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News

Hope on the Horizon

Town’s Youth and Recreation director says he’s optimistic about the future for Saugus schools, parks and playgrounds

The town’s Youth and Recreation Director, Gregory Nickolas, said Saugus has long suffered from a public image problem when it comes to providing educational and recreational opportunities for its young people. “Right now, we have a bad reputation on the North Shore as far as school facilities, parks and playgrounds,” Nickolas said in an interview this week “But, we’re at the crossroads of being the community to live in – the gem on the North Shore,” he said.

Nickolas, a 1981 Saugus High School graduate, said his hometown has done very little over the past two decades when it comes to making investments in its education system, parks and playgrounds. “When we travel to other towns and use their gyms and fields, almost all of them have built a new school and field in the last 20 years, except for Saugus,” Nickolas said.

“The Veterans Memorial Elementary School was our only new school project during that time. Other than that, we’ve had nothing,” he said.

But with the town expected to vote in a special election next month on a debt exclusion to finance a new combination high school and middle school that would include a new athletic field, Nickolas said he sees hope on the horizon.

Crabtree’s commitment

In addition to the school building project, Nickolas said he’s been encouraged by the commitment of Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree to improve the town’s recreational facilities.

That began last year when the Annual Town Meeting embraced Crabtree’s $2million park and playground improvements projects. Crabtree requested and received $1 million more for parks and playgrounds during a Special Town Meeting last week – including $500,000 that paid for security cameras and lighting at three parks and playground that received improvements last year – and another $500,000 for addressing safety issues and improvements at other neglected parks and playgrounds.

“I absolutely applaud the manager for making this a priority. I also understand he has to change a mindset in the community. He also has limited resources to address it,” Nickolas said.

“I came to Park and Rec in 2004. Other than the three projects passed by Town Meeting last year, nothing has been done … I have worked for the town for 20 years – 14 in this department. And this is the most optimistic that I’ve been that we’re finally moving in the right direction,” he said.

Nickolas said he’s an avid supporter of the school building project, which he said will go hand in hand with improvement of the town’s parks and playgrounds – “I’m a taxpayer whose kids will not reap the benefits, but I’m all for it … The quality of playgrounds, parks and schools will decide whether families move in. If things continue going in the trend they’re going in Saugus, five years from now, we’ll be the best place to live.”

Son hurt on a playground

Just a few years ago, Nickolas wasn’t so positive about the town’s commitment to quality of life issues like schools and parks. Town officials allowed parks and playgrounds to deteriorate so badly they became dangerous places for Saugus youths. Nickolas’s son was among those who was hurt seriously.

While playing street hockey on the court at Anna Parker Playground, he ran into a pole in a chain-link fence which had broken off and was hanging into the court. “He ran into a pole, cracked his skull and severed an artery. He was bleeding badly. The ambulance brought him to Melrose/Wakefield,” Nickolas said.

“He wound up with a fractured skull, a bone chip and a severed artery. I had given the report to the previous administration, but nothing was done. This town manager [Crabtree] fixed it [the playground safety problems] immediately,” he said.

“At the Anna Parker Playground, we had to use yellow caution tape because the fiberglass on the slide was broken,” Nickolas said.

Potentially unsafe conditions exist at several town parks, athletic fields and playgrounds. Crabtree said the DPW will work with Park and Recreation officials in identifying the priority projects which need attention as soon as possible.

“I think the actual fund [to eliminate safety hazards at parks] itself is just the tip of the iceberg … But the whole gesture of funding is positive. That’s the mindset and the culture that the town manager is instilling – a mindset change and culture change for the better,” Nickolas said.

“The manager also knows it’s not just about building playgrounds. There’s the cost of maintenance. I like the idea of the new facilities being protected by security cameras, with the police having real time accessibility to minimize vandalism,” he said.

“There’s a good momentum happening to address the issues in a good way. It’s just what the kids and the residents deserve. This is an important Quality of Life issue not only for the kids, but also for the taxpayers,” he said.

A current facilities shortage

If there is a downside to construction of the new combination high school/middle school, it is that the shortage of recreational/athletic facilities will worsen over a three-year period. Several school and non-school sports organizations and groups which use the fields adjacent to the existing Saugus High School will be displaced when construction work begins on those fields.

Among the groups that use those fields for practice are the high school football team, the high school girls’ softball team, the high school girls’ field hockey team, Pop Warner Football and Saugus American Little League girls’ softball.

“If the new school project is approved, we’re going to have to find a home for these groups for the next three years,” Nickolas said. “As it stands, there are not enough quality fields to accommodate non-school athletic programs and school athletic programs. It’s a scheduling nightmare. School sports always get priority.”

