Gubernatorial Forum on the Environment a Success!

June 30th, 2010

Thank you to all who participated.  Please check out the video here!

Green Line Extension Work Group Announced

June 28th, 2010

MassDOT today announced the members of a newly formed Working Group to assist the agency and the MBTA with issues related to Green Line Extension station design, general construction, and other community concerns.

Eighteen people were chosen from among more than 100 people who applied in response to an invitation from MassDOT and the MBTA.  They represent the full length of the Green Line Extension corridor and also include MBTA, MassDOT, cities of Cambridge, Somerville and Medford and Tufts University representatives.

The Working Group will advise MassDOT and the MBTA on the design of six new stations proposed for the neighborhoods of Brickbottom, Gilman Square, Lowell Street, Ball Square, College Avenue, and Union Square, as well as the relocation of Lechmere Station.  The Working Group will also provide input on design issues related to the Green Line Extension vehicle support facility and the Community Path project.  Working Group members will review design plans, gather and share local input, and help plan public station design events, which will begin this fall.

The group is expected to begin meeting in July.  MassDOT and the MBTA thank all of the applicants for their interest in the project and invite them to participate in the station design workshops, public and neighborhood meetings, and other aspects of the process.  The list of Design Group members is after the jump.

Design Working Group

Municipality                            Station Area                                      Name

Cambridge                            Lechmere                                          Christopher Matthews
Cambridge                            Lechmere                                          Betty Skandalis
Cambridge                            Lechmere                                          Jo Seidler
Cambridge                            Lechmere                                          Derek Lombard
Medford                                College Avenue/Route 16                    Doug Carr
Medford                                College Avenue                                  Laurel Ruma
Medford                                College Avenue                                  Jessica Martin
Medford                                Ball Square                                        Todd Kaplan
Medford                                Ball Square                                        Julia Prange
Somerville                             Brickbottom                                      Ellin Reisner
Somerville                             Brickbottom                                      Sean Sullivan
Somerville                             Brickbottom                                      Heather van Aelst
Somerville                             Lowell Street                                    Courtney Koslow
Somerville                             Lowell Street                                    Alan Moore
Somerville                             Gilman Square                                  James Madden
Somerville                             Gilman Square                                  Judy Neufield
Somerville                             Union Square                                    Betsy Larkin
Somerville                             Union Square                                    Jim McGinnis
MassDOT                                                                                       Kate Fichter (co-chair*)
MBTA – Station Design                                                                    Margaret Lackner
MBTA – Accessibility                                                                      Gary Talbot
City of Cambridge                                                                         Bill Deignan
City of Medford                                                                            Councilor Frederick Dello Russo
City of Somerville                                                                         Michael Lambert
Tufts University                                                                             Barbara Rubel
A citizen co-chair will be chosen by the working group.

For full article, look here.

Library oasis survives budget storm

June 28th, 2010

Posted June 28, 2010 10:04 AM

By Danielle Dreilinger, Globe Correspondent

The town where I grew up was nothing like Somerville – less diverse in every way. But the library where I read and later worked was the same: the funky kids’ librarian, the European newsmagazines with their racy covers, the slightly uncomfortable wooden chairs, the Ellen Gilchrist story collections with such evocative titles — “Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle;” “I Cannot Get You Close Enough” — it’s a wonder I never took them off the shelves.

I loved the books but I needed the librarians. This month, Somerville’s librarians managed to convince the mayor the three branches couldn’t run without them. The fiscal 2011 budget would have replaced three full-time positions with part-timers — on top of four layoffs the year before. On June 24, the library got a last-minute reprieve thanks to concessions from the city’s entire non-union employee base.

Cathy Piantigini (17 years at the library) and Ann Cassesso (40 years) waved goodbye after story hour that morning to hordes of young kids — about 80, they estimated. Patrons see “a smiling face at the desk,” Piantigini said. But between helping visitors, the librarians coordinate events, such as a six-week program garden club Groundwork Somerville is starting; read review journals to choose new materials; and weed out older materials from the full-to-capacity shelves.
Patrons need staff with a “thoughtful approach to selecting materials,” Piantigini said. People donate books, but they usually don’t fit the library’s needs and so get sold through the Friends of the Somerville Public Library.

Dvora Jonas, president of the Friends, was squeezing some of those donations into shelves at the circulation desk: $1 for hardcovers, 25-50¢ for paperbacks. The organization raises about $15,000 per year, all for add-ons like events. Jonas floated the idea of contributing to salaries but people worried that if the nonprofit picked up the slack, “the city will never fund that again,” she said.

Ron Castile, head of reference, only kept his own job last year by bumping someone in the union with less seniority — an unpleasant and difficult decision. His department selects and orders reference, young adult, large print, English as a Second Language, and adult nonfiction books, as well as novels and periodicals. The adult nonfiction collection alone gets over 2,000 new books a year.

