School Committee Passes Budget Without Majority

School Committee Passes Budget Without Majority

The School Committee passed a $95.4 million School Budget last week, but it was passed with less than a majority of the total number of nine committee seats.

The budget, which passed with a $1.9 million funding gap that led to the elimination of 10 teaching positions, was approved by a 4-2 vote.

School Committee members Rosemarie Carlisle and Frank DePatto voted against the budget, while board member Jeanette Velez and Chair Richard Maronski recused themselves from the vote, citing relatives who work for the School Department. Last week, Julio Hernandez resigned from the Committee and his seat has yet to be filled.

School Committee members and administrators said it has been a long struggle to present a budget that attempts to meet the needs of the Chelsea schools.

Supt. Mary Bourque and City Manager Thomas Ambrosino were among those who noted that falling enrollments in the Chelsea schools, as well as an antiquated state funding formula that underfunds urban communities such as Chelsea, were the main culprits in the budget cuts.

“I’ve spent a lot of the time with the superintendent trying to provide city support for the budget,” said Ambrosino. “The City is really trying to do its fair share.”

That included the City providing an additional $1.5 million to the schools to address budget shortfalls.

“Every new tax dollar I can raise in Fiscal Year 2020 is going to the School Department,” said the city manager.

Regardless of how the School Committee ended up voting on the budget, Ambrosino said the $95.5 million figure is the figure he would present to the City Council as the school share of the overall City Budget.

“The budget (Bourque) presented is fair and reasonable,” said Ambrosino.

Once the budget is approved, Ambrosino said attention should be turned towards advocating for change to the Chapter 70 state education funding formula on Beacon Hill.

Bourque said she agreed that the time is now to fix the state funding formula, noting that Chelsea schools will be underfunded $17 million by the state.

The other factor leading to cuts in the budget is falling enrollment, Bourque said. Between January of 2018 and January of this year, she said Chelsea schools have lost 217 students. That is part of a larger trend of falling enrollment over nearly a decade, according to the superintendent.

Carlisle voted against the proposed budget, but said the problem with the $95.4 million figure laid not with the City, but with the state.

“The problem is with the state,” said Carlisle. “They are not doing the right thing, and we have to send them a message.”

School Committee member Ana Hernandez backed the budget, but said it wasn’t a decision made lightly.

“The votes we make are very hard,” she said. “This budget is what we dread every year. We have to make a decision for the best of the entire school system.”

But for DePatto, further cuts to teaching positions was a bridge too far to support the FY ‘20 budget. He said the schools laid off seven teachers in 2017, 20 in 2018, 10 in 2019, and have projected another 10 for 2020.

“Forty seven teachers and 25 paraprofessionals,” he said. “When is it going to stop? I can’t vote for this budget (when) I don’t support these cuts.”

School Committee member Yessenia Alfaro-Alvarez voted in support of the budget, stating that it was in the best interest of the City’s students to pass the budget, and also noting that Chelsea is hamstrung by declining enrollments and inequities in the state funding formula.

•In other business, the Committee voted to forgo School Choice for the 2019-20 school year.

•The School Committee also approved a field trip to New York City for high school and middle school REACH students to participate in the Andover Bread Loaf Writing Conference in May.

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Major Broadway Improvements Could Begin in 2022

Major Broadway Improvements Could Begin in 2022

A major $9.5 million improvement project for the one-mile stretch of Broadway from City Hall Avenue to the Revere line could get underway by the spring of 2022.

On Thursday, March 21, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation held a public hearing on the preliminary design plans for the roadway reconstruction. Although the state officials and engineers outnumbered the residents in attendance for the meeting, there was a good amount of information provided on the shape, scope, and timeline of the road reconstruction project.

“We are finishing the 25 percent design stage,” said Larry Cash, the MassDOT project manager. “After this hearing, we will be advancing to the final design stage.”

The purpose of the project is to increase safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles along the Broadway corridor and intersecting streets in the city, according to Weston and Sampson engineer Larry Keegan. He said there will be new turn lanes, additional vehicle stacking room, and traffic signals at the project intersections allowing for the safer turning of vehicles and improved safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. The plans also include dedicated bicycle lanes through the one-mile stretch.

