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Progress on East Street Bridge

by Dave Atkins

Here is yet another video of a truck crash from last week at the East Street bridge:

I contacted the project manager for the MBTA who is working on the project to replace this bridge and asked why it takes so long to get anything done. His response gives some insight into why it's not just a matter of getting out there and starting construction:

Survey work and soil borings are expected to start next week (first week of September 2015). Survey crews will take exact measurements of existing conditions, and soils engineers will take soil samples for analysis.

We are currently in the 0-15% Type Study phase of the project. In this phase the engineer will take all the existing data (measurements, soils, traffic, roadway utilities, train schedules) and come up with three options for the type of bridge. Bridge needs to be raised and widened. A report will be submitted by year’s end.

Next will be the 15%-30% design phase. In this phase, the bridge type has been chosen, and presented for initial review and comment by all parties involved: internal MBTA departments, other rail agencies (Keolis, CSX, etc) , Town of Westwood, utility companies. All of these meetings and comments are incorporated into the next phase in the design process.

Next comes the 30%-60% design phase. In this phase, major design issues are resolved, specifications are assembled, and construction funding is requested.

Finally, the 60%-100% design phase. In this phase, the contract drawings and specifications go out to bid, eventually a contractor is selected to construct the bridge.

Construction of the bridge begins, and could last up to two years depending on the type of design and implementation for construction chosen.

Below is a listing of some of the items that need to be considered for this project:

  • Raise bridge or lower roadway and widening? If we raise bridge we raise tracks; this happens for many miles. What happens at Islington Station with raised tracks? New station to be brought up to latest codes ($30M) where money coming from to fund a new station? Now we need to design new station; this will take more time and money for design if we choose this option? If we lower road; what utilities in the road are affected? Water, sewer, drains, gas, electric, new drainage system for the road, neighbor’s driveways, how to access them? What is this cost? Who will pay for it? Do we need to purchase property to widen bridge? What is the cost, who pays for this land?
  • Bridge make-up and construction? Steel, concrete, pre-stressed concrete bridge? What is the span? How will it be constructed? Design drawings and calculations check and review. Shop drawings submitted checked and fabrication of bridge components. Is it staged construction; half built at a time? What about vehicular traffic; what about rail traffic? How is Islington Station affected? Where does all the construction equipment and supplies get stored? How long will this take? What are the cost differences?

School Committee Adopts Plan to Consolidate Elementary Schools

by Dave Atkins

At its June 23 meeting, the Westwood School Committee unanimously adopted a plan to close the Sheehan and Deerfield Elementary Schools, clear the woods behind the Hanlon School, and construct a new, $45 million 550-student elementary school. Upon completion of the new school, the Hanlon would be razed and replaced with a parking lot.

The choice is part of an overall plan to address the capital needs of the school district and to deal with the reality of declining enrollments and buildings constructed in the 1950s that require basic maintenance and upgrades that will cost at least $60 million just to maintain the status quo. No immediate actions will be taken; the vote is the beginning of a community process that will take years to complete. According to the meeting notes, "There is a tremendous amount of vetting that needs to be done and this is truly a community decision."

Click this link to read the 325-page report

The report is a comprehensive and thorough analysis of the current state of facilities and a demographic analysis projecting enrollment patterns into the next decade. The continuing migration/exodus of graduating seniors overwhelms the in-migration of new families, resulting in a long-term demographic trend of declining enrollments across all districts. Total enrollment is forecasted to decrease by 153 students, or -4.8%, between 2014-15 and 2019-20. Total enrollment will decline by 159 students, or -5.2%, from 2019-20 to 2024-25. According to the report,

Westwood Public Schools will continue to experience significant in-migration (movement of new young families into the district) over the next 10 years. However, the size and age structure of the pool of potential in-migrants will change and the effects of the in-migration of families on population growth will be greatly offset by the continued steady growing out- migration of young adults as graduating seniors continue to leave the district.

The impact of the changing demographics on individual schools can be seen on pages 79-80 of the report. Over the next ten years, enrollment at the Sheehan will decrease from 373 to 292; the Deerfield will decrease from 247 to 223; Downey is expected to lose 45 students. In 2025, the Downey will be smaller than Hanlon is today.

Declining enrollments do not mean our elementary schools will become ghost towns overnight. But the capital needs of the existing buildings mean that maintaining and providing the same level of service is going to become much more expensive per student. The study evaluated the physical infrastructure at each school, and while our elementary schools are in generally good shape, they are nearing the end of their useful lives and lack handicapped accessibility requirements. Increasingly, basic maintenance will become more and more expensive. The study presents an options grid on page 17 which shows how to simply maintain the status quo will cost over $60 million. The option C-1e adopted by the School Committee, including renovations to the remaining schools would cost $79 million.