“I’m not sure that part-timers would be able to do as good a job as full-timers,” Castile said, moving an issue of “Oggi,” with a barcode next to the cover girl’s bikini. The five-and-a-half-person staff — the department lost one position due to attrition — also answers questions, often from amateur genealogists; maintains the city’s records and the local history collection; and helps patrons use the computers. Library director Nancy Milnor was herself out staffing the reference desk.

Though lifelong bookworms will always love the library, it may be even more important for a growing segment of the community. “We have a lot of people who come in looking for work … who may never have even sat down at a computer,” Castile said. Even companies like Home Depot now require online applications. “It’s a challenge for us because they need so much individual help and you only have so much time to give them.”

The English as a Second Language classes at all three branches see a lot of activity as well. For immigrants, “This is one of the first places they come. It’s free,” Castile said.

That’s why well-meant suggestions to charge fees and raise fines never fly, even though a library user who has checked out though not necessarily read 55 books in 2010 to date may look at the $3.35 they owe and think it’s really too low.

“Taxpayers … all this material is theirs. We maintain it for them,” Castile said, smiling benignly. “If you charge for materials you’re charging [taxpayers] for it twice.” (Any 13-year-olds hiding out because of that lost or impossibly overdue book should come in, he said.)

For Linda Riley of Somerville, 54, the library’s budget-friendliness means her nephew Kenneth’s education can flourish. Just done with first grade at the Prospect Hill Academy charter school, “because of the library he’s reading at a third-grade level,” she said proudly. In her car, his house, “everywhere’s books.” If the family had to buy them all, “It would be a fortune.”

For one group of boys on the third-floor mezzanine, the library’s just a cool place to hang out on a hot day. Right around the corner from the best carrel, the one that looks over rooftops to the woods, five rising sophomores were deep in their Magic deck games. “We’ve been doing this for like two days,” said Hernani Tavares. “It’s quiet.”

Bernard Ewah of Somerville, 40, chose the library for the same reason: It’s a good place to concentrate. He sat with a canary pad and his own Project Management Professional exam books on the second floor, next to the I.M. Pei-like pyramid that tops the stairway.

In Nigeria where Ewah grew up, libraries also are publicly funded on the US model. but “it’s been deteriorating,” he said. At the bank of computers, screens glowed with a Bunker Hill application and a Word doc that started “To whom it may concern.”

“We had to let people know just how important we are and what a drastic effect the loss of library workers would be,” Castile said. “I think we successfully did that.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some books to finish before they’re due back.

Contact Danielle at somervillescene@gmail.com.

Please check out the full article at Boston.com

Green Working Group Meeting

June 26th, 2010

August 4, 6:30-8pm
Topic: Follow-up to Green Environment and finalize recommendations
Expert: Sustainability-based company TBD
Goal: Finish up 5 recommendations on Green Environment and discussion of outreach event to gather public opinion on our recommendations

Green Working Group Meeting

June 26th, 2010

July 21st, 6:30-8pm
Topic: Improve the Green Environment, Part 1
Expert: Vithal Deshpande
Goal: Begin brainstorming 5 recommendations for this principle

Green Working Group Meeting

June 26th, 2010

July 7th: 4:30-6:30pm
Topic: Walking Tour of the Green Line Extension!
PLEASE tell me you are coming! We’ll meet at the Groundwork office and go from here!

July 7th, 6:30-8pm
Topic: Walking/Biking/Connecting buses and trains
Expert: hopefully, a representative from the Friends of the Community Path
Goal: 10 recommendations regarding the topics above (two separate Principles)
Questions for experts: What has been your experience on this topic?
How can we fund these projects?
What are the politics involved?
What do you want the community path to look like?

Check out our own Sal Islam as he rocks out at the Somerville High School!

June 23rd, 2010

By Andrew Firestone

Centennial auditorium blazed bright on Friday, as student musicians from all over Somerville came together for a night of jamming at the second annual Somerville Students Rock concert.

Organized by Jimmy Del Ponte, youth Arts Coordinator and Rick Saunders, a music supervisor for city schools, the concert gave many students the opportunity to step up and showcase their musical talents.

The stage was exhilarating from start to finish, as dozens of Somerville youth crowded in vast jam bands or solo to show their stuff.

“I’m in this zone,” said Jesse Stern of Somerville High. Stern, 16, performed an original heart ballad accompanied only by himself on the piano. “It was really nice to hear a whole crowd of people going wild for you.”

Other rapturous moments from Somerville teen performers included Caroline Form’s smooth rendition of “Out Tonight” from the play Rent, Rachel Iaconinia’s dulcet tones in Rise Against song “Ever Changing,” and Saunder’s big-band style blues in “Pride and Joy” accompanied by many of his students and colleagues.

