Monthly Archives: October 2015

School building wonder: mishegoss from moxie

Contractors on sites for a ninth elementary school reported at a joint meeting of the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen, starting at 7:30 pm October 22 in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Fees for an outfit called Civic Moxie, addressed in Brookline, are approaching $100,000. So far, the town got little for such lavish spending. The new concepts aren’t that useful, and the useful concepts aren’t that new.

Shlock tactics: Contractors say they found 3-acre school sites. Brookline has not accepted postage-stamp sites for elementary schools since early years of the Great Depression. Old Lincoln School–less than two acres on Route 9, built in 1932–was the last of the postage-stamp sites. Social injustice in cramming old Lincoln School onto a squat of land on a busy highway sparked the 20 years of protests, between the 1970s and 1990s, that brought new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd.

Brookline school sites, counting adjacent parks

BrooklineSchoolSites
Source: School outdoors comparison, 2013

Site models illustrated by the contractors reuse old factories and warehouses found in depressed parts of Newark, NJ, and Baltimore, MD. Few of today’s Brookline parents probably look forward to housing their children in old factories and warehouses. Brookline never had much of either, anyway. Most of the ones remaining can be found in Brookline Village, between Station St. and Andem Pl. Contractors did not propose to reuse them.

Elementary school sites, from Newark and Baltimore

ShlockSchoolSites
Source: School site presentation, 2015

Search and research: In 2013, a committee organized by the Board of Selectmen produced a school site plan of sorts. Caught up in strong controversy, after proposing to use parks and playgrounds as sites, that committee backed away, recommending an approach it called “expand in place”–meaning enlarging current schools. As some members knew, such an approach could prove extremely costly. The Devotion School project now underway will cost around $120 million, yet it adds only about nine classrooms.

Neither the 2013 nor the recent 2015 study provides a geographical analysis, showing densities of increased school populations. Lack of this basic tool indicates that neither group sought professional guidance, and neither made constructive use of data and expertise already available in Brookline agencies. Instead, both engaged in speculation about specifics, without creating a knowledge base to guide the choices. The Moxie report describes six potential new school sites with some detail, five of them in urban Brookline.

New school sites in urban Brookline

NewBrooklineSchoolSites
Source: Ninth elementary school study, 2015

The sixth location, in suburban Brookline at the southeast corner of Larz Anderson Park, can probably be neglected as an elementary school site, since very few students would be within reasonable walking distance. Of the five urban sites, the one shown as no. 5 is old Lincoln School–firmly rejected as a suitable for a permanent elementary school. Instead, that site has become a land bank, Brookline’s relocation center during major town projects.

The three shown as nos. 2-4 are postage-stamp sites strung along Harvard St. All three are too close to either Pierce School or Devotion School to create a credible locus for a new school district. Only the site on Amory St., shown as no. 1, has some potential. However, this site would need to draw students from the low-density Cottage Farm and Longwood neighborhoods to make sense. Lack of geographical analysis for growth trends in Brookline’s student population makes it impossible to know whether the Amory St. site would solve more problems than it might create.

Moxie study files in their original form are probably outside most people’s price range: all but unreadable on much less than giant UHD 2160p displays costing around $2,000 and up. The study’s failure to explore the northeast side of Addington Hill–off Washington St. at Gardner Rd. and about equally spaced from Driscoll, Pierce, Lincoln and Runkle Schools–leaves a major gap in knowledge. The appendix files from the study show no attention at all to a critical part of Brookline.

–Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 25, 2015


School site presentation, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October 22, 2015 (9 MB)

Ninth elementary school study, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October, 2015 (in 12 files, 92 MB)

Final report, School Population and Capacity Exploration Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, September, 2013 (3 MB)

Perry Stoll, Ninth school site presentation, Driscoll Action, October 22, 2015

Ulrich Mok, Brookline school outdoors comparison, Driscoll Action, November 15, 2013 (4 MB)

Recommendation, Edward Devotion School, Massachusetts School Building Authority, November 12, 2014

Trevor Jones, Brookline dedicates two newly renovated K-8 schools, Brookline Tab, December 13, 2012

Property listing, 194 Boylston St, Brookline, MA, RealtyTrac, 2008

Community Facilities, Comprehensive Plan for 2005-2015, Town of Brookline, MA, November, 2005 (7 MB)

Richard Feynman, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, W W Norton, 1985

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015

School news: new superintendent, Devotion plans, Brookline Beacon, October 1, 2015

School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Education news: Advisory thinks, Chester blinks

The large, first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall, home to the Advisory Committee during town meeting seasons, witnessed another episode in the long-running struggles over regimented testing in public schools, starting at 7:30 pm Tuesday, October 20.

Earlier that day, Mitchell Chester, the state’s current education commissioner, had set off a policy bomb. It blew up a campaign to replace the testing used in Massachusetts public schools for the past 18 years–a campaign that had been led by Dr. Chester himself.

Tarnished icons: The mystique of regimented testing has been burnished and tarnished so often that it was surprising to hear a usually sophisticated Advisory Committee weave around the topics. However, it has been about fifteen years since a town meeting campaign that most recently introduced them into Brookline politics. Only a few current Advisory members have been involved long enough to remember.

Although precursors can be found in ancient China, medieval Europe and mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts, regimented testing is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon. A quantitative approach helped give standard tests a claim to objectivity, shrouding heavy cultural bias. The tests reward informally acquired language skills and penalize lack of those skills, tending to make them tests of home and community backgrounds.

When anyone thought to look, a secret emerged: test scores strongly tracking home and community incomes. Trends were discovered with IQ tests in the 1920s, Iowa tests in the 1930s and SAT tests in the 1940s. The more recent tests do likewise, including state-sponsored regimes. Scores from the early years of the Massachusetts MCAS tests showed strong associations with community incomes.

MCAS test scores versus community incomes

BostonMetroMcasPlotAbs01
Source: Significance of test-based ratings, EPAA, 2001

Dumping PARCC: Dr. Chester, of the state education department, has been serving as national board chair of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Despite a glorified title, PARCC is a commercial test series produced by a division of Pearson PLC, a London-based publishing company. Its cachet has been fully computerized test administration and scoring.

Many observers have described the superficially clever construction of PARCC tests, seemingly designed to confuse and mislead. To people familiar with The Times of London or The Nation magazine, they suggest the prompts for British-style crossword puzzles.