“There have been 97 collisions over a three-year period” along that portion of Broadway,” said Keegan. “That is above the state average.”

Keegan pointed to poor intersection layout, outdated traffic signals, and deficient pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit accommodations as being among the chief culprits for the high number of accidents. All of those issues will be addressed during the roadway reconstruction, he said.

In addition to the repaving of the road itself, a major component of the work includes new sidewalks and improved drainage.

Sidewalk improvements will mean the removal of some trees.

“The existing trees are old and unhealthy, lifting up the sidewalks themselves so that they are not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant,” said Keegan.

Other areas that will get major upgrades are the MBTA bus stops along the route. Keegan noted that there is deterioration of pavement and pavement markings from years of use along the mile of Broadway, and that the deterioration is especially pronounced at the bus stops.

The proposed project will require permanent and temporary easements from adjacent property owners, but Cash said those easements are either temporary to allow for construction work along the road, or are for the installation or minor regrading of sidewalks.

As with any project that involves ripping up pavement and sidewalks to make way for improvements, there will be traffic and construction impacts once work gets underway.

But Keegan said the plan is to keep disruptions to a minimum and traffic flowing as easily as possible.

“No detours are anticipated at this time,” he said.

During the day, the plan is to have a single lane of traffic closed and have the traffic managed by police. At night, there will be two-way traffic, according to Keegan. Access to schools, businesses, and residences will be kept open as much as possible, he added.

Chelsea resident John Gunning asked if the bus stops would remain in the current locations and if there would be improvements to the bus shelters.

Keegan said engineers will be working with the MBTA during the next phase of design to address some of those issues.

“The T wants certain things and the city wants certain things (for the bus stops),” he said. “We are looking at different options at this point.”

Dunning said he would like to see fresh, new bus shelters and stops that will complement the surrounding area and completed improvements.

Cash said design, permitting, and right of way acquisition for the project will continue through 2019 and 2020 with construction anticipated to start in the spring of 2022.

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Chelsea Viaduct Project to Begin on April 1

Chelsea Viaduct Project to Begin on April 1

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announced the Department will be rehabilitating the surface of the Tobin Bridge and complete required maintenance to improve the structure which will require lane closures and result in significant traffic impacts on the Tobin Bridge and Chelsea Curves section of Route 1 beginning April 1.

These impacts will lead to increased travel times on sections of Route 1 northbound and southbound for drivers and MBTA bus customers.

The Department also released details about transit options available to travelers such as free fares in the inbound direction on the SL3 bus line offered at the Chelsea, Bellingham Square, Box District, and Eastern Avenue stops for the duration of construction. The MBTA also announced that they will be running additional MBTA Blue Line trains to additional capacity, and these measures will be funded by MassDOT Highway Division project funds.

Beginning April 1, lane closures on the Tobin Bridge northbound will be put in place, although two of three travel lanes will be open during daytime hours. One of the three travel lanes on the Tobin Bridge northbound will be open during overnight hours.

Beginning by early May, Route 1 travel lanes in the Chelsea Curves area will be reduced so that two of three north and southbound travel lanes will be open in the daytime. One of three north and southbound travel lanes will be open during overnight hours.

“MassDOT is carrying out simultaneous work on this infrastructure which was constructed in the middle of the 20th century and hasn’t been rehabilitated since the 1970s in order to ensure its continued use and reliability and minimize the overall impact on commuters and the local community,” said Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver. “We thank travelers for their patience as MassDOT begins this necessary project, and we encourage everyone traveling throughout the Route 1 area to make smart commuting decisions such as considering public transit, using the appropriate technology apps to find the best route and time to travel, and building extra time into their commutes to account for potential roadway congestion.”

The MBTA said they will be offering the free fares on the Silver Line and the Commuter Rail during construction.

“During construction, free fares are being offered for Silver Line 3 (SL3) inbound customers at certain station stops and additional Blue Line train capacity is being added. In addition, public transit customers will be able to use a CharlieCard to travel between North Station and Chelsea on the Commuter Rail,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “Some MBTA customers on certain bus routes will experience delays, so we urge riders to consider taking advantage of these additional travel options being offered during construction.”

