain portion of the funding as well through a state formula. This year, that mandatory payment is going to be $91.2 million. The City has given over and above that in the last three years.
Following their receipt of the City Budget on Monday, Council President Damali Vidot will schedule a full slate of budget hearings for the month of May and June. The City Budget must get Council approval by June 30.
The Chelsea City Council approved a request from City Manager Tom Ambrosino to clean up and make a big-time deposit into the City’s savings accounts.
The Council approved a $15 million transfer into the Stabilization Fund on Monday night, and also approved a $5 million transfer into a new School Stabilization Fund. At the same time, three old savings accounts were closed out with about $300,000 going into the Stabilization Fund.
The requests came at the behest of Councillor Bob Bishop, who made the requests last month and presided over a committee meeting two weeks ago discussing the matters.
Bishop had indicated that he would like the money in the Stabilization Fund because he believes the City needs to save more money in case of a downturn in the economy. On the background, having the money in the Stabilization Fund gives the Council more control over any spending due to the fact that it requires a two-thirds vote of the Council.
Ambrosino said he supported both transfers and believed that the School Fund was a wise idea given that there are several projects coming up on the City’s schools.
All of them, he said, are in the Capital Improvement Plan.
In the same financial vein, the Council approved the final $3 million payment on the Clark Avenue Middle School project. The City has been paying cash wherever it can on the project – which is still under construction until this summer – to save money on interest payments accrued from having to borrow.
Part of the project is also funded by state reimbursements.
A 66-unit apartment building looking to be constructed on what is now a vacant, derelict property looks to achieve a lot of firsts – the first Silver Line-based development and the first project to include affordable housing under the City’s new ordinance.
Greg Antonelli is proposing to build the building at 170 Cottage St., and the project has gone through the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) one time, and will head to the Planning Board soon.
The property has long been forgotten, but with the development of the Silver Line, which opens this Saturday, April 21, the property has seen a new luster. While it is has been full of trash in the past and a constant code violator, Antonelli said he hopes to make it something Chelsea can be proud of.
“I think it’s a project that will really be an improvement to that area,” he said. “It’s been vacant 40 years. It attracts litter and illegal dumping. There is a record of code enforcement violations for 10 or 15 years for illegal dumping there.”
The Silver Line, as well, played no small part in his decision.
“That was huge,” he said. “It was very important to the project. It played a big role in my decision because public transportation is very popular now…We believe the Silver Line is going to help with parking, traffic and congestion problems we’re experiencing. We believe the residents of this development will use the Silver Line to get to work and to Boston.”
Antonelli is providing 90 on-site parking spaces as well, and the development has 52 two-bedroom units and 14 one-bedrooms.
One key piece, and another new piece, is it will include 20 percent affordable housing for the 80 percent median income.
It is the first time that a project has come in under the new inclusionary zoning ordinance. That means that 13 or 14 units will be reserved for those who qualify under the affordable housing statutes.
“That’s me giving back to the City,” he said. “I’m not in it for the quick money, but rather a long-term partnership with the City.”
Council President Damali Vidot has gone on record already supporting the project, saying it will develop a problem property.
“There are constant complaints about this lot as a dumping site for construction materials, mattresses and all sorts of trash,” she said. “I’d like to see something developed there, especially something that activates both Cottage and Bellingham Street. Being that this is my neighborhood, I can attest to the huge parking issue in this area. However, this project will only be nine parking spots short and the developer’s proposal to increase the required amount of affordable units from 15 percent to 20 percent is a show of good faith and investment in the community.”
Councilor Enio Lopez has also shown support for the project, and the City has been working with Antonelli on it as well.
Already, they have agreed on a design that will activate both sides of the street, that being Cottage and Bellingham.
After the project makes a stop at the Planning Board, it will go back to the Zoning Board for a vote.
Amateur and professional photographers of any age are invited to participate in the Welcome to Chelsea Photo Contest. The contest is presented by Chelsea Prospers, the City of Chelsea’s initiative for vitality in the downtown, and the Facebook group Chelsea MA Photography Club coordinated by photographer and former City Councillor Matt Frank.
The organizers seek images that capture the richness of life in this dynamic city.
“What people, places and things tell you that you are home? What image serves as invitation for others to visit Bellingham Square, Chelsea Square, Broadway? What does Chelsea mean to you? Everyone sees the city through a different lens, and we want you to show us your view!” they declare.