In the United States, supposed merits of PARCC were quickly unmasked. As one experienced teacher put it, “Test manufacturers…tell us…their tests require critical thinking. They are lying. They prove [it with] relentless emphasis on test security.” Pearson will not allow teachers to see the questions that students were asked. If their tricks were to become known, they might easily be foiled.

In his day job as education commissioner, Dr. Chester had been in deep and obvious conflict of interest with his night job as chair of the PARCC board. When finally dumping PARCC on October 20, he arrived late to the party at a national trend. Over two-thirds of the state-level jurisdictions that tried PARCC have dumped it. Even by the obtuse standards of educational testing, PARCC was flagged as a loser.

Dr. Chester’s loyalists sententiously claim “there was no ultimatum given [by] Peyser and Baker”–meaning the new governor and his education secretary. Such pre-emptive denials tend to say the opposite. Politicians may not be great at higher math, but they can count.

Thinking about testing: At the fall town meeting scheduled for November 17, Article 16 seeks support for H. 340, pending in the General Court. Filed by Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, it would forbid, for three years, the use of “MCAS or another standardized test” as a “condition for high school graduation.” That is what many call “high-stakes uses” of test scores. Rep. Frank Smizik, who represents Brookline Precincts 2-4 and 6-13, is a cosponsor of H. 340 and also a co-petitioner for Article 16.

At Advisory Committee on October 20, Brookline resident Lisa Guisbond spoke for Article 16. She is executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, a Boston-based nonprofit founded to support progressive, public education. “With high-stakes uses of test scores,” she said, “the teaching focus is narrowed to the subjects tested…you lose access to a broad curriculum.”

In Brookline schools, that probably tends to happen with students who are identified as at risk of not graduating because they have trouble with one or more of the tests. Many of those students benefit from programs that try to strengthen their abilities in the areas tested. Inevitably, however, teaching to the test crowds out other areas of knowledge, as well as aspects of a topic that are not going to be tested.

Committee member Amy Hummel sounded eager to “put a moratorium on it.” Since 1993, she said, when a law authorizing MCAS was passed, “there are so many things that are different…MCAS is one vegetable in the pot…In my family, it’s converse to learning.” Few other committee members seemed to have such clear perspectives on regimented testing.

Some committee members tried to extrapolate from personal experience but found it difficult. Committee member Janet Gelbart remembered “studying for (New York state) Regents Exams…taking courses to learn how to take exams” but said her daughter was graduated from Brookline High School “long before MCAS.”

Many committee members seemed to discount educational experiences with testing regimes and instead resort to their hunches about policy. Committee member Fred Levitan said he failed “to see how stopping testing allows people to study it.” Clifford Brown saw “no reason to stop the use of testing.” Lee Selwyn said he couldn’t understand “shutting it down for three years.”

Advisory Committee members seemed confused when voting on the topics. When Sean Lynn-Jones first counted votes on a motion to approve Article 16, he found 9 in favor and 9 opposed, but some committee members said they did not understand what was proposed. After more explanation, a recount found 9 in favor, 10 opposed and 2 abstaining–putting the committee on record as narrowly opposing Article 16.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 21, 2015


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Michael Jonas, Chester abandons PARCC, Commonwealth Magazine, October 20, 2015

Andy Hargreaves, Mary Bridget Burns and Shanee Wangia, The success of schools in Massachusetts cannot be explained by testing, Diane Ravitch on Education, June 18, 2015

An act relative to a moratorium on high stakes testing and PARCC, H. 340, Massachusetts General Court, 2015

David A. Goslin: The Search for Ability, Russell Sage Foundation, 1963

Craig Bolon: School-based standard testing, Educational Policy Analysis Archives 8(23), 2000

Craig Bolon: Significance of test-based ratings for metropolitan Boston schools, Educational Policy Analysis Archives 9(42), 2001

Lisa Guisbond, Testing reform victories, the first wave, National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 2014

Forum: regimented testing in Brookline public schools, Brookline Beacon, October 27, 2014

Craig Bolon, Dr. Lupini moves to Brookline, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2014

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing, Brookline Beacon, May 27, 2014

School Committee: celebrations, programs, policies and test scores, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2014

Advisory subcommittee: new crews needed to right ships

Gathering in the large, first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall starting at 7:30 pm Wednesday, October 14, the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation heard two articles for the fall town meeting, scheduled for November 17.

Subcommittee members found that Article 12, offered by member Lee Selwyn to revise the meaning of “habitable space” under zoning, needed substantial review. They proposed referring the article to a committee to be appointed by Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator of town meeting, and Mr. Selwyn agreed.

Park land for Putterham neighborhoods: The subcommittee took a similar approach to Article 15, from petitioners led by Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member. However, circumstances are different. Convening a special review committee is actually what Article 15 asks for. It represents a long detour, starting from an article approved at the May 26, 2015, annual town meeting.

In Putterham neighborhoods–the southernmost parts of Brookline–as Ms. Frawley argued last spring, there is little public open space. During years of the Great Depression, when much development in those neighborhoods was underway, Brookline did not acquire park and playground land, as it had done earlier in other parts of town. The only sizable areas remaining as potential recreation space are the so-called “buffers” on the north side of Hancock Village.

Following development concepts worked out with the Brookline Planning Board during 1945 and 1946, when the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. developed Hancock Village, it left unbuilt land adjacent to single-family houses along Beverly and Russett Rds. Since then, that land has often served informally as recreation space for residents of Hancock Village, as well as those of nearby streets.

The Hancock Village buffers soon came under attack. First the Hancock Co., in the 1950s, and then the next owner–the Niles Co.–in the 1960s, applied to turn the buffers into parking lots. The apartment zoning approved at the 1946 annual town meeting had left the buffers part of the large single-family zone to the north, which does not allow parking lots. The Zoning Board of Appeals turned down the applications.

Recent perils: More recently, the current owner–a subsidiary of Chestnut Hill Realty–has proposed to build both parking lots and more apartments on the buffers. The proposal, approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals last February, draws on provisions of Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override zoning in return for partly subsidized housing.

The current Board of Selectmen and its predecessor opposed the Hancock Village 40B project, although neither has been successful so far. The predecessor board–including Kenneth Goldstein and Betsy DeWitt–sued the Massachusetts Development Financing Agency for issuing a “project eligibility letter,” allowing the project application to proceed. That lawsuit has been dismissed at both superior court and the Court of Appeals.

