“What is the Somerville Wire,” the school reopening plan, and a new life science building.
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An incident prompts scrutiny, while councilors struggle with the fairness of the hiring system.
Defending the decision to keep capacities low, Curtatone calls the governor’s approach “blood calculus.”
WHAT IS THE SOMERVILLE WIRE?
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City expands eligibility for Small Business COVID-19 Relief Program
While the city of Somerville launched Round 3 of its COVID-19 Business Relief Program in January, it is expanding eligibility criteria for the program, as of February 11. More than $1.5 million in aid has been awarded to 118 businesses since January. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and more small businesses and nonprofit organizations will be able to be considered.
Businesses with a demonstrated connection to gyms, theaters, event spaces, or other sectors “facing government-directed closures and whose revenues have decreased by at least 50% in the past” will be able to apply. Those eligible include restaurants, indoor entertainment establishments, indoor recreation spaces, sports facilities, and fitness centers. They must be located in Somerville and must have been established before April 1, 2020. They also may be awarded up to $25,000 and capped at an amount equal to two months of rent/mortgage expenses. The businesses must have remained open as of December 1, 2020, temporarily closed, or would have been open on December 1, if it were not for state or city mandated closure.
When the City launched round 3 of the program in January, it allocated an additional $5 million for businesses “facing government-mandated closures, including restaurants and businesses in phase 3 and phase 4 of the Commonwealth’s Reopening Massachusetts plan.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, the City has allocated $6,750,000 in emergency aid and waived $750,000 in fees for small businesses.
Schools move forward with reopening plan
The Somerville School Committee unanimously voted to approve the Memorandum of Agreement with the Somerville Educators Union to begin phased in-person learning on February 17. For certain groups, in-person learning will start the first week of March.
Selected populations of highest-need special education students will begin phase 2A on March 4. These students will come into classrooms four days a week and learn remotely on Wednesdays. On March 18, additional special education students, English Learner (K-8), Multilingual Learning Lab students (9-12), and Next Wave/Full Circle students will follow the same plan. On March 25, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, Somerville Child Care Center students, and additional special education populations will begin a hybrid-learning model. From April 1-29, students in grades 1-8 will also begin hybrid learning.
While the road to reopening has been a long one, SEU president Rami Bridge said that it was critical for teachers and students to feel secure before reentering the buildings, making sure their health was not put at risk. To this end, Bridge said that he is satisfied with the agreement that was reached.
“From the beginning, we as educators made our concerns very clear, and the School Committee listened to our concerns,” said Bridge. “Through the negotiating process, we were able to design a framework that will ensure the health and safety of students and educators and make sure everyone feels confident and comfortable going back.”
In a School Committee meeting held on February 22, the City’s Director of Infrastructure and Asset Management Rich Raiche said that portable air filters will be installed in the school buildings before students reenter. The City owns a number of portable air filtration units. The plan to use them came about when problems with the schools’ ventilation systems were discovered, with Honeywell International Inc. having been the company in charge of the HVAC systems.
“About 285 issues were identified in total,” said Raiche, in the meeting. “[Several] are maintenance items that are easily addressed and addressed quickly.” He added, “But there are 98 capital improvement items the vast majority of which are at the Winter Hill School. These are big items for us to address and we need additional assistance from HVAC engineers.”
Plans for new life science building progress
Somerville’s Urban Design Commission held a meeting exploring plans for the development of a new life science work complex, on February 9. The building will be located in the Brickbottom District, and the current proposal shows two projects, 28 Fitchburg and 28 Chestnut, which will be joined into one long structure. It will be situated along the MBTA tracks at the southern end of Chestnut Street, near the Brickbottom Artists Lofts.
According to an article in the Somerville Times, the complex will “support lab, office, and retail space for pedestrians at the ground level.” Sarah Lewis, director of planning and zoning, said that the team anticipates that the proposal will bring new jobs to the neighborhood. There has also been discussion “of new open spaces and possible connections across the GLX tracks,” she wrote. The planning and zoning division is currently working with the Brickbottom neighborhood and the Ward 2 city councilor J.T. Scott to determine a “Vision Plan” for the area.
“The Vision Plan is contemplating these larger concerns – the network connectivity, potential civic spaces, and possible locations for increased density,” wrote Lewis. “This work effort includes all modes of mobility, with particular attention to the increase of pedestrians traveling to and from the GLX station given the current lack of sidewalks. She added, “We are also interested in the architectural character of new development being reflective of the manufacturing and industrial heritage of the area. There has already been discussion around methods to retain the cobblestone area of Fitchburg Street in addition to possible materials of new construction.”
Lewis explained that the location of the loading dock and parking entrance had been concerns in initial meetings. There may be some challenges around traffic circulation to work through, as the proposed building would also “bring more foot traffic and possibly more vehicular traffic than the archiving facility that was previously in this location.”
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.