CA Roundup: Potential Chestnut Hill Road closure; NSBORO on Masking, Mascots, Food shortages, Exploring Languages, and Bus Tracking

by beth on November 24, 2021

Community Advocate staff covered a discussion in a recent Select Board meeting and several topics from recent school committee meetings that I haven’t had a chance to cover. Here are highlights and links. 

For the first story, I’m adding some context that wasn’t included in the weekly paper’s article.

Chestnut Hill Road residents’ request

Chestnut Hill residents want portions of road closed to traffic

Earlier this month, I wrote about the discussion scheduled between Chestnut Hill Road residents and the Select Board on the petition to close the one way section of the road. I haven’t had time to write a follow up story, but the CA did. 

The bottom line is that the Board wasn’t convinced to take action but is willing to consider the request. First, residents need to address the Fire chief’s concerns and assess how much resolving the issues would cost:

If portions of the road are closed to through traffic, [Fire Chief Steven Achilles] said the fire department would require an appropriate-sized cul-de-sac or turnaround for fire apparatus at the point of closure on both ends.

At the meeting, the fire chief noted that fire trucks must have the ability to turn around on dead-end roads.

“It’s not practical to back down to Main Street,” he added.

Beals mentioned there is a parking lot across from where he lives as a potential spot to turn. If roadway improvements are made, rather than the closure, it would only result in more speeding vehicles, he said.

Braccio questioned where fire apparatus would turn when the parking lot has cars in it.

Select Board member Martin Healey said he is against the proposal and that residents had not made a “compelling case” about the need for a closure.

Beals and other residents said that the road is dangerous for pedestrians, children getting off school buses, bicyclists and people walking dogs as well as individuals pushing baby carriages. In addition, vehicles sometimes drive the wrong way down the road—creating a hazard for other cars.

Beals said the board should “welcome the opportunity to avoid serious accidents and prevent collisions from happening.”

Resident Brian Dugdale noted that finding an engineering solution for the turnaround was doable. (read more)

Worth adding that wasn’t in the story. . .This summer, the Select Board discussed a similar potential plan for Northborough Road – a road closed to throughway vehicle traffic but open to passive recreation.

In discussing the potential closing of Chestnut Hill Road, residents and officials seemed to assume that Northborough Road’s culvert will be repaired and the road reopened as an alternate route. The pass through road has been closed off since late spring when the culvert was determined to be unsafe for vehicles to continue using.

Chestnut Hill Road residents submitted a petition in September (that was started in May) to turn a section of their road into a paved passive recreation area. A month prior, Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan presented to the Board the concept of converting Northborough Road into a paved passive recreation area.

In August, Galligan posited that money could be saved on repairs to the deteriorated culvert by converting it into a stream bed, creating two dead end roads. Select Board members voiced support for the concept. The idea was floated of creating a footbridge instead of one to support cars and trucks. The Board asked Karen to flesh out what the cost difference would be between a full repair and the alternative. There’s no record of that being updated in public meetings since.

An Article to fund work on Northborough Road was proposed to be included on the Special Town Meeting Warrant earlier this fall. Updated details apparently weren’t available at the time of Select Board discussions and it eventually fell off the list. The concept wasn’t raised during the November 3rd discussion of Chestnut Hill Road.

In the Board’s November 16th meeting, Town Administrator Mark Purple told the Board that State Senator Jamie Eldrige earmarked $70K of the state’s ARPA funds to be used for the culvert repairs. That wasn’t included yet in the House version. Since then, state congress failed to reconcile the House and Senate versions before their long recess. (Even if the earmark makes it into the version that ultimately passes, earmarked funds don’t always translate to actual funding.)

School Updates

The following stories all relate to Southborough schools and/or Algonquin.

Northborough/Southborough school official recommends no flexible masking before Jan. 15

Despite Algonquin being one of a handful of schools with the 80% vaccination rate qualifying it to opt out of face masks, the district’s Director of Wellness Mary Ellen Duggan is advocating to keep students masked through the holidays. She recommends reevaluating the situation two weeks after December break, when the state’s mask mandate may end: 

The Algonquin Regional High School school community may continue to mask at least until January following a recent recommendation by district staff.