While considering further appeal of the first case, the Board of Selectmen–now including Nancy Heller and Bernard Greene–is suing members of the Brookline zoning board in Land Court for approving the Hancock Village 40B project. A hostile motion to dismiss is pending in that case, building on the loss by the Board of Selectmen at the Court of Appeals.

The Board of Selectmen now looks mired in conflicts around a proposal to use land at Hancock Village for recreation. Besides the two lawsuits, at this year’s annual town meeting, recently elected board member Nancy Heller filed Article 17, promoting changes to the 40B law that would authorize “local elected officials” to make “binding recommendations” on 40B projects.

Reviewing recreation land: When this year’s annual town meeting approved Article 18, asking the Board of Selectmen to “study and consider in good faith” taking the Hancock Village buffers as permanent recreation land, almost everyone assumed the board would appoint an independent, expert review committee. However, nothing like that has happened so far.

Instead, about a month later, the board sent the Advisory Committee a $15 thousand reserve fund request to hire a consultant, who would work with town staff reporting to the board. The Advisory Committee took note of Massachusetts cases involving conflicts between 40B projects and land takings for other purposes, when refusing to fund a consultant interacting with the Board of Selectmen.

While land taking for community uses is possible, even though a 40B project has claims, it must occur in “good faith” and not mainly to block a project. Involvement by the Board of Selectmen in a proposal for Hancock Village land, given their conflicts, looks to risk poisoning the well and defeating an attempt to acquire land for recreation.

Seeing a Board of Selectmen seemingly frozen on recreation land issues, doing nothing constructive, Ms. Frawley and co-petitioners filed Article 15 for the November town meeting. It calls for a special review committee, to be appointed by the Advisory Committee and the moderator of town meeting. That could separate the recreation land issues from the Board of Selectmen and allow them to be reviewed in “good faith.”

Recommendation: For the subcommittee, Ms. Frawley briefly reviewed activities related to recreation land at Hancock Village since May. According to her, Melvin Kleckner, the town administrator, opposed an independent committee to review the issues–at first claiming to be “too busy” to meet with her and then, two weeks later, saying he intended to hire a consultant.

Mr. Kleckner is a town employee who lives elsewhere, not an elected official of Brookline. Since he was apparently involved in withholding information about a $200 thousand cost overrun during the May town meeting, his relations with the Advisory Committee have become rocky at best. One long-term committee member, reportedly fed up with disrespectful treatment, has resigned from the committee.

According to Ms. Frawley, Mr. Kleckner said the issues of recreation land are “too challenging” for mere citizens. Somehow though, over the years, Brookline citizens managed acquisitions of Hall’s Pond, Amory Woods and the Blakely Hoar Sanctuary, plus more than 100 park and playground parcels, without need for Mr. Kleckner’s consultants.

Subcommittee member Lee Selwyn recalled the $15 thousand reserve fund request for a consultant that had been rejected, suggesting that a committee may need “paid expertise.” Ms. Frawley said the committee could assess its needs. Stanley Spiegel, the subcommittee chair, said nine messages in support of Article 15 and one opposing it were on record so far. The subcommittee favored Article 15 and recommended approval, in a unanimous vote.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 16, 2015


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Comprehensive permit for The Residences of South Brookline, LLC, on the site of Hancock Village, Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Brookline, MA, February 20, 2015 (4 MB)

Board of Selectmen to Land Court: you win, Brookline Beacon, October 5, 2015

Hancock Village lawsuit: Brookline’s appeal dismissed, Brookline Beacon, September 29, 2015

Advisory Committee: probing a disconnect, Brookline Beacon, July 29, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015

Craig Bolon, Board of Selectmen: poisoning the well, Brookline Beacon, July 2, 2015

Advisory Committee: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Earthquake risks: raised for Brookline and New England

Although earthquakes in New England have been rare, risks in the region are greater than previously known. Our main sponsor of earthquake investigations has been the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), an agency in the Department of the Interior. The agency issued revised estimates of U.S. earthquake risks in 2014, explained in a scientific journal article published in 2015.

Earthquake history: The most recent major earthquake in the region occurred 260 years ago: the Cape Ann earthquake of November, 1755. Its energy has been estimated at Richter magnitude 6.2, only a little less than the Northridge earthquake of 1994 that collapsed Interstate 5 through Santa Monica, CA. Hundreds of Boston chimneys shattered in 1755, church steeples toppled and walls of more than a dozen brick buildings collapsed.

Cape Ann earthquake of 1755, in Boston

CapeAnn1755EarthquakeUsgs
Source: antique woodcut, U.S. Geological Survey

Damage from a similar earthquake today could be widespread and severe, given the area’s large inventory of unreinforced solid brick buildings from the 1920s and before on soft, waterlogged soils–found in much of the urban parts of Boston, Brookline and nearby communities. A strong earthquake could liquefy soft soils and jolt foundations. The main MIT campus, built over garbage and landfill, might be at major risk.

Revised risk estimates: According to seismologist William Leith of USGS, “The [2014] exposure estimate [of 143 million U.S. residents at risk from earthquakes] is nearly double the [2006] estimate of 75 million….” Dr. Leith omitted to mention that an “at risk” criterion had been changed by the agency, a kind of mission creep.

However, some of the 2014 risk estimates, as compared with previous estimates in 2006, represent real increases in recognized risks. Much of the recent evidence comes from monitoring and reanalysis of small earthquakes, frequently occurring in New England. The U.S. northeast shows five main clusters of increased risk recognition, the greatest south of the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Earthquake risk changes, northeastern U.S.

EarthquakeRiskChanges2006to2014EastCentralUs
Source: U.S. Geological Survey, 2014 vs. 2006

Despite improvements, distance intervals used with USGS earthquake risk estimation remain too coarse to reflect New England soils. Subsoil structure can change greatly in a mile or less. So far, New England governments have not tried to address those challenges of estimation. According to 2014 USGS analytical maps, risks in metropolitan Boston rapidly rise toward the north and fall toward the south.

For urban Brookline and Boston, a 2014 USGS risk contour map shows a 2 percent risk in 50 years of an earthquake with about 0.15 g peak ground acceleration. That would be between 6 and 7 on the Mercalli scale of local intensity. By comparison, effects in Boston from the 1755 Cape Ann earthquake have been estimated at about Mercalli 8, an intensity currently predicted to occur around once per 700 years (that is, a more frequent event).