Entries will be accepted until May 31, 2018 via the contest website at https://tinyurl.com/PhotoContestforChelsea. An illustrious panel of judges will then select multiple winners in the categories of Local Business; The People of Chelsea; Community; and Chelsea, Past and Present. The panel will nominate a slate of finalists for a People’s Choice award to be determined via popular votes on the Chelsea MA Photography Club Facebook page.
All of the top images will be reproduced in large print format and displayed in the new storefront gallery, Gallery 456, coming soon to the former Salvation Army store on Broadway. At the conclusion of the summer-time exhibit the winners will take home their high-quality, framed images with the Best in Show and People’s Choice winners receiving additional prizes.
The judging panel includes:
Darlene DeVita, an award-winning fine art photographer who specializes in portraits that capture the energy and humanity of her subjects. Her creative eye, patience, humor and unobtrusiveness have made her one the most sought-after photographers in Greater Boston. Between photographing weddings and exploring her fine art world, Darlene shoots portraits at her studio in Chelsea. She was Co-Director of the Gallery@Spencer Lofts for fourteen years, served as a member of the Chelsea Cultural Council and is a co-founder of CHARCOLL (Chelsea Artists Collaborative).
Matt Frank is a life-long resident of Chelsea and served on the Chelsea City Council for ten years after four years on the Planning Board. His government, non-profit and community-based work focuses on policy and project-based initiatives that serve the public interest. His interest in communications and community building combined with a deep appreciation of the beauty of city life led Matt to pursue an interest in photography. Matt captures our beloved city with a painterly eye as he celebrates the colors, textures and moods of Chelsea’s ever-changing landscape.
Roselee Vincent holds the16th Suffolk District Seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, comprised of the communities of Revere, Chelsea and Saugus. A champion for the arts, Rep Vincent served on the legislature’s Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, giving her an opportunity to visit with arts advocates across the state and learn how the arts are vital to local economies across the Commonwealth.
Sury Chavez, a painter, was born in Los Angeles but spent much of her childhood in her ancestral home of Guatemala. While East Boston is where she now resides, the colors, flora and fauna of Central America continue to inspire her work. Local businesses, The Cuscatlan, Bella Isla Express and Pan y Café, have partnered with Sury for decorative murals and menu boards and she’s working with Chelsea’s Beautification Committee to illustrate “Welcome to Chelsea” signs for key locations throughout the city.
Marianne Ramos is a self-taught “outsider artist” who believes everyone can express themselves through art. A resident of Chelsea for the past 35 years, she serves as Program Coordinator for the Chelsea Senior Center. What began out of economic necessity became the foundation of her artistic philosophy as Marianne embraces a Do-it-Yourself approach and environmental stewardship through the use of recycled and non-toxic materials. An extension of her civic involvement, Marianne’s works are typically presented in settings that foster community building.
Beyond the photography exhibit on Broadway, all submitted photographs will contribute to a collection of images for the promotion of the City of Chelsea as a great place to live and to visit. Submitted photos will become part of a collection of images for use by the City in materials like municipal reports, the city website and informational brochures.
For more information about the Welcome to Chelsea Photography Contest visit https://tinyurl.com/PhotoContestforChelsea.
The Chelsea Public Schools has hit a major shortfall in its budgeting for next year, and reported at recent meeting that it is in deficit $3.1 million, and has been underfunded by as much as $17.2 million by the state funding formula.
It has now become a major call to action for the school community and for activists in Chelsea, including the Chelsea Collaborative – whose Director, Gladys Vega, called on the City Council to support joining a lawsuit against the state for underfunding schools.
That suit was filed by Brockton and Worcester last week due to what they believe is chronic underfunding of urban schools through the 1993 Education Reform School Budget Formula.
“This reimbursement problem in the formula needs to be solved and I think we need to address the formula and I urge the City and the City Council to join with Brockton on this lawsuit against the state,” said Vega at Monday’s Council meeting.
She was right on the same page with Supt. Mary Bourque, who on Monday morning said they are seriously considering making that move.
“We have not officially joined, but we are seriously exploring the need to join this lawsuit,” she said.
By the numbers, the state Chapter 70 School Budget has underfunded the Chelsea Schools in five categories, according to the schools. One of the key pieces comes from the new definition of economically disadvantaged students (formerly low-income), which has caused an underfunding of $1.077 million in the coming year. Other areas included things where full reimbursements are promised, but only partially delivered – such as with Charter School reimbursements.