This is despite an unsuccessful motion at a Nov. 17 Regional School Committee meeting by member Daniel Kolenda to immediately remove masks. . .

Although the other Regional School Committee members voted against the motion, some committee members voiced their support for removing masks at later dates or adopting similar policies to Hopkinton High School, which has implemented its own flexible masking model. . .

As Duggan offered [her] recommendation, the Medical Advisory Team had still recently discussed the details of a masking off-ramp for Algonquin.

The team decided on three criteria they would like the school to meet, including vaccination rates of over 80 percent, steady or decreasing case counts at the school and low to moderate community transmission rates as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 88 percent of Algonquin students are fully vaccinated.

Duggan said on Nov. 17 that there had been two COVID-19 cases over the past four weeks at Algonquin. That included three weeks with zero cases before two popped up in the past week. Duggan called these numbers “spectacular.”

They come in a year that has seen 58 total cases at the high school.

Community transmission rates, though, continue to be a sticking point.

“The case counts in Southborough were really high over the past two weeks,” Duggan said, Nov. 17. (read more)

School committee discusses process after study group narrows Algonquin mascot list

The mask policy wasn’t the only topic on which Kolenda disagreed with colleagues. He once again advocated reconsidering keeping the Tomahawk as a mascot. According to the paper, two school alumni also tried to convince the administration.

Regional School Committee member Daniel Kolenda recently asked if there was a desire for voices who want to keep the Algonquin Regional High School’s “Tomahawk” mascot in the meetings of a study group currently working to narrow options to replace the mascot

“I would suggest that they’ve been told that we voted the Tomahawk out,” said fellow School Committee member Paul Butka, in response. “If they were talking about the Tomahawk, there would be some level of time wasting on their part. They’ve been told it’s gone.”

That exchange took place in a recent School Committee meeting, Nov. 17, as school leaders continued discussion of the mascot and its proposed replacement. (read more)

As I previously shared, the Mascot Study group issued a survey asking for feedback on 9 choices to be narrowed down before students vote on the replacement. The article states that as of the meeting, they had already received nearly 1,400 responses. The group was scheduled to review the feedback on Monday. So expect an update soon.

Facing food shortages, Northborough/Southborough school administrators praise staff creativity

The article describes the district’s challenges with shortages of both food supplies and truck drivers to deliver them:

Facing food shortages, Food Services staff members at the Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough have rolled up their sleeves to get creative.

“We have had a couple of challenges, and, certainly these are a lot of well-known national issues and they do come to the boroughs,” Assistant Superintendent of Operations Keith Lavoie said during a Nov. 3 Northborough School Committee meeting. “We aren’t exempt from these things.” (read more)

Southborough’s Neary school launches new world languages program

The paper describes the World Language program as taught in Neary’s 4th and 5th grade classes. Students are introduced to Spanish and French twice a week. The concept was brought forward by a parents in 2018 and further explored by a study group led by Neary’s Principal Kathleen Valenti. The budget for hiring a dedicated teacher was introduced for this school year:

Valverde Collado, who is from Madrid, was hired then through a new partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Early and Secondary Education and the Education Department of the Consulate of Spain. . .

Valenti described the program as a foreign language exploratory program.

“This is really building a solid foundation and a launching point for our students as they transition to the foreign language programs at Trottier [Middle School],” Valenti said. . .

Valenti said the program is less about language acquisition and more about exposing the students to other cultures and countries.

“They’re exploring other cultures and countries, learning about music, traditions, languages and lifestyles,” Valenti said. (read more)

Northborough, Southborough schools roll out bus-tracking app

The Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough has launched an application where parents can track their child’s bus.

The app, entitled “Where is my kid,” uses GPS technology to track a student’s bus. (read more)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Concerned Resident November 24, 2021 at 9:26 PM

The idea to close Chestnut Hill to traffic is a violation of common sense. This town PAID for the preserved land and for people who cannot physically walk or bike due to health issues driving is the ONLY way to enjoy the scenery.

If anyone can get a petition to close roads due to speeding, let’s close Fisher and Parkerville just for starters

For people who cannot physically walk the trails, riding down the road is their only access — not because it is faster but because the ride is the essence of Southborough.

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