Earthquake risk contours, northeastern U.S.

NortheastGroundAccelerationContours2014
Source: U.S. Geological Survey, 2014

An apparent discrepancy in Boston-area risk estimates could come from local amplification of earthquake effects, owing to soil conditions and building techniques. Urban areas around Boston have risk factors that might be compared with Mexico City. Effects there of a September, 1985, earthquake were severe, although the magnitude 8 epicenter was about 250 miles west, near the Pacific coast.

Risks in New England are significant but notably less than those near New Madrid, MO, and Charleston, SC–the eastern U.S. areas at highest risk. Three major earthquakes between December, 1811, and February, 1812–up to near magnitude 8 and centered in southeast Missouri, northeast Arkansas and westernmost Kentucky–were the strongest series in recorded U.S. history.

New Madrid, MO, was largely destroyed in 1812. Ground shaking was noted in Boston, about 1,100 miles away. Seismic activity in the New Madrid area remains high. Investigations found similar, disastrous earthquakes had previously occurred nearby over recent millennia.

Consequences: Potential consequences of 2014 USGS risk revisions in the Boston area, over several years, are changes to earthquake resistance codes for buildings and infrastructure. Unreinforced solid brick buildings could require total replacement after a strong earthquake. While most homeowner insurance policies exclude earthquake coverage, riders are usually available, but premiums may rise.

The Earthquake Hazards Program at USGS has become a child of neglect. It has been funded at about the same amount for 2015, in dollars of the year, as for 1975–while general inflation eroded over three-quarters of the former purchasing power. Spending in the wake of a disaster does not help to prevent or reduce it.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 14, 2015


Michael Casey, Nearly half of Americans at risk of an earthquake, CBS News, August 10, 2015

Matt Rocheleau, Major quake expected in New England once every 1,000 years, Boston Globe, July 23, 2015

Jeremy Miller, Boston’s earthquake problem, Boston Globe, May 28, 2006

Carl W. Stover and Jerry L. Coffman, The Cape Ann (MA) earthquake of 1755, U.S. Geological Survey, 1993

Kishor S. Jaiswal, et al., Earthquake shaking hazard estimates and exposure changes in the conterminous United States, Earthquake Spectra 31(3), 2015 (forthcoming, online 10.1193/111814EQS195M)

Mark D. Petersen, et al,, Documentation for the 2014 update of the United States national seismic hazard maps, U.S. Geological Survey, 2014 (113 MB)

Mark D. Petersen, et al,, Seismic-hazard maps for the conterminous United States, U.S. Geological Survey, 2014 (Sheet 2, map of peak horizontal acceleration with 2% probability of exceedance in 50 years, 10 MB)

Tony Schinella, Another NH earthquake hits the capital region, Nashua (NH) Patch, August 1, 2015

Earthquakes of 1811-1812, City of New Madrid, MO, c. 2014

John E. Ebel, Report on the New England Seismic Network, U.S. Geological Survey, 2012

Robert A. Williams, Earthquake hazard in the New Madrid seismic zone remains a concern, U.S. Geological Survey, 2009

John E. Ebel, Earthquakes in New England, Cape Naturalist 13(4):63-66, spring 1985

Advisory Committee: return of the leafblowers

On Thursday, October 8, the Advisory Committee got off to an uncertain start at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. With Sean Lynn-Jones away, Carla Benka, the vice chair, led a session that focused mainly on leafblowers.

Beginning in 2000 with a petition article from Jerome Sadow, unsuccessful on first try, this is the fourth visit by leafblowers to town meeting. Article 10 for the fall town meeting, starting November 17, calls for a total ban on the machines–however powered and however used. Article 11 calls, on the other hand, for extensions to seasons of allowed use. Noise remains the most common complaint.

Sound and noise levels: Ordinary conversations typically involve sound levels around 60 decibels A-weighted (dBA), at a distance of 3 ft. Perceived loudness doubles with each 6 dBA increase. Federal noise exposure limits, intended to prevent hearing damage, have long been 85 dBA for an 8-hour workday. At that intensity, conversation is almost impossible. The noise would sound around 20 times louder than ordinary conversation.

Introduced in the 1970s, small leafblowers have long been loathed because of noise, although performance has gradually become more tolerable. Some of the earliest machines emitted literally earsplitting noise: as loud as 95 dBA, measured at a distance of 50 ft. Unprotected operators, who work much closer to machines, experienced up to 115 dBA, comparable to peak noise from a 737 jet on takeoff, measured about 200 ft from a runway.

Demographic shifts: As Brookline’s populations changed, more people tended to be working longer hours. They tended to have less free time and more surplus income. Rather than do their own lawn care and gardening, they turned increasingly to landscapers, who brought increasing amounts of power equipment, including leafblowers.

By the middle 1990s, Brookline had a noise bylaw limiting lawn and garden equipment to a maximum noise level of 80 dBA at a distance of 50 ft. Many leafblowers then in use were noisier than permitted, but there was little enforcement. In 2000, that situation prompted Mr. Sadow to propose limiting leafblower noise to 72 dBA. However, only a few leafblowers then available could meet such a standard.

Leafblower limits: After a long review by a moderator’s committee, the fall town meeting of 2001 voted to limit leafblower noise to 72 dBA for units manufactured in 2002 or later and to limit hours of operation: 8 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 9 am to 6 pm on weekends. The Police Department got more sound level meters, and enforcement became somewhat more attentive.

The slow phase-out of older, noisier leafblowers and the continued increases in use left many residents unsatisfied. At the fall town meeting of 2008, a package of revisions to Brookline’s noise control bylaw, introduced by the Board of Selectmen, lowered the maximum allowed noise level for leafblowers manufactured in 2009 and later to 67 dBA, measured at 50 ft. However, hours of permitted use were extended: 7 am to 7 pm weekdays and 8:30 am to 6 pm weekends and holidays. Those standards remain in effect today.

After seeking stronger measures from the 2008 fall town meeting and leaving empty-handed, Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, returned at the 2011 fall town meeting proposing restrictions specific to leafblowers in a new bylaw. It set seasons of allowed use: between March 15 and May 15 and between September 15 and December 15, allowing emergency uses out-of-season by town workers. It also set penalties: from a warning on a first offense to a $200 fine on a third or later offense.