MassDOT’s traffic modeling suggests that on Route 1 northbound, afternoon peak travel times could increase in duration and have significant delays. Vehicle backups are expected to extend onto the I-93 ramps, along the Leverett Connector, and towards Rutherford Avenue. On Route 1 southbound, morning peak travel times could similarly increase in duration with significant delays expected.

MassDOT is carrying out work on the Tobin Bridge and Chelsea Curves section of Route 1 at the same time so that these projects will be completed in 2021. If the projects were done at separate times, drivers would be inconvenienced for additional years. This work will eliminate the need for weight restrictions and postings, and MassDOT will use accelerated construction techniques to shorten the overall construction time.

For more information on traffic conditions travelers are encouraged to:

•Dial 511 before heading out onto the roadways and select a route to hear real-time conditions.

•Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.mass511.com” t “_blank” www.mass511.com, a website which provides real-time traffic and incident advisory information, access to traffic cameras, and allows users to subscribe to text and email alerts for traffic conditions.

•Follow MassDOT on Twitter @MassDOT to receive regular updates on road and traffic conditions.

•Check parking availability at the T’s 8 largest garages @MBTA_Parking. •Download MassDOT’s GoTime mobile app and view real-time traffic conditions before setting out on the road.

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Boston to Install Dedicated Bus Lane on North Washington Street, Helps 111 Riders

Boston to Install Dedicated Bus Lane on North Washington Street, Helps 111 Riders

In a move that could dramatically reduce the commute times for Chelsea 111 bus riders, the City of Boston announced they are planning on installing a dedicated bus lane on North Washington Street from Causeway to Haymarket – a key clogging point for riders heading into Haymarket from Chelsea.

It would be a move that would accommodate the 111 bus routes and two Charlestown bus routes, and Boston officials said the new lane could reduce travel times by as much as 25 percent.

“We are planning on building an exclusive bus lane on North Washington Street from the intersection at Causeway Street after the bridge to Haymarket,” said Vineet Gupta, director of planning at the Boston Transportation Department (BTD). “It would be a dedicated bus lane 24/7 on the inbound side. Right now, we’re working with the MBTA to install that bus lane.”

BTD Director Gina Fiandaca said they have been working closely with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and the MBTA on the North Washington Street bus lane, and hope that they can get it done as early in 2019 as possible. She said that stretch of the bus route is often the most congested, and riders often find themselves waiting longer on the bus for the last leg than it would take them to walk.

“This inbound bus lane will have the opportunity to move along at a quicker pace than the rest of the traffic,” she said. “Another good part of this is in the future when the North Washington Street Bridge is completed, it will have a bus lane as well. That will provide a connection with this new lane to have one unbroken exclusive bus lane from Charlestown when the Bridge is done.”

In order to accomplish the new lane, the City will have to remove some metered parking spaces and a commercial parking space, but a large chunk of the stretch is a large bus stop and ‘no parking’ zones.

Gupta said they have no clear data yet on the time it could save commuters going inbound – though they will begin keeping that data very soon. However, in Roslindale where they installed a bus lane last year, commutes were shortened by 25 percent. The same data also presented itself in Everett two years ago when they put a dedicated bus lane on Broadway Everett.

The announcement was one of several made by Boston Mayor Walsh at the Greater Boston Municipal Research Bureau meeting on March 7. The North Washington Street bus lane would be the first one in effect 24 hours a day in Boston.

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Beacon Hill Lawmakers Attend Chelsea Soldiers’ Home Legislative Breakfast

Beacon Hill Lawmakers Attend Chelsea Soldiers’ Home Legislative Breakfast

Last Friday members of the state legislature, including Speaker Robert DeLeo and Rep. Dan Ryan, attended the annual Legislative Breakfast at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home.

While the breakfast’s format usually gives the opportunity for Soldiers’ Home staff and residents to lobby for more legislation that helps and protects veterans, last week’s breakfast centered around the new long-term care facility being constructed at the Soldiers’ Home.