The younger crowd from the Healey School was represented by the Vaccinations, led by Saunders as they performed “Wild Thing.”

Tony Momtejano of the class of 2009 was pleased to be invited back to perform with his friend Jesse Smith and praised Somerville’s dedication to the arts. “It’s easy to discuss music between other students, because they all have similar interests,” he said. “If there’s no influence for music, no one will actually be playing it.”

Click here for photos!

Somerville students enjoy nutritious lunches ‘even though it’s healthy’ At Winter Hill school, innovation entices kids, helps budget

June 23rd, 2010


Melissa Pocek

The signs above the students read “Nourish Your Mind” and “Eat Smart – Live Well.” A girl going through the lunch line greets Mary Joan McLarney, a registered dietician for the Winter Hill Community School.

“Have the butternut squash: It’s wonderful,” McLarney advises her. The girl looks for the orange vegetable, baked with flecks of rosemary, and when she finds it she smiles.

The school is serving locally grown butternut squash as part of its Vegetable of the Month Program. Somerville schools have partnered with local organizations to create budget-friendly programs that both feed and teach children about eating healthy and where their food comes from.

McLarney is the most vocal proponent for high standards to make the best lunches possible at Somerville schools. “This is the best meal a lot of these kids get a day,” McLarney says. “A lot of the kids don’t get fresh fruit or milk at home.” Feeding children healthy food is no small responsibility in Somerville, where 65 percent of the students get free or reduced-priced meals.

Many school districts face problems in providing nutritious lunches, but Somerville is a good example of a lunch program that focuses on health first. Those efforts are most noticeable in the Winter Hill Community School, where lunches are prepared daily for the whole school district. And the best part? It’s cost-effective. Recognized for innovation, the Somerville schools offer lessons that other districts can use.

Buy locally, eat well

This is the fifth year that Somerville schools have purchased local fruits and vegetables for lunches. An organization called Groundwork Somerville supplies the schools with some of the seasonal vegetables and herbs. Produce availability is limited by the time of year, of course, which is why. The majority of local purchasing happens in the fall and early winter.

As for the fruit, “We purchase from Lanni Orchards in Lunenburg. We are trying to develop more and more recipes that the kids will eat and the staff could make,” McLarney says.

School food service staff went to Lanni Orchards to meet the farmer, McLarney says. “Basically we took them there so they would realize the importance of supporting local economy and the environmental aspects of it.”

McLarney has a lot of ideas about how to continue to improve school lunches,really trying to focus to get them fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber, and try to introduce whole grains, ” she said, “Our goal is to help Somerville’s children develop healthy eating through instruction and role modeling in a healthy environment.”

Testing engages students, helps identify sure¬fire foods

The problem that Winter Hill and many other schools face is finding nutritious foods that students will eat. To help with this issue, Winter Hill School and University of Massachusetts Extension’s nutrition department conducted taste tests for students.

Samples included nutritious offerings such as sweet potatoes, salad greens with maple syrup vinaigrette, and the ever-popular butternut squash. The maple syrup that went into the vinaigrette was tapped from Somerville trees. Tapping is part of a big all-day event called “The Big Boil” that celebrates the process of turning tree sap into syrup.

Somerville Public Schools and Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service collaborate to get the students involved. “Some of the kids get to go out and see them tapping the trees,” says Charlotte Stephenson, one of three registered dieticians who helps organize the taste tests in Winter Hill School. “This is an educational experience.”

Once the dieticians have chosen a food to test, “We will market it and explain to kids what it is and then we will go around and have the kids vote whether they like it or not,” Stephenson says.

She says that the kids will try anything, though it often takes them time to accept new tastes. “It is important to expose them at a younger age so that they can become accustomed to it and incorporate it into their regular diet so they can develop healthy eating habits,” Stephenson says.

“Districts do testing when they can if they have the manpower. Doing a taste test takes a lot of time and energy just between purchasing, preparing, cooking, and setting up the samples. Then we need to get volunteers doing the signs, marketing it, and getting the voting done. There are a lot of different components to it.”

Although Stephenson hopes that there will be more taste tests in the future, the school hasn’t been able to find the help to conduct another test.

McLarney and Stephenson agree that cooperation yields better education and better eating among their students, which they see in positive reactions from children.

“We put out a nice variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every single day so that the kids can have as much of that as they want,” McLarney says. “We go through so many fruits and vegetables a week. My job can be frustrating, but it is gratifying seeing kids eating the butternut squash and actually really enjoying it even though it’s healthy.”

Source: The Somerville News

State publishes community path map

June 22nd, 2010

Finally, MassDOT has put a conceptual map of the Community Path extension onto their Green Line Extension site.