For his efforts, Mr. Fischer was rewarded by opposition from all members of the Board of Selectmen and from all but one member of the Advisory Committee. They tried to shoo him away with a resolution, merely asking residents and contractors to be “considerate…sensitive…[and] reasonable.” Mr. Fischer argued that lapses from those fine sentiments had been at the heart of continuing problems with leafblowers. He won the day.

Another round of review: This fall, Richard Nangle, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, with other petitioners, is seeking a total ban on leafblower use in Brookline, under Article 10. At Advisory, Mr. Nangle argued that enforcement of Mr. Fisher’s leafblower law has not worked. Leafblowers continue in use out-of-season, landscapers sometimes claim they are “exempt” from laws and police are rarely able to catch violators. Only ten percent of complaints logged over three years resulted in citations.

Local landscapers led by Faith Michaels and Peter Gately, who are behind Article 11 seeking to extend the leafblower seasons, spent most of their efforts opposing Article 10. They claimed leafblowers have been key elements in making money as landscapers. Erin Gallentine, the director of Parks and Open Space, was equally emphatic, citing time and motion studies. Under Article 11, landscapers want to end the spring season on June 15, not May 15, and want to end the fall season on December 31, not December 15.

Leafblowers, they all said, do a better and more efficient job than rakes and brooms. However, Ms. Michaels and Ms. Gallentine were unable to explain why total clearance of leaves should be critical today, when 40 years ago and earlier–before leafblowers came to Brookline–it wasn’t. Somehow, previous generations had managed to live safely and happily despite some stray leaves.

After 20 minutes into a stem-winding report from the subcommittee on public safety, Janice Kahn, the chair, disclosed that it had no position on Article 10, seeking a ban–despite two sessions of public hearings. Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, sought to send Article 10 to a committee, when it had already arrived at a committee: the Advisory Committee.

Subcommittee member David-Marc Goldstein described regulations in Cambridge and Arlington. Unlike Brookline, those communities limit numbers of leafblowers in simultaneous use, according to sizes of lots. It did not seem to occur to subcommittee members that anything between the status quo and a total ban might come within the scope of Article 10, and they did not propose such limits for Brookline.

Alan Balsam, the health director, undercut one argument against leafblowers: debris they blow into the air along with leaves. Dr. Balsam said the Advisory Council on Public Health had “found no compelling health threat.” Ms. Michaels dealt with another concern, worker exposure to noise. Units her company and others said they now use, rated for 65 dBA noise at 50 feet, expose workers to 83 dBA, below the federal limit for 8-hour industrial exposure.

Recommendations: Slogging through a total of six motions from Advisory Committee members, Ms. Benka organized recommendations. The committee opposed a leafblower ban under Article 10. That got only three votes. Under Article 11, the committee supported a minor change authorizing the public works commissioner to allow leafblower use in emergencies, but it opposed extending regular leafblower seasons.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 11, 2015


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Records of town meetings since 2000, Town of Brookline, MA, 2015

Leaf blower information, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Leaf blower study group, Town of Lincoln, MA, 2015

Leaf blowing, Department of Public Works, City of Cambridge, MA, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling: from wartime campaigns to secular religions, Brookline Beacon, October 6, 2015

Public works: solid waste carts

In the next few months, the Brookline Department of Public Works is expected to propose changes to solid waste collection, the first since so-called “single stream” recycle carts were delivered to households five years ago. This time the department is expected to supply carts for general refuse. The word so far is that the cart capacity might be 35 gallons or less–far smaller than most cities and towns provide.

Standard waste containers: The past several years have seen a trend toward cities and towns in Massachusetts supplying waste bins or carts rather than expecting residents to provide them. In Brookline that began in 1990 with 12-gallon “blue bins” supplied by Laidlaw, Inc., when it began to collect and process Brookline’s second-generation, multiple stream recycle waste.

Twenty years later, Brookline switched to “single stream” recycling operated by Waste Management, Inc. Flatbed trucks distributed a 65-gallon cart with wheels to each participating household. Although little publicized, on request Public Works will supply a 35-gallon or a 95-gallon cart instead.

As of 2014, at least 56 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns were supplying waste carts to residents, according to municipal solid waste survey reports available from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The 1.1 million households in those communities are nearly half the state population of 2.4 million households.

For recycle waste, 49 communities provided carts. For general refuse, 37 communities provided carts. Seven communities provided only carts for general refuse, while 19 communities, including Brookline, provided only carts for recycle waste. All data are from the state survey report for 2014 except for Newton and Bedford, which did not report that year; their data from 2013 were used instead.

Cart sizes: Capacities of most solid waste carts are rated at about 65 or 95 gallons. A few towns use other sizes, including about 25, 35 or 50 gallons. Weighted by the numbers of participating households, the statewide average capacity of a cart for general refuse was 69 gallons. The average capacity of a cart for recycle waste was 75 gallons.

Numbers of households using waste carts, by capacities

HouseholdsUsingRefuseCartSizes
 
 
HouseholdsUsingRecycleCartSizes
Source of data: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

A solid waste cart size of 35 gallons or less would put Brookline far outside the mainstream practices of Massachusetts cities and towns. Only the two small towns of Hamilton and Wenham provide carts for general refuse in that range of capacity. They represent less than one percent of households participating in Massachusetts programs with municipally supplied carts.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 9, 2015


Waste reduction and recycling, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 2015

Capacities of waste carts by Massachusetts communities for 2014, with numbers of participating households, data from Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 2015

Craig Bolon, Recycling: from wartime campaigns to secular religions, Brookline Beacon, October 6, 2015

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014


Editor’s note –

Advisory Committee member Stanley Spiegel wrote, stating that Hamilton and Wenham operate food waste collections for composting, separate from general refuse. So far, Brookline is not known to be planning any similar program.

Recycling: from wartime campaigns to secular religions

As John Tierney recently wrote in the NY Times, today recycling is being “promoted as a goal in and of itself”–turning away from traditional grounding in environmental and financial concerns. No local activists involved with solid waste are known to have career experience in process management, industry economics, mechanical engineering or manufacturing. While goals might sound civic-minded, backgrounds do not suggest skills to develop policies for waste handling.