“I was proud to once again attend the Chelsea Soldiers Home Legislative Breakfast and see first hand how this facility takes care of those who have served our country,” said Speaker DeLeo. “It was also a chance to hear about the progress on plans for the new building, which reflects our ongoing commitment to our veterans.”

State lawmakers, including Speaker Robert DeLeo and Rep. Dan Ryan, attended last week’s legislative breakfast at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home.

In October Gov. Charlie Baker broke ground on the new long-term care facility. The current facility will continue to be fully operational, caring for 154 veterans, during the construction process with an anticipated project completion date in 2022.

“Friday I joined my colleagues to hear from Superintendent Cheryl Poppe of the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea and Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, Francisco Urena, about the incredible new treatment center that will soon be built on their campus,” said Rep. Ryan. “This investment will ensure that our veterans continue to receive the best possible care in a new, state of the art facility.

In May 2017, Baker announced plans for a new long-term care Community Living Center (CLC) and signed legislation authorizing funding needed to advance the project in Chelsea.

The Baker Administration also has received funding authorization from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the $199 million project. The federal funding was awarded through the VA’s State Home Construction Grant Program which provides reimbursement of up to 65 percent of construction costs for approved projects. The Administration, with strong support from the Legislature, plans to spend approximately $70 million net of federal reimbursement on the project.

“Great to be with many legislative colleagues, including Speaker DeLeo, as well as Secretary Urena, at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home annual legislative breakfast this morning,” said Rep. RoseLee Vincent. “Thanks to Superintendent Cheryl Poppe and Paul Moran for your hard work and dedication in making sure our veterans are well cared for at the Soldiers’ Home.”

Rep. David DeCoste (R-Norwell), a U.S. Army veteran, also attended the breakfast and said, “I had a great meeting at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home as we discussed an updated overview of the services that the Commonwealth is able to provide our veterans, particularly their new Community Living Center project. I will continue to support and advocate for the men and women who have fought for our country.”

The Soldiers’ Home first opened its doors to Massachusetts veterans in 1882. The first residents were Civil War veterans who were wounded or unable to care for themselves, many of whom had previously resided in the Commonwealth’s “alms houses”.

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Rep. Ryan Pleased with Assignments

Rep. Ryan Pleased with  Assignments

State Rep. Dan Ryan said this week he is pleased in what is considered a step up in becoming the vice chair of the Post Audit Oversight Committee – a powerful committee that runs investigations of government operations and actually has subpoena powers.

“I want to thank Speaker DeLeo for this appointment, and my House colleagues for voting to affirm his trust in me,” said Ryan. “I look forward to working with Chairman Linsky and other committee members in continuing to bring solid, cost-effective government programs to the electorate.”

Ryan said Post-Audit Oversight certainly isn’t a household name for most people in the Town, but said it has a unique mission and is a sought-after committee on Beacon Hill.
“The Post-Audit Oversight Committee is a select House committee that has a unique mission,” he said. “Members of the committee are tasked with ensuring that State agencies are abiding by legislative intent and the program initiatives put forth, by the legislature, through the budget process. When necessary, the committee will work with administrative agencies to propose corrective actions to best serve citizens of the Commonwealth.”

One of the most visible investigations conducted by the Committee came several years ago in the previous administration when the Department of Children and Families (DCF) came under fire for its handling and management of numerous cases involving children.

Ryan has also been assigned as a member of the Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Recovery Committee, and as a member of the Transportation Committee.

•Just across the North Washington Street Bridge, State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz came away with one of the biggest scores for the Boston delegation in getting assigned as chair of the powerful Ways & Means Committee.

Rep. Ryan said that having such an important chair nearby will be very good for Charlestown as well as the North End. That will particularly be apparent with projects like the North Washington Street Bridge, which affects the North End as much as Charlestown.

Michlewitz told the Patriot-Bridge that he is humbled by the appointment, and that while he has to build consensus across the state, he will keep his district and Boston in the forefront.

“I am honored that Speaker DeLeo believes I can do the job,” he said. “The first order of business is creating and debating a $42.7 billion budget. A lot of work has been done in committee, but we have a short timeframe to get a lot done. The thing I was to stress is my district is my number one priority.”