“When the field comes off-line, it’s going to be that much more difficult. We’re hoping to identify two fields that are acceptable for use which can have a facelift so we can take care of those displaced groups,” he said.

The Oaklandvale, Lynnhurst and Waybright Schools are expected to cease being schools at some point so, Nickolas said, the town doesn’t want to invest too much money into those properties. “But, we’re going to have to look at doing some cosmetic work on some of these schools,” he said.

 

Saugus public comment sought

State DEP launches website to get town feedback on Wheelabrator’s plans to expand ash landfill

For the second consecutive year, Saugus residents will have a chance to comment to state environmental officials on Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc.’s plans to expand its ash landfill.

Meanwhile, the town’s Board of Health will await a decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Wheelabrator’s requests for permits to begin the project before following through with legal threats to block it. “The Board of Health will wait to see what the decision is by the DEP, and then we will consider any and all options going forward,” Board of Health Chair William Heffernan said Monday, after the board emerged from an executive session.

“And that’s where we stand. The process needs to play out. It’s in the hands of the state, and we as a board will go from there,” Heffernan said.

Board members met for about 45 minutes behind closed doors with George F. Hailer, special counsel to the Town of Saugus on Environmental Affairs, and Benjamin O’Grady – another attorney from the Boston law firm of Lawson & Weitzen, LLP – to discuss possible litigation.

Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc. filed applications for two permits from the DEP late last month – one that would allow the company to modify the ash landfill near its trash-to-energy plant on Route 107 in Saugus. The company filed a second application for a permit to transport ash offsite in case the currently approved volume is used before its modification project can be approved.

A three- to six-month wait

The Board of Health’s private discussion with lawyers over Wheelabrator’s recent filings comes nine months after the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs ruled the company wouldn’t be required to have an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The agency’s Assistant Secretary, Deirdre Buckley, also advised in the 14-page certificate issued last August under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) that she didn’t believe a review by the Board of Health was necessary. She noted that a majority of comments received requested that she require Wheelabrator to “obtain a modification to the existing Site Assignment from the Board of Health to provide additional opportunity for public review and input.”

Buckley has no authority to order a review by the Saugus Board of Health, which has already requested Wheelabrator to file an application for a modification of its site assignment. The board threatened a lawsuit to force Wheelabrator to comply with its request.

“It’s out of the board’s hands until the state makes a decision,” Heffernan said Monday. “As of right now, it looks like it’s going to be an extended time period before the DEP renders its decision,” he said.

Heffernan estimated that it could take three to six months for Wheelabrator to learn whether it can proceed.

The project would add five years of life and about 520,000 tons of ash and cover soil to the ash landfill, which has been the subject of vocal opposition by town officials – including the Board of Selectmen, Town Meeting members and the Board of Health – since Wheelabrator announced its plans more than a year ago.

“For anyone out there that is interested, the website is open and the comment period is open … We encourage people to go online and comment,” Heffernan said.

The DEP web page

The public can learn about Wheelabrator’s project and offer comments by going to DEP’s special web page, http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/about/contacts/wsi.html.

The DEP will review public comments and Wheelabrator’s application in addition to testimony at a future public hearing to be held in Saugus.

Wheelabrator’s proposed “Major Modification” project involves placing some additional fill in two valleys on the landfill and is referred to as the “Valley Fill Project.” The company detailed the project in an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) published in the Environmental Monitor on June 8, 2016, and the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs issued a certificate on the ENF pursuant to MEPA on August 5, 2016.

Wheelabrator’s application for a “Minor Permit Modification for Ash Staging and Transport” seeks approval to stage ash residue within the limits of the landfill, to enable off-site transport of ash to off-site ash management facilities.

“MassDEP has established a web page to provide electronic access to information about these two proposed projects, including a MEMO to Interested Persons regarding Public Review and Comment Opportunities and e-copies of the applications,” according to the DEP’s Mark Fairbrother. The web page already includes several documents totaling several hundred pages – many of them similar or identical to material filed in the MEPA review process last year.

Shipping ash out of Saugus

In the event that Wheelabrator reaches its capacity at the ash landfill before the project is approved, the ash would be transported to an onsite staging area and loaded into trucks to be shipped to alternative landfills, “such as Wheelabrator’s ash landfill in Shrewsbury, MA and Putnam, CT,” according to new documents filed in connection with the application to transport the ash off-site.