Recycling generations: Municipal recycling emerged in the 1940s with “paper drives” to support World War II efforts, collecting telephone books and newspapers. Those could often be converted into low-strength containers and excelsior, or “wood wool”–with financial gains realized mainly through unpaid, volunteer labor.

A wider scope of efforts took off in the 1960s–involving multiple materials and paid curbside pickup. While they made inspiring news copy, within a few years financial and environmental inventories showed efforts to be counterproductive. More petroleum and other nonrenewable resources were being consumed than saved.

Third-generation efforts, taking off in the 1990s, tended to evade criticism. Sponsors announced internal rather than external goals: simply aiming to divert tonnages in waste streams rather than trying to justify programs through either environmental or financial benefits. Somewhat like bake sales: “just because.”

Modern times: So-called “single-stream”–a recycling poster-child for the past several years–involves less effort for households and for collection crews. Otherwise, it has become a financial and environmental disaster. Once-plentiful streams of old newspapers and telephone books are largely gone, thanks to an Internet age when few people want information on paper.

Mixing rather than separating materials causes everything to be smeared with food waste, mashed and broken. Retrieving anything useful from the rubble takes more effort and yields materials that are either ruined by soilage, including paper, or that need expensive washing, including plastics and metals. Net returns from recycled materials have plummeted. However, some ordinary recycling has survived.

Take leaves–for example–or rather, “rake leaves.” That’s what we’ve been doing for over 40 years. A small plot in back holds most of a year’s leaf-fall. By the next year, rain has packed it into a dense layer, and we can add another year’s harvest. After about 20 years, there was enough well-digested leaf compost to start enriching gardens and flowerbeds.

Besides providing fall exercise, the habits save town labor and fuel. They slow, but they do not eliminate, air pollution. Decomposing leaves release some methane, a greenhouse gas. Commercial composters have started trapping methane and using it to generate electricity. Burning leaves, as people used to do, would release large amounts of carbon dioxide and pollute the air with smoke, including partly burned compounds.

We, the town and the state all fail to inventory recycling and publish results on environmental life cycles and overall finances. While we are aware of general directions in which some efforts are leading, we know little about amounts or balances.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 6, 2015


John Tierney, The reign of recycling, New York Times, October 4, 2015

Peter Thorsheim, Waste into Weapons: Recycling in Britain during the Second World War, Cambridge University Press, 2015

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Board of Selectmen to Land Court: you win

On Tuesday, September 29, three members of the Zoning Board of Appeals who are being sued for awarding a permit allowing a Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village met in a rare closed session. The judge hearing the Land Court lawsuit against them had threatened to remove Joslin Murphy, Brookline’s town counsel, from representing the Board of Selectmen if no legal representation were provided for the appeals board members. Appearances to represent the three were filed the following day, just before the deadline.

Eye on the money: There have been no agenda items for the Board of Selectmen to allocate money for such a purpose from the contingency fund or make a request from the reserve fund. That leaves the outside services budget for the Office of Town Counsel as a likely source of funds. The costs could put substantial pressure on a budget account that already seems overstressed.

The new appearances at the Land Court for zoning appeals members were from Kathryn Murphy and Jill Meixel of Krokidas & Bluestein in Boston. Ms. Murphy of the Krokidas firm was one of two lawyers from that firm hired to advise the zoning appeals board during hearings on the Hancock Village Chapter 40B application. Spending on outside services during that episode averaged around $25,000 a month.

The Office of Town Counsel is also bearing costs of representing the Board of Selectmen in the Land Court case. During the Hancock Village episode, outside legal bills totaled $295,121, far more than the outside services budgets for the Office of Town Counsel. The Advisory Committee was approached multiple times to tap the reserve fund. A double burden of costs had been observed last April by committee member Lee Selwyn, who said the town was “turning the heat and the air conditioning on at the same time.”

Next events: While the Board of Selectmen apparently did not participate in funding recent legal services, it is nearly inconceivable they would not have been informed. The board can probably dodge bullets for a while, but as costs mount either they will have to abandon their Land Court lawsuit or else they will need to go back to a skeptical Advisory Committee for more money.

At Land Court, Judge Gordon Piper has scheduled a status hearing as part of a court session starting at 10 am on Friday, October 16. He also took official notice of the Court of Appeals rulings issued September 25, undercutting at least one key element of the Land Court case.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 5, 2015


Town of Brookline and others v. Jesse Geller, Member of the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, and others, Massachusetts Land Court case 2015-MISC-000072, filed March 11, 2015 (click button to search public records, select Land Court Department and Case Number tab, enter case number “15 MISC 000072″ and click Search button, click any Case Number item for “15 MISC 000072″)

Memorandum and order, case number 2014-P-1817, Town of Brookline and others v. Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, September 25, 2015

Hancock Village lawsuit: Brookline’s appeal dismissed, Brookline Beacon, September 29, 2015

Land Court to Board of Selectmen: put up or shut up, Brookline Beacon, September 20, 2015

Land Court: Dueling boards, Selectmen v. Zoning Appeals, Brookline Beacon, September 5, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks, Brookline Beacon, April 2, 2015

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land

The first Advisory Committee warrant review for the fall, 2015, town meeting got underway at 7:30 pm on Thursday, October 1, in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. The committee tackled Article 6, likely to be one of the most contentious. It recommended against adding more restrictions on use of town land–specifically, Larz Anderson Park–until community needs for school expansion are better understood.

Lakeside view at Larz Anderson Park

LarzAndersonLake
Source: Brookline Recreation Department

Larz Anderson Park: The land now known as Larz Anderson Park was conveyed to the Town of Brookline through the will of Isabel Weld Perkins Anderson, wife of Larz Anderson, III (1866-1937), after she died in 1948. The Weld family, from whom she was descended, had owned the former Windy Top estate since the 1840s. It also owned the site of today’s Hancock Village, using it for a private golf course until 1945.

Although it might seem odd now, Brookline’s 1949 annual town meeting struggled over whether to accept the gift of land. Some said Brookline could not afford to maintain it. The large parcel was then occupied by a mansion, by Italianate gardens at the hilltop and by several support buildings–including a handsome garage for classic automobiles that had interested Mr. Anderson.

Eventually doubts were overcome, and the town meeting voted to accept the bequest. That said the land must be used for park, educational or charitable purposes. A location at the edge of town–64 acres bordering Jamaica Plain, far from the town’s population centers–led to use for what has become Brookline’s best known public park. It includes a small lake, picnic and grill facilities, baseball fields and an outdoor skating rink.

