Skip to Content

First Public Hearing on Islington Redevelopment

by Dave Atkins

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing December 1, 2015, in the Islington Community Center Hall (ground floor) starting at 7:30pm on the special permit application for  301-315, 317, & 323 Washington Street. The permit application, traffic study and all other current permit applications can be found on the town website at this link.

Video: Watch the WestCAT video recording of the pre-permit discussion from August.

Help Keep WestwoodBlog Running

by Dave Atkins

I am asking for your financial support to keep WestwoodBlog running. I created the blog as a public service 8 years ago. I pay a monthly web hosting fee which I realize, over 8 years, has added up to over a thousand dollars. I have not upgraded the technology for a long time and would like to get the software on a currently-supported platform.

If you would like to see the blog continue, please consider a one-time donation. I'll use that money to lock in a low monthly rate for the next 3-6 years and redo the visual design with something that displays better on phones and is easier to read. I will update the blog more frequently, enable easier commenting through login integration with Facebook, and re-enable email notifications of new content. I am not a nonprofit, so unfortunately, donations are not tax deductible.

Scouting For Food

by Dave Atkins

On Saturday, November 7, Cub Scouts from Westwood will go to neighbors’ homes to distribute flyers for the annual nationwide Scouting for Food drive. All items collected are donated to the Westwood Food Pantry, located at the Senior Center. The Scouts will be asking residents to donate canned goods and other non-perishable food items. Residents will place these donations in bags and on their front steps for collection on Saturday, November 14th by 9am.
The Westwood Food Pantry is currently in need of the following items:

  • Canned/Jarred Fruit
  • Baking Products
  • Cleaning Products
  • Canned Meals (spaghetti, lasagna, raviolis)
  • Juices
  • Coffee
  • Tea Bags
  • Instant Coffee
  • Macaroni and Cheese

Please check the expiration date of any food item prior to submitting for donation. The Food Pantry cannot accept food that is out of date, so please check the expiration dates on food items.
Last year, the Westwood Cub Scouts collected over two tons of food for the Food Pantry, which serves between 50 and 60 Westwood families during the year. This collection represents a significant portion of the Food Pantry’s supplies for the year. According to the Westwood Food Pantry, supplies are low and this collection always comes at a time of greater need within the community.
Approximately 100 boys from Grades 1–5 participate in Cub Scouts in Westwood. Please join these boys and support this community service project by accepting these flyers on November 7 and leaving a food donation for collection on November 14. If your home is not visited and you would like to make a donation to the Westwood Food Pantry, please call (781-929-5850) or email Pack 1 Islington cubmaster Dave Atkins at Arrangements will be made for a Cub Scout to collect your donation.

Join the Westwood Young Women's Club

by Dave Atkins

The Westwood Young Women's Club is a community of local women interested in enriching the town of Westwood—and having fun while doing so. The group meets on the first Wednesday of every month.

The club plans events each year including Winterfest in December–a holiday celebration of arts, crafts, and games–plus a photo-with-Santa opportunity, an annual Easter Egg hunt, Touch-a-Truck in June, and the summer concert series at the Senior Center in July.

Like the club on Facebook and email for more information about joining.

Cub Scout Registration

by Dave Atkins
September 15, 2015 - 6:00pm - 7:30pm

Cub Scouts Ready to "Launch" New Year

Elementary school boys interested in cub scouts should not miss the town-wide registration and information session happening Tuesday, September 15, from 6-7:30pm at the First Baptist Church at 808 High Street. If you are unable to attend, contact the cubmasters for registration information which will also be available at elementary school curriculum night.

Cub scouts are open to all boys in grades 1-5. It is not necessary for a boy to have been involved in scouting in a prior grade; they are welcome to join in any year to complete the requirements for that rank. Pack meetings are once per month; boys meet weekly in their respective dens (e.g. Tigers, Wolves, Bears, and Webelos) for a wide range of activities as they complete achievements towards earning the badge for their rank.

Westwood has two very active packs organized around the school districts: Pack 1 Islington (Hanlon and Downey Schools) and Pack 1 Westwood (Sheehan, Deerfield, Martha Jones). One of the highlights of the scouting program in Westwood is a campout where boys and parents pitch tents, build a campfire, roast marshmallows and go on a night hike or other activity. Other activities throughout the year include a rocket launch, collecting food for the Westwood Food Pantry, and the town-wide pinewood derby. Those who are unable to attend the registration and parents interested in volunteering should contact cubmasters Dave Atkins (Islington) ( or Alex Goodwin (Westwood) ( for more information.