Those numbers include:
Fringe Benefits, $5.78 million
Charter School Reimbursement, $2.014 million
Special Education Tuition, $7.98 million
Homeless Student Transportation, $373,059
This came on the heels of a very lively and contentious meeting at City Hall by the School Committee on March 15, where the School Budget process was rolled out to a standing-room only crowd.
Bourque led off the meeting saying it is time to stand up for public education, and pressure legislators to take up the cause – a cause she said was the Civil Rights struggle of our time.
“Sadly, we find ourselves in a time and place where we are not willing as a society to invest in public education,” she said. “Each year I come to you with a budget that is failing each year to meet the complex needs of our students. Each year I come to you with a budget that fails to provide an equitable education compared to public school children in wealthier communities. Each year these educators…are being asked to do more with less and less. Providing our schools with the funding that’s needed to educate the next generation is the Civil Rights struggle of our time. I ask you: Will you join me in this Civil Rights struggle and our quest for social justice? We need to have the courage to standup now and today for public education.”
The Chelsea Teacher’s Union called for the same kind of advocacy, but also called on the City and the City Council to use its $34 million in Free Cash to shore up the School Budget.
“For the short term, the City of Chelsea has made some significant investment in the schools and we appreciate that. However, we need more,” said Sam Baker, vice president of the union. “The City has $34 million in Free Cash and the City is seeing significant real estate development. What is the purpose of all this this development and progress if the proceeds aren’t going to support the education of the kids in Chelsea? The CTU welcomes the opportunity to advocate for changes at the state level. That’s a long term solution. I’m asking the School Committee and the school community to lobby the City Council to release more funds to the School Department here in order to prevent the cuts to this proposed budget.”
Catherine Ellison, a special education teacher at the Browne Middle School, said many of her students have suffered because of budgets last year. She said last year the middle school Special Education budget was slashed, and after hearing of the impacts, the budget still wasn’t restored.
“Caseloads have soared while resources have severely declined,” she said. “Children have been forced to struggle in mainstream classes while funds were cut…Our staff and our students have been aggressive in addressing the increasing and complex needs of our brilliant, resilient and magnificent children. It’s time for the school district to do the same.”
Chelsea is not alone in the struggles, which is why the lawsuit is such a tempting option for urban schools like Chelsea.
Already, in Everett, mid-year cuts to the tune of $6 million were avoided by an infusion of cash by the City, and it is expected that the Everett Schools could need as much as $8 million to plug holes next year.
Revere has a similar circumstance and isn’t as far in its budgeting process as Chelsea and Everett, but it is expected they will have a sharp deficit as well.
The newest initiative of City Manager Tom Ambrosino has everything to do with being hospitable and nice.
Fatima Melara and Tania Ceja have recently been hired to serve as greeters at City Hall, helping residents to find the right place to go and to get things done faster. The new initiative is one that City Manager Tom Ambrosino proposed in mid-year budget requests last December.
Kind of an oxymoron in New England, but that’s just what is happening at Chelsea City Hall where two new greeters have been hired to welcome those coming in to conduct business with the City.
“I have long stressed to Department Heads and Employees the critical goal of providing customer service to our residents and the need to make City Hall more ‘user-friendly,’” he said. “It is still the case that many visitors to City Hall wander our corridors searching for their desired destination. They often end up asking for directions or assistance in other offices unrelated to their needs, creating frustration for both visitors and our staff. We have installed an information desk in the foyer area and have staffed it with personable, bi-lingual employees.”
Walk into City Hall now, and a new desk sits right at the main entrance.
Behind the desk will sit either Fatima Melara or Tania Ceja – both who have lived in Chelsea more than 10 years and are familiar with the community.
Melara, 20, is a student at UMass-Boston and has lived in Chelsea for 11 years. She attended high school in Chelsea and has been very involved in the community. She speaks both English and Spanish.
Ceja, 24, has lived in Chelsea since she was 4 years old. She speaks both English and Spanish and said she wants everyone to have a great experience at City Hall.
“As a greeter at City Hall, I’m hoping to make everyone’s visit with us pleasant, faster, and easier,” she said. “My goal every day is to ensure you leave with a smile on your face.”