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City Council Considers Smart Growth for Innes Housing Development

City Council Considers Smart Growth for Innes Housing Development

By Adam Swift

The pieces continue to fall in place for the proposed 330-unit mixed-income redevelopment of the Innes Housing Development on Central Avenue.

Tuesday night, the City Council held a public meeting with state officials and developers on the 40R Smart Growth overlay zoning that the council will need to approve before the City can become eligible for at least $11 million in state funding for the project.

In addition, with passage of the 40R zoning, Chelsea could receive a little over an additional $1 million from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

About half of that money would go to Corcoran Development, which has partnered with the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) to redevelop the Innes Housing Development in two phases. The 96 public housing units will be re-developed with 40 middle-income (80 to 120 percent of the AMI) units and 194 market rate units. The project will go in two phases to reduce relocation of residents.

“We’re having this meeting so we can have more understanding about the 40R zoning amendment for smart growth,” said Judith Garcia, the District 5 Councillor.

The Planning Board is expected to make a recommendation on the smart growth zoning at its next meeting Tuesday night, clearing the way for a final City Council vote.

The basic requirements for a 40R district are an eligible location preferably in a city or town center, near public transportation, and allowing minimum by-right density of eight single-family units, twelve 2-3 family units, and 20 multi-family units per acre, according to William Reyelt of the DHCD.

“It has to be primarily a residential district, but we do encourage mixed-use development,” said Reyelt.

In addition, age restrictions cannot be required in the smart growth districts, and 20 percent of the total units must be affordable, he said.

Once the zoning is approved by the city and then verified by the state, the city will get its first incentive payment from the state, Reyelt said. With smart growth zoning, communities are also eligible for additional density bonuses and school reimbursement payments.

Currently, there are 47 smart growth districts in 41 communities across the state, Reyelt said.

Unsurprisingly, parking was the biggest area of concern raised by City Councilors during the question and answer portion of Tuesday night’s presentation, although there are no specific parking requirements or regulations built into the 40R zoning.

“The project is great, but not at the expense of the citizens in the area,” said Council President Damali Vidot. “We need to have a very serious conversation about it.”

There will be 276 parking spaces on site, and the developer has said they are willing to do traffic and parking studies to perhaps help the overall neighborhood with street parking. Initially, the developers proposed 226 spaces, but Ronnie Slammin of Corcoran said an additional 50 spaces are now in the plans.

The current CHA residents are eligible for street parking permits, and will continue to be able to park at the redeveloped Innes housing for free as part of the CHA’s 99-year lease with Corcoran.

But several councilors said they still had concerns about how parking would impact the neighborhood.

“Before the Council moves forward, that will definitely have to be on the table,” said District 8 Councillor Calvin T. Brown.

District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop said he wants to make sure the current CHA residents are allowed to park on-site and not forced on the street for parking.

District 4 Councillor Enio Lopez said he wanted assurances that the 96 public housing units would remain under CHA control.

“Those 96 units will always be filled by public housing tenants,” said CHA Director Al Ewing assured.

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STEM Demonstration Scheduled For Parents and Kids on Saturday at CPL

STEM Demonstration Scheduled For Parents and Kids on Saturday at CPL

Dr. Alfred Donatelli, chair of the Chemical Engineering Department at UMass/Lowell, will lead an interactive, hands-on STEM demonstration for parents and children on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 11 a.m. at the Chelsea Public Library.

The demonstration is part of the Black History Month series of events put together by the Lewis Latimer Society and Museum, led by Co-Directors Ronald Robinson and Leo Robinson, and the Chelsea Balck Community, led by President Joan Cromwell.

The event is being held to promote the importance of STEM education to youth, who are the future engineers and scientists.

Dr. Al will demonstrate how to make super-cool, homemade ice cream with nitrogen, how Slime and Super balls are made from every-day materials and ingredients that we find in our homes.