Unfortunately, the Brookline DPW description of Larz Anderson Park on the municipal Web site omits nearly all the rich historical context of the site. The DPW map display offers text that will be unreadable with most browsers and monitors. The map information is not page-linkable, does not name, locate or describe the park features and does not outline the park boundaries–a disgrace.

Parkland protection: For many years, most involved in Brookline’s government had thought the major town parks were protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts state constitution. However, several may not be, including most of Larz Anderson Park. Parkland protection under Article 97 requires a declaration by a town meeting.

At a public hearing held September 30 by the Advisory subcommittee on capital, Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, testified that the status of protection for several Brookline parks is uncertain. Recent cases from state appellate courts say protection is not active simply because of ways land has been acquired or used.

Restrictions in wills, deeds and trusts are not generally permanent, under Massachusetts law. Brookline was sharply reminded of that by the recent Court of Appeals decision affecting Hancock Village. In many circumstances, those restrictions expire after 30 years. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 184 (Real Property), Section 23, provides (in part):

“Conditions or restrictions, unlimited as to time, by which the title or use of real property is affected, shall be limited to the term of thirty years after the date of the deed or other instrument or the date of the probate of the will creating them, except in cases of gifts or devises for public, charitable or religious purposes.”

There are other exceptions to the 30-year rule. Conditions of wills and deeds involved with Brookline parks will need review. Brookline also needs to review which parks or parts of them are covered by town meeting declarations protecting land under Article 97. Such protection can be altered, but according to Ms. Murphy that takes a unanimous vote of the supervising board and two-thirds votes of both a town meeting and the General Court. Only votes in the General Court are required by Article 97. Ms. Murphy did not cite any sources for other requirements.

Proposal and background: In Article 6 for the November town meeting, the Park and Recreation Commission is proposing to declare about 55 of the 64 acres at Larz Anderson Park protected under Article 97. That would be needed to satisfy requirements for a state grant, reimbursing parts of planned improvements. The hilltop, now occupied by the town’s skating rink, was protected in 1998. According to Ms. Murphy, most of the remaining park area is probably not similarly protected.

In 2013, under item B.15 of Article 8, the annual town meeting appropriated $0.66 million for a program of improvements at Larz Anderson Park. However, the DPW Division of Parks and Open Space had developed a plan needing more than $1 million. For the balance, the division expected to seek state support. The division has prepared an application for a $0.4 million grant, not yet acted on.

Brookline’s continuing surge in school enrollment became a wild card in the deck. In December, 2014, the town hired a consultant to review needs and possibilities to build new schools. After a surge of school building during the middle and late nineteenth century, school sites have become a foreign topic. During the twentieth century, the only new school site was for Baker School on Beverly Rd., opened in 1939. The new Lincoln School opened in 1994 at the former, private Park School site on Kennard Rd.

It has been more than 75 years since Brookline had to search for a wholly new school site, one that was not in similar use before. Over that time, the town has become fully built-out, and land prices have escalated. If Brookline tried to buy land equivalent to Larz Anderson Park today, $50 million might not be enough. Most of that parkland area apparently remains eligible for use as a school site.

Advisory review: The Advisory subcommittee on capital brought in a recommendation against Article 6, by a vote of 1-4. Amy Hummel took more than ten minutes to present it, mentioning only at the end that all the other subcommittee members opposed Article 6. A prospect of locking up $50 million or more in permanent land value in return for $0.4 million or less in one-time state aid had not convinced them.

Erin Gallentine, the director of parks and open space, tried to sway the committee with arguments about a 1989 “master plan.” She said park improvements were “the next big vision for the community.” The 1989 document has not been available on the municipal Web site–a plan that few committee members had even heard about. The recently prepared grant application has not been available on the municipal Web site either.

Strangely, Ms. Gallentine did not distribute details of the grant application to Advisory Committee members, who were left to imagine what it proposed. Committee member David-Marc Goldstein asked how likely Brookline stood to get $0.4 million. Ms. Gallentine offered a rambling reply that sounded uncertain. An amendment was offered to restrict spending to any amount awarded. John Doggett asked about protecting a smaller part of the park. Ms. Gallentine complained she would have to change the grant application.

Exploring an activity that seemed contrary to restrictions of the Anderson bequest, Leonard Weiss asked how DPW equipment garages came to be built on Larz Anderson land. Ms. Gallentine claimed not to know, saying that had happened “before my time…done by the Park Department.” The former independent department was made into a DPW division through a 1981 town meeting article, after long-time director Daniel Warren retired.

Carla Benka, chair of the subcommittee on capital, described her work years ago to get Larz Anderson Park listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That insures a process of review for most proposed changes. She questioned the relevance of a 1989 plan, comparing school versus open-space priorities and saying, “It’s not right to play favorites…a whole lot has changed in 26 years.”

Several committee members defended Article 6 against detractors, including Mariah Nobrega, Michael Sandman and Stanley Spiegel. However, few votes were there for those views. Ms. Benka joined a majority of more than two to one, recommending that town meeting turn down Article 6.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 3, 2015


Larz Anderson Park information and reservations, Recreation Department, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Memorandum and order, case number 2014-P-1817, Town of Brookline and others v. Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, September 25, 2015

Sanjoy Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 464 Mass. 604, 2013

Board of Selectmen of Hanson v. Melody Lindsay, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 444 Mass. 502, 2005

Adele Toro v. Mayor of Revere, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, 9 Mass. App. Ct. 87, 1980

Massachusetts Constitution, as amended through 1990, see Article XCVII (97, approved 1972) and Article XLIX (49, superseded)

Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Advisory Committee: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

School news: new superintendent, Devotion plans

News spread Wednesday, September 30, that William Lupini, the school superintendent since 2004, will be leaving Brookline schools soon. Dr. Lupini is expected to head Essex North Shore, a county-based district founded in 1913 serving several communities–including Beverly, Boxford, Danvers, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Lynnfield, Manchester, Marblehead, Middleton, Nahant, Rockport, Salem, Swampscott, Topsfield and Wenham. That might involve less time commuting from the North Shore town where he lives.

Interim superintendent: The near-term replacement, pending final negotiations, is expected to be Joseph Connolly, since 2014 the interim principal of Devotion School–as he confirmed to the Beacon on Wednesday. Dr. Connolly enjoyed a long career in public-school teaching and leadership before retiring as superintendent of the Stoneham public schools in 2007. His would-be “retirement” was soon interrupted by several interim leadership positions, most lasting about a year.