“The ability to transport ash off-site gives Wheelabrator the necessary flexibility to manage the disposal capacity at its ash landfills in the region and to optimize its recyclable metals recovery systems,” the documents noted.

“During some or all of the time that the Ash Staging Area is in use and off-site transport of ash is practiced, ash placement may continue to occur at the Monofill. The design features (e.g., drainage and gas venting), operations (e.g., sequencing and general operation procedures) and closure features (e.g., ridge elevation and footprint) of the Monofill will remain essentially unchanged, except as may be needed to accommodate the Ash Staging Area.”

The average daily ash production at the Wheelabrator plant is about 360 tons, and the average long-haul weight for ash residue is expected to be 28 tons per truckload, according to Wheelabrator. “This calculates out to 13 truckloads per day of ash to be hauled from Saugus to the off-site locations. This represents 26 truck trips per day added to the roadway network, including the return trip to Saugus,” the documents show.

Company officials consider the project to extend the life of the ash landfill to be “a modification” rather than an expansion, noting that the 50-foot ridgeline elevation and the footprint of the Monofill would not change. “Through this slope change and the reduced final cover thickness afforded by using the geocomposite gas venting layer, an estimated 400,000 cubic yards of capacity is available in Phases I and II with no increase to the final ridge elevation or waste footprint,” according to Wheelabrator. “At an average airspace utilization rate of 80,000 cubic yards per year, this additional capacity is estimated to provide approximately 5 years of life in addition to the currently estimated remaining site life of 0.9 to 1.1 years (as of November 2016).”

   

Town of Saugus’s middle-high school district-wide master plan will help the town achieve its educational goals


Editor’s Note: Saugus Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree’s office posted the following press release on the town’s website this week regarding the combined middle school/high school that is being considered.

A

t a Town-wide election in June, 2017 the residents of Saugus will have an opportunity to support and invest in a new 21st century education plan and Middle-High School district-wide facility that will continue to prioritize education. Supporting this initiative will change the way education is delivered and help the school district achieve its goal to become a top-rated, Level 1 school district in Massachusetts.

This initiative would create a 6-12 Middle-High School; the current Belmonte Middle School would be established as an Upper Elementary School for grades 3-5; and the Veterans Memorial Elementary School would become a Lower Elementary School for pre-K to grade 2. Endorsing this vision and the school district’s plan will transform the way education is valued within this community. Most importantly, it will provide equal, equitable opportunities for students to access educational resources and reach their highest potential.

“This is a real opportunity for the Town of Saugus to meet the goals of its educational plan,” said Town Manager Scott Crabtree. “Challenging our students to reach their full potential necessitates that our schools have the resources and facilities to meet the academic needs of all students and prepare them for success should they pursue higher education or compete in today’s workforce.”

The proposed Middle-High School complex will total 270,000 total square feet including a 12,000 square-foot gymnasium and capacity for 1,360 students in grades 6-12. There will be state-of-the-art science labs and technology classrooms, fine and performing arts classrooms and a 750-seat auditorium. In addition, the proposal includes a new sports complex and outdoor track, walking paths, outdoor classrooms, and student gardens. Veterans Memorial Elementary School and Belmonte Middles School will also receive construction updates.

The proposed initiative supports the vision of the educational plan with a district-wide solution that will:

– Facilitate the School District’s goal of moving from a Level 3 to a Level 1 school district.

– Allow the School District to provide fair and equal access to all students enabling them to reach their highest potential and to continue to prioritize education.

– Maintain accreditation with New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

– Address health and safety issues including identified deficiencies in fire protection, sprinkler systems, and ADA accessibility, ensuring that children are in the safest and most secure schools.

Additional elements of the solution include new science labs that meet the State’s educational and safety standards; facilities, technology, and academic curricula to support critical skills for success in today’s educational and workforce environments; work spaces designed for student collaboration and project-based learning in all subject areas; and shared instructional resources and opportunities for increased teacher collaboration.

“Providing our students and staff with resources and facilities that achieves the vision of our Town’s educational plan is critical,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. David DeRuosi. “This solution will facilitate a shift from teacher-centered to student-centered instruction, and an emphasis on the critical thinking, communication and technology skills needed to enhance 21st century skills our students need to be successful.”

The Saugus community will further benefit from the plan through access to the media center, cafetorium, and other common areas during nonschool hours; support for adult education and programming for senior citizens, parents, and community partners; and recreational use of athletic facility and playing fields, including an on-site turf field.

“This Middle-High School District-Wide Solution is critical for the residents of Saugus because it will enhance our children’s education and change the way education is valued and delivered in the community,” said Jeanette Meredith, Chair of the School Committee and Saugus High School Project Building Committee.

