At Thursday's City Council meeting we were joined by some of the educators from Winter Hill Community Innovation School (WHCIS) who wanted to talk about the conditions in their school building. We heard stories about classrooms where temperatures soar over 90 degrees, classrooms with cardboard walls, classrooms rendered unusable by extreme leaks in the roof, and unreliable heating and plumbing systems. It was tough to listen to, but I hope this was a turning point for us as a city.
While it's true that borrowing just got much more unattractive to the City for the time being with the recent rate hike by the Fed, we increasingly have large amounts of funds that could be spent on infrastructure projects. We're already sitting on a record balance in our Unreserved Fund (also known as "Free Cash"), we're looking at a windfall of revenues well in excess of what was projected, and then there's the $77.5 million in ARPA funds. It's time to get the ball rolling on replacing our crumbling infrastructure.
We have two school buildings that are well beyond their useful lives and badly need to be replaced: WHCIS and the Benjamin G. Brown School. During last year's campaign, I proposed building a new school building to accommodate the Winter Hill and Brown schools' student populations in a centralized location on Franey Road. This location fits a geographic need for a school between the Healey, Kennedy, and West, and it's extremely accessible by the new Green Line, MBTA bus service, and the Community Path.
This would mean relocating DPW to a more suitable site. It won't be easy, and as with any site in Somerville, remediation of pollutants would be a concern. Yes, the current Franey Road location is conveniently central for DPW, but I believe re-locating DPW to Inner Belt would be more appropriate, given the nature of the work they do and the type of site required. "The Tubes" do present a blocker to this plan, so a potential first domino is getting state or federal funding to replace them and unlock Inner Belt's potential.
I'll be pushing to start the process to make this necessary investment in our schools. I want to see feasibility and site selection studies funded using the above sources. And I want to see a funding commitment for actual construction and an exploration of all potential funding sources, including possible MSBA funding and a Proposition 2 1/2 debt override once the high school building project is completed.
Here are some other important things I'd like to put on your radar:
This week's newsletter is arriving a little later after I prioritized spending time with my family this holiday weekend. I hope you made the most of the long weekend as we take time to recognize those who gave their lives in service of our nation. I want our country to treat that sacrifice as sacred by ensuring that we're putting the men and women of our armed forces in harm's way only when absolutely necessary.
My City Council colleague, President Matt McLaughlin, released a video this weekend with his thoughts on military service as a veteran of the Iraq War. I'd encourage everyone to take a few minutes and watch that.
June means Budget Season for the City Council, and as chair of the Finance Committee this means I'll be running many nights of departmental budget hearings. Here's the full schedule for Budget Season:
- May 31 or June 1: Proposed FY 2023 budget published
- Thursday, June 2: Mayor's Budget Presentation & Departmental Hearings (School/City Council/Clerks)
- Monday, June 6: Public Comment
- Wednesday, June 8: Departmental Hearings (Executive Administration/SomerStat/Arts Council/Elections/Office of Sustainability & Environment/Communications & Community Engagement/Constituent Services/SomerViva/PEG Access/Information Technology)
- Monday, June 13: Departmental Hearings (DPW/IAM/Water/Sewer)
- Tuesday, June 14: Departmental Hearings (RSJ/Parking/OSPCD)
- Wednesday, June 15: Departmental Hearings (Public Safety)
- Thursday, June 16: Departmental Hearings (Finance/HR/Law)
- Tuesday, June 21: Departmental Hearings (HHS/Parks & Rec)
- Wednesday, June 22: Cut Night
- Thursday, June 23: City Council regular meeting (budget approval & end-of-year transfers)
Note: All meetings start at 6pm.
90 Washington meeting
The Mayor and City staff hosted a meeting at Cobble Hill on Wednesday morning to engage with residents about 90 Washington. Due to the disinformation campaign by the developer who owns Cobble Hill Apartments and who previously owned 90 Washington, Cobble Hill residents have been focused on manufactured worries like siren noise from emergency vehicles instead of the real issue here: whether it makes sense to put a Public Safety Building a stone's throw from the East Somerville Station on the Green Line and whether that land might be better used in a different way.
At Wednesday's event, the Mayor stated that staff was hitting the pause button on the 90 Washington process, in order to do more community engagement. This is welcome news, as I've felt the process has continued full speed ahead despite my warnings of an unclear path forward in the City Council. I believe there's a solution here that will make good use of that site while living out our values as a community, and I'm eager to work with the Administration, staff, and the community to try to arrive at that outcome.
Supervised consumption sites update
We've seen a number of recent deaths in our unhoused population around the Davis Square area. Our community's struggles with homelessness and substance misuse only are getting worse, and we badly need proven harm reduction strategies in Somerville. Call them whatever you want -- Supervised Consumption Sites, Safe Injection Sites, or Overdose Prevention Sites -- these centers will save lives in our city right away when they open.
In March the City hired Fenway Health to help make supervised consumption sites a reality in Somerville this year. The public engagement part of that process is happening now. Please attend the Supervised Consumption Site Virtual Forum at 6 PM on June 1 and support opening these necessary, life-saving centers where they are most needed as soon as possible. Lives are on the line and we can't afford any delays.
Latta Brothers Memorial Pool update
On Wednesday, Rep. Mike Connolly shared some really encouraging news about Latta Brothers pool in Foss Park. Earlier concerns about the pool's construction dragging on through the 2022 season appear to be unfounded, as the Department of Conservation and Recreation says the renovated pool is on track to open on schedule with other DCR pools on June 23!
Latta Brothers Memorial Pool is a key resource every summer for my family and many others in the surrounding neighborhoods. I'm looking forward to swimming in the new pool next month!
Did You Know....
As our city goes about planting new street trees, you can help make sure those new baby trees survive and thrive by participating in the Adopt a Young Tree program.
Last call for Highland Ave survey responses!
The deadline to complete the important Highland Ave Redesign Survey has been extended to May 31. Please take a moment and share your views!
Additionally, the City of Somerville currently is seeking responses to the Bicycle Network Plan Survey.
Boards & Commissions openings
The Administration is looking to fill multiple openings on two key commissions: the Somerville Human Rights Commission and the Somerville Commission for Women. Having recently attended meetings for both of these commissions, I strongly recommend anyone with an interest in the important work of both of these bodies consider applying for these vacancies.
Here are some of the other current vacancies on boards and commissions:
- Somerville Planning Board
- Somerville Urban Design Commission
- Somerville Appointments Advisory Committee
- Somerville Housing Authority Board of Commissioners
In-person group office hours will return next weekend, on Sunday morning from noon to 2pm in Chuckie Harris Park -- convenient for anyone joining me at SomerStreets Carnaval afterward in East Somerville. (I'll be in the dunk tank!)
I also offer on-demand office hours to fit your schedule or for those who prefer to meet separately. I enjoy these conversations with constituents, so please book a time to meet in person or virtually directly on my calendar via my Calendly.
The Week Ahead
Here's what I'll be attending next week:
- Tuesday, May 31 (6:00 PM) - Route 16 Community Walk & Talk
- Wednesday, June 1 (6:00 PM) - Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Matters Committee meeting
- Thursday, June 2 (6:00 PM) - Budget Season Opening Night
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