Before heading the Devotion School administration, Dr. Connolly served during 2009 and 2010 as the interim principal of Runkle School, following another sudden resignation. At both Runkle and Devotion, he has been involved in major renovations of Brookline school buildings, now in advanced planning for Devotion. He has also served as interim superintendent of the Gloucester and the Harvard public schools and as both interim school superintendent and interim town administrator in Boylston.

Dr. Connolly had been a strong favorite for the interim position among parents and teachers. He is widely respected and much liked. Four years ago, after signing up as interim superintendent in Harvard, MA, he described his management approach as “open door”–saying, “I can’t help people if I don’t know that they have a problem.”

Devotion School plans: The 20-member Devotion School Building Committee provided a public presentation and hearing on its plans to rebuild and renovate the school during the 2016-2017 and the 2017-2018 school years. It began at 7 pm Wednesday evening, September 30, in the Devotion School auditorium.

The main architecture has been stable for about the past year, since a low-rise, community-oriented option was chosen over somewhat less costly but much less friendly alternatives. It fully preserves the historic center building, opened in 1915, and it preserves the historic, community-oriented site plan, with east-west wings aligned to Stedman St. toward the north and to Babcock St. toward the south.

Since the fall of 2014, the new north wing has moved nearer to Harvard St. and away from the playground in back. The new south wing, toward Babcock St., has been stepped away from nearby houses and apartments. Those revisions appeared at the Planning Board review in January, 2015. At that point, a visually appealing tilt to the front of the new north wing also appeared, parallel to sides of the 1686 Devotion House and designed to maintain an open appearance for the Devotion House lawn and the Harvard St. frontage.

HMFH, our Cambridge-based architects, are clearly unfamiliar with neighborhood senses of direction and history. They persist in calling the new wings “east” and “west”–much as they persist in calling the historic center structure the “1913 building,” although it opened to the public in 1915. To long-term residents of North Brookline neighborhoods, who typically navigate without compasses, one travels “north” on Harvard St. from Coolidge Corner to the Allston town line.

Relocation plan: A major new element in plans calls for Devotion School to be rebuilt and renovated in a single stage of work, with all the students relocated offsite. Upper grades, fifth through eighth, are already at the old Lincoln School on Boylston St. and will stay there two more school years. No other suitable, vacant school property could be found either in Brookline or in neighboring communities.

An approach that now seems workable is leasing the building at 30 Webster St., a block from Coolidge Corner and now the Coolidge House nursing care center–renovating it for school uses. The center is slated to close by the end of 2015. The building might serve for at least one more school building project beyond the Devotion School project. A disadvantage is limited outdoor space in the back, not more than around 2,000 sq ft. However, there is parking already available to the public at the Courtyard Hotel next door.

School plans and reactions: Few of about 80 parents and neighborhood residents at the September 30 event had attended previous meetings of the Devotion School Building Committee. Those occurred mostly at 8 o’clock weekday mornings. Except for illustrations published in the Beacon, many were viewing plans to build a new Devotion School for the first time.

There were sounds of surprise on seeing a front vista, showing the Devotion House nestled among the historic center structure and new north and south wings. The new wings look lively and contemporary. Because of the choice of a low-rise approach a year ago, they don’t loom over the historic structures, but they do present some contrasts that are not so modest as those from the 1955 south wing and the 1976 north wing.

New Devotion School, from above Harvard St.

DevotionPlanFrontOverhead20150909
Source: Devotion School Building Committee

Since last January, the architects toned down initial and highly assertive designs–now showing less glass, more brick, softer colors, more shrubs and trees, and some friendly, community-oriented spaces directly along Harvard St. Philip “Pip” Lewis, chief architect for the project, Deborah Kahn, project manager, and Kathy Ottenberg, landscape designer, described design development and responded to questions.

New Devotion School, along Stedman St. toward Harvard St.

DevotionPlanStedmanStreet20150909
Source: Devotion School Building Committee

The usual, everyday entrance will move from a back corner of the current north wing to the side of the new north wing along Stedman St., where now there is just a plain brick wall at street level. On the east end, toward the playground at street level and just off the new main entrance, will be rooms for pre-kindergarten and perhaps after-school care. Those will also have doors to the playground.

New Devotion School, along the side toward Babcock St.

DevotionPlanBabcockSide20150909
Source: Devotion School Building Committee

Landscaping along the Babcock St. side has changed considerably since the first plans from September, 2014. Gardening space, intended to support classroom programs, increases from about 200 sq ft now to about 400 sq ft, meeting ADA requirements for handicapped access. Tiers of cedar boxes are intended to support management of different micro-environments. A public walkway between Harvard St. and Devotion St. will feature gently graded ramps instead of steps.

Interior plans were previously more developed, even a year ago. Changes have been fewer and less dramatic. Grade clustering of classrooms has been maintained, with kindergarten through second grade on the lower main floor of the new north, Stedman St. wing, with third through fifth grades on the corresponding floor of the new south wing, toward Babcock St., and with sixth through eighth grades on the upper main floor of that wing.

Special facilities for science, art and music are on the upper main floor of the new north wing. Core facilities–cafeteria, library, auditorium (now a “multipurpose room”), technology labs and gymnasiums–are behind the historic center structure and mostly between the two new wings. Mezzanine space between the ground floor along Stedman St. and the lower main floors of the new wings houses ventilating equipment and has the utility and storage rooms. Nearly all the new roof space is left available for solar panels.

There was one, fairly predictable audience reaction to the exterior design, calling it “boxy, modern and incongruous.” Most reactions, however, focused on open spaces around the new school. Many were concerned about the limited amount of play spaces.

Mr. Lewis of HMFH explained that architects had tried to maximize the usability of open spaces, in the face of safety requirements and a larger building area. He said that the usable parts of the playground will actually be larger in total area than they are now. Dr. Connolly, leading the meeting in one his last events as Devotion School principal before he takes over as Brookline’s superintendent, explained how play spaces had been consolidated behind the buildings, “the safest area” of the historic school site.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 1, 2015


Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans, Brookline Beacon, January 18, 2015

Devotion School Building Committee: opting for a community school, Brookline Beacon, September 26, 2014