“This new school is not just a building. It is part of a comprehensive, district-wide solution to the issues facing the school district. This capital plan will address our educational and structural issues and will save the Town immensely in maintenance costs.”

Additional information outlining the investment cost and timeline on the Middle-High School District-Wide Master Plan Solution will follow.

More information on the project can be found at www.saugus-ma.gov/saugus-high-school-project-building-committee.

   

Sachems baseball team keeps performing

The Saugus baseball team is hanging in there at 6-7 after an exciting week. On Monday, they went toe-to-toe with Danvers over nine innings before the game was postponed until next Tuesday due to darkness with the score tied 1-1. Then, on Wednesday, the Sachems sent a message to their former coach, Stephen Freker, who now leads Malden, in a 14-1 rout.

“There’s no hard feelings at all, I think we were just up for the game,” said Saugus coach Joe Luis, who replaced Freker. “Coach Freker has been very generous, he said ‘hi’ to all the guys before the game … I think the kids just wanted to show him that they kept on working hard, kept on playing, just like he taught them.”

The difference against the Golden Tornadoes was the first inning, as Saugus scored nine runs. Five of the first six Sachems batters singled. Saugus had 13 hits overall, plus three walks and a whole host of Malden fielding errors to further run up the score.

“Fourteen guys went to the plate in the first inning,” Luis said. “We just kept hitting it hard. Some errors kept the inning alive, but they were definitely ready to play against their former coach.”

Paul Stamatopoulos was three for three with three RBIs. Steve Ruggiero also had three RBIs on three hits, while Nick Descoli was two for three with three RBIs. Rounding it out was Pat McDonald, who was one for three with two RBIs.

Justin Horvarth pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and three walks. He struck out eight.

Todd Tringale came on in relief, giving up a run in the seventh inning. Malden had a lead-off double, then the runner got moved to third on a base hit and later scored.

Against Danvers, Jimmy Alcott pitched seven innings and allowed just one run. Tringale held the Falcons in relief in the eighth and ninth innings. At 7:30, the umpires called the game due to darkness.

Saugus has a busy week next week. They play Monday against Swampscott, finish the game against Danvers on Tuesday starting in the 10th inning, and then play Salem on Wednesday.

 

   

Parachutists, Black Hawk Helicopter and Military Vehicles will highlight Veterans/Military Appreciation Day at World Series Park

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World Series Park in Saugus will host a Veterans/Military Appreciation Day on Saturday, September 16. This will be a 9 a.m.-4 p.m. event that will be free and open to the public – sponsored by Wheelabrator Saugus, the energy-from-waste company that has been part of the Saugus community since 1975. Wheelabrator has been an ongoing contributor to numerous Saugus events and organizations and is once again stepping up to support this community event.

Bob Davis, superintendent of World Series Park, said, “Our goal with this event is to have the community come together to honor our veterans and active military. All veterans and active military are invited to attend. They will be our special guests and will be presented with Challenge Coins and be treated to food and drink. We very much appreciate Wheelabrator’s sponsorship and the many Saugus and out-of-town restaurants and businesses who have agreed to make donations of food. We also appreciate the support of the Saugus Veterans Council. We think this will be a fun community event and encourage all to attend.”

A Commemorative Ceremony will take place on the baseball field starting at 11 a.m.

Parachutists and the landing and display of a Massachusetts National Guard Army Blackhawk helicopter will highlight the ceremony. Invited to participate in the ceremony are federal, state and local officials, military officials, sports celebrities, the clergy, singers and many more. A torch-lighting, a balloon release and music will be part of the ceremony. Free American flags will be distributed to everyone.

Following the ceremony the U.S. Navy Band will present a concert. This will be followed by a baseball game played between Army (West Point) and an as yet to be determined opponent. The Annual Saugus Alumni Baseball Game will also be played.

Other elements of the all-day event include a military vehicles display, a classic cars display, drill teams and marching units, military reenactments and displays, a parade of motorcycles, and a large American flag displayed from a fire ladder truck.

Two other ceremonies will also take place. One will be an unveiling and dedication of a POW/MIA stadium seat. The other will be the Annual Ceremony Honoring POWs and MIAs and will be conducted by the Saugus Veterans Council.

In addition to the Navy Band, all-day entertainment will be performed by Tom Rosa and Company, The Senior Tones, and Beat ConnXtionz Dance Company. A moon bounce and costumed characters will provide entertainment for the children. Booths, raffles and lots of food and drinks round out the event.

   

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