Click here for a link to the map.

Boston Globe: Nothing Straight About Green Line

June 22nd, 2010

By Danielle Dreilinger, Globe Correspondent

In Somerville, everyone’s speculating and dreaming about When the Green Line Comes — just see the real estate ads. In May and June, the Community Corridor Planning coalition put a little reality into the mix by holding open meetings to design the future light-rail stops. Almost 100 people attended, said organizer Ellin Reisner.

Well, not entirely reality: The state has no obligation to put any of the designs into practice. But the results provide an interesting imaginative exercise for the city. Here’s a few of the ideas. You can see sketches at the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership website.

BRICKBOTTOM

brickbottom.jpgNow: Residents recently won a battle to keep the Green Line maintenance facility tucked away instead of smack in the middle of things, but this neighborhood still faces a lot of challenges. Light-industrial buildings — Cataldo Ambulance, Gino’s Ornamental Ironworks — lead down Joy Street to the Brickbottom live-in artists’ studios. But the rail bed completely cuts them off from the small shops and restaurants a stone’s throw away. With no crossing lights, the people who live across Washington Street hesitate, then run.

Later: Stephen Kaiser, a Cambridge engineer who participated in the design workshops, thought the state’s draft design was all wrong: It allowed access only from the Brickbottom side. But “the corridor’s there and the people are there,” he said.

His team presented several alternatives. One shifts the station closer to Washington Street, taking over the Cataldo storage site. Another lofts the station into the sky, with access to Washington Street on both sides.

If the station stays at its half-hidden proposed location — a block down Joy Street — at least the state should cut an underpass through to Café Belo. Whatever happens, “It’s got to be coordinated with good traffic lights to get people across the street,” Kaiser said.

There’s also a proposal afoot to move the station to the other side of Washington Street, squarely into an isolated wedge of residential East Somerville. “The key thing to emphasize here is the need for flexibility and to work things out with the locals,” he said.

GILMAN SQUARE

Now: It’s arguably the least promising spot — weedy, strewn with debris. The station site, tucked behind the high school, is next to a piano factory and the decrepit, city-owned Homans Building, which officials determined in 2004 was too expensive to renovate. Ed Leathers Park is new, green, and tidy but separated from the future station by Walnut Street. Commercial activity is limited to the Paddock pizzeria and several gas stations. The high school, blotted out by trees and the steep slope, towers above. If you have a taste for urban Gothic, it’s actually kind of gorgeous.

Later: In the designers’ vision, the Homans becomes “Somerville Center,” with community multi-use space, a job center, and a café with outdoor seating facing the station. A walkway runs to a new north/south bus on steep School Street — a useful addition in a city whose buses all run crosstown. Another covered walkway channels visitors directly to the high school, City Hall, and the library uphill on Highland Avenue.

BALL SQUARE

ballsquare.jpgNow: It smells like fried food — fitting for a commercial strip known for its popular eateries. But Ball Square remains unassuming, perennially hobbled by the 15-minute walk to Davis Square. There’s an old bowling alley, an old bank, an old travel agency that’s been empty for years, an old … you get the picture.

Later: The priority was “connectivity,” said design group member Jason Zogg, a Cambridge resident and urban planner. “We moved the bus stops to the top of the bridge,” he said. “You could basically get off the bus and go directly down an escalator or an elevator to a central platform” and pick up the train. That’s especially important for this stop, which is right along Broadway bus lines from the northern Winter Hill area, which gets bupkis from the Green Line extension.

But along with practicality, Zogg’s team wanted something spectacular, as unique and striking as Boston’s new courthouse or the Charles/MGH stations. Their design has wooden benches, LED light design, public art — no little Allston Green Line platforms here. “Why shouldn’t our transportation systems … be these really amazing and inspiring public spaces?” he asked rhetorically. They even made a Ball Square logo: a sphere and a cube.

route16.jpg

ROUTE 16

Now: If Gilman at least has a run-down sense of place, the possible end of the line — being designed with the rest of the stations but not currently on the list for funding – has a sense of … rear parking lot. It takes several minutes of scrambling among U-Haul trucks to locate the rail bed (above, below), tucked behind bland office buildings and cut-rate gyms. The tracks are fenced off and landscaped with neat beds of crushed stone.

wholefoods.jpg

Later: In designers’ imaginations, this stop that may not happen is the “(Meanest) Greenest” of them all. An overpass would bring pedestrians over to Mystic River parkland; an underpass, to the Medford Whole Foods. A new park would abut Boston Avenue. That said, as befits the end of the line, there’s plenty of parking.

Traveling back inbound, the sun breaks out on a cloudy day, gold and gunmetal, and the bright future looks a little more plausible.

Contact Danielle at somervillescene@gmail.com.

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