Read the report. My personal opinion is that bussing kids from Grove Street and Burgess--and the likely reality of many parents driving their kids across town every day--will have a severe impact on traffic. Tripling the size of the Hanlon will be a dramatic change to the community--while it may have the positive impact of bringing the town closer together, it will be a shock to our neighborhood, not to mention the end, or at least relocation of the incredibly strong Sheehan community. I have less personal knowledge of the Deerfield, but I know one of the greatest strengths of our community is how personal our schools are. Creating a large combined school is a big change.

This decision and this report should provoke constructive discussion. Superintendent John Antonucci was happy to provide the report to me and offered to print a copy; I believe the people who have spent many hours thinking about these issues have the best interests of our community at heart. I do not believe anyone is trying to hide anything or rush the process. I hope sharing the report will inform and make for a productive discussion over the coming months and years as we decide what to do.

July Public Works Update

by Dave Atkins

Here's the next installment of the Public Works Update. This episode includes a brief update from Todd Korchin on the projects underway this summer and fall, and a discussion of energy efficiency projects from Tom Philbin, the town's energy manager.

Concept Plans for Islington

by Dave Atkins

The owner of 301-315, 317, and 323 Washington Street will meet with the Planning Board on August 18 in a Pre-Application Conference to review a concept proposal. The preliminary plans (see attached files below) will reconfigure the parking lot, upgrade the facade of the building currently housing the Islington Pizza, U.S. Post Office, and Wild Blossom, and replace the adjacent buildings with a 3-story building containing commercial tenants on the first floor and 16 one bedroom apartments on floors 2-3.

The developer is presenting the concept plans to get feedback before preparing a formal permit application. The same developer owns the other properties--the Cafe Diva/Barbershop building and the CVS/Crown Cleaners--but has not developed concept plans for these locations yet.

The August 18 meeting of the Planning Board is at 7:30pm at 50 Carby Street and is open to the public. It will be recorded and broadcast by WestCAT.

For more information, follow the link to the previous article on overall development of Islington Center.

Our New Neighbor in Norwood

by Dave Atkins

Disclaimer: I am an elected member of Westwood's Housing Authority; the opinions below are only my own and do not represent positions or opinions in any official capacity.

Work began last Fall on Upland Woods, a 262-unit apartment complex at the former Polaroid campus on Upland Road. The development is a "40B" housing project that was opposed by many residents of Norwood, but ultimately supported by town officials as a necessary step to improve the percentage of affordable housing in Norwood. Three other projects remain in planning stages and have been controversial in recent Norwood elections for Selectmen and Planning Board.

This is the kind of controversy Westwood has averted, due to the number of affordable housing units that are counted in the town's inventory including senior apartments at Highland Glen, the affordable single family homes (Local Initiative Program) designated as a part of Cedar Hill and Chase Estates when those neighborhoods were developed, a handful of 1-2 family units managed by the Westwood Housing Authority, and the new apartment units being added at University Station (Phase 2 materials here). The total of all these units brings Westwood's percentage of affordable housing to greater than 10% which means developers cannot "force" a 40B development on the town.

I think the addition of new housing in Norwood has some positive potential as many of these residents could chose to shop in Islington as easily as Norwood Center. Undoubtably, the traffic conditions on Upload Road are going to be affected which will spill over to Everett Street/Route 1. And let us hope that residents who hire moving trucks don't come down East Street on move-in day!

Islington Fire Station Groundbreaking

by Dave Atkins

Here's a short video of the Fire Station Groundbreaking ceremony from last week:

Selectmen to Vote on Traffic Calming

by Dave Atkins

After years of discussion and testing of traffic calming devices, the engineering company tasked with implementing traffic calming in the Canton-Everett-Forbes area will present their plan for approval by the Board of Selectmen tonight (Monday, June 22).

Westwood Farmers Market Open

by Dave Atkins
June 23, 2015 - 1:00pm - 6:00pm

The Westwood Farmers Market opened for the season on June 16th! The market will be every Tuesday from 1-6 p.m. (until October 13th). The market is located behind St. Margaret Mary Parish at 845 High Street. Products being sold include locally grown produce, seafood, freshly baked breads, cheese, and Welsh Cakes.

Islington Village Development in Preliminary Discussions

by Dave Atkins

Developer Giorgio Petruzziello (Supreme Development) has acquired the Magaletta properties in Islington and is planning to replace or renovate a number of buildings. The first parcel includes the Magaletta building that houses Islington Pizza, the Post Office, and Wild Blossom.

More Room for Bikes and Pedestrians

by Dave Atkins

It may seem like a small change, but following discussions with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee, Westwood's Department of Public Works followed the recommended practice of marking a consistent distance between the center line and white "fog lines" after the recent repaving of Gay Street. The photos below illustrate the significant shoulder achieved in one of the most dangerous sections for runners and bikers:

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