Dr. Al and his team of assistant, which include Ken Umemba, members of the Lewis Latimer Society and Museum, Chelsea Black Community, and Bunker Hill Community College, will explore the application of these benign experiments in chemical engineering reaction kinetics and reaction design, mechanical engineering thermodynamics and heat transfers, emulsion polymerization in plastics engineering, and in weightlessness when astronauts land in space.

The event is free of charge.

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Pupusa Fiesta to Come to Chelsea on April 7

Pupusa Fiesta to Come to Chelsea on April 7

The pupusa is a curious delicacy – part tortilla, part cheese – and full of ‘yum.’

In Chelsea, it is an art form and nearly a dozen restaurants in the city have their own brand and take on the pupusa, and this spring, the Chelsea Prospers initiative will hold a community party dedicated for the art of the pupusa.

Come hungry.

Mimi Graney and Edwardo Chacon unveiled the idea on Feb. 6 during a meeting of the Chelsea Prospers committee, and said it will be the opening salvo in a season that will include the recently-announced Chelsea Night Market.

“We have been reaching out to all the local restaurants, and we have seven on board so far,” said Chacon. “A lot were surprised at first. They were very surprised the City was doing this. The reaction was pretty positive though and we will have a lot of participation.”

The idea will be to bring together the best pupusa makers in the city to vie for the 2019 Pupusa Champion of Chelsea. The event will take place a Emiliano’s Fiesta and will be an inside event.

There will be judges and audience voting on who makes the best pupusa, and the City would take hints from El Santaneco Restaurant, which has a pupusa-eating contest every November.

There would also be awards for the best salsa and the most creative vendor display at the event.

Graney said they would also have a booth dedicated to the history and the culture of the pupusa, and the center of the room would feature a demonstration on how to make homemade pupusas.

An idea has been floated out to have the Police Department and Fire Department engage in a pupusa-eating contest at the fiesta, but that is still up in the air.

“The idea is to bring the community around this special food item, whether it’s a contest or an event,” said Chacon. “We want them to come out with their family and enjoy their city.”

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Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop Launch Region-wide Community Health Needs Assessment

Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop Launch  Region-wide Community Health Needs Assessment

For the first time, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop are combining forces to conduct a comprehensive regional Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) and design a Community Health Implementation Plan (CHIP). Major hospitals, along with health centers, human services providers and non-profits that serve area residents, are working with municipal leaders, health departments and the boards of health of each community to develop the plan. Residents of the three communities are being urged to go online and fill out a survey that asks about local health issues and other aspects of community life.

The effort is being co-coordinated by the North Suffolk Public Health Collaborative and the Mass General Hospital Center for Community Health Improvement (CCHI) with the ultimate goal of identifying, prioritizing and addressing the most urgent health needs faced by each community and the region. Such assessments are often used to apply for targeted funding to help address community needs.

Every three years, most hospitals conduct a community health needs assessment to meet requirements set by the Affordable Care Act. The Massachusetts Attorney General also requires such a report and is encouraging regional collaboration among stakeholders, including among healthcare systems who share the same service areas. “This is one of the first regional assessments of its type in Massachusetts,” said Jeff Stone, Director of the North Suffolk Public Health Collaborative. “Mayor Arrigo, Chelsea City Manager Tom Ambrosino and Winthrop Town Manager Austin Faison realize that public health conditions don’t respect borders, and, working together we can solve some of our health challenges more effectively.”

“The North Suffolk Community Health Needs Assessment is critical for the City of Chelsea,” said City Manager Ambrosino. “Not only will it provide the information necessary for Chelsea to better understand our residents’ public health needs, but it will also enable us to properly prioritize resources to better address those needs. We encourage all of our residents to participate in upcoming surveys, forums and interviews.”

The collaborators have set an ambitious timeline. The CHNA and CHIP will be completed by Sept. 30, 2019, and will result in a guide for a three-year community health improvement plan that all providers can use. The process includes intensive data collection–hundreds of resident surveys, interviews and focus groups as well as collecting data from other agencies such as the MA Department of Public Health and the US Census.

A website has been created, www.northsuffolkassessment.org, to provide information to anyone who may be interested. People who live or work in Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop are encouraged to complete a survey. It is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic, reflecting the languages most frequently spoken in the communities.

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