East Street Bridge Design Underway

by Dave Atkins

In my capacity as chair of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee, I was invited to attend a meeting last Thursday where bridge design consultants met with town officials to discuss redesign of the infamous East Street bridge. Our town departments were unanimous in their desire to see a design that includes ample sidewalks on either side. The issue of bicycles is bit trickier because to include bike lanes (which do not exist on East Street yet) would require almost doubling the width of the opening. The design consultants will consider the dimensions and their implications with respect to the abutments and neighboring property. I believe that a protected (e.g. with some physical curb/barrier), multi-use sidewalk is preferable to bike lanes and narrow sidewalks: if we can make the sidewalks ample enough for pedestrians to be safe and then encourage vulnerable bike users (e.g. kids going to Morrison field) to use this same path, it would probably serve all users well.

Widening the opening is critical to improving the connectivity of the neighborhood. Years ago, residents opposed the MBTA's plan to fix this bridge because they feared it would damage the character of the neighborhood to have a big opening like what is under the tracks at Everett Street, about a half mile south. Over the years, some have supported the current situation as a sort of perverse form of traffic calming and justice against trucks they don't believe should be allowed on the street. However, the current bridge is also a community barrier, dividing Islington into the Downey and Hanlon (school) districts. When the bridge is rebuilt and a safe passage for pedestrians and bikes opened, I believe we will create a more connected community with more people crossing back and forth...going to Morrison field on foot instead of driving and parking in the CVS lot, and perhaps walking down to Roche Bros, Wild Blossom, the Post Office, and barbershop.

However, the fundamental issue for the East Street Bridge is the low 10' 6" clearance and the dozens of truck accidents that happen every year. The MBTA's goal is to raise the bridge to 14' 6" which requires finding four feet of vertical space.

There is not likely much room to go down. The town lowered the roadway a few inches to help fire trucks pass and found buried sewer lines and various pipes that would be complicated to disrupt. (You don't want to mess with the sewer line or residents are likely to experience a different sort of "back-up" than currently results from traffic accidents.)

The most obvious way to increase the clearance is to raise the track. As I reported earlier in my post with information from the MBTA, they believe this would affect the track "for miles," requiring the Islington station platform to be raised which would then trigger requirements that the station be built to current accessibility standards. Suddenly it's a $32 million project (in addition to the bridge itself). But why? If we need to raise the track by 4 feet, then we need to increase the grade/slope of the track. For example, with a .5% grade increase, the track would ramp up 1/2 foot for every 100 feet leading to the bridge. With 800 feet of track, you could achieve a 4 foot rise.

The Islington station platform is located approximately 700 feet from the start of the bridge. There may be other engineering factors I've not considered, but it would seem that some elevation, maybe not the full 4 feet, is possible without touching Islington station. If a greater grade is tolerable, then it would seem mathematically possible to raise the track.

Westwood town administrator Mike Jaillet introduced another idea that he pressed the MBTA to consider. Apparently, for many years, the town has been interested in the possibility of moving Islington station south closer to Everett street. Mr Jaillet suggested there is a developer interested in building a primarily residential property in the area of Everett Street who might be motivated to collaborate on a transit-oriented development.

There was some enthusiasm for the relocation idea--based in part on the assumption that residents would prefer a new project be done away from the neighborhood. Some claim that the population density at the new location is better for a train station. I personally believe moving Islington station to the industrial area on Everett street, next to Progressive Insurance and across from Norwood senior housing would be a huge setback for walkability in Islington. Moving 1/2 mile puts the station more than a mile away from most Islington residents; while it would be a short drive, it is no longer walkable.

I do not have specific details on this station relocation idea--and it is important to remember that it is not the focus of the bridge redesign, but only a possible solution to the problem that would exist if raising the tracks requires rebuilding the station. The design firm will likely answer the engineering questions and present options and alternatives for further discussion. Town representatives will remain involved throughout the design process and public hearings will be held at various points in the design process to solicit resident feedback. Even if the relocation idea were to be actively considered, it could not be funded as a part of the bridge redesign.

Progress on East Street Bridge

by Dave Atkins

Here is yet another video of a truck crash from last week at the East Street bridge:

I contacted the project manager for the MBTA who is working on the project to replace this bridge and asked why it takes so long to get anything done. His response gives some insight into why it's not just a matter of getting out there and starting construction:

Survey work and soil borings are expected to start next week (first week of September 2015). Survey crews will take exact measurements of existing conditions, and soils engineers will take soil samples for analysis.

We are currently in the 0-15% Type Study phase of the project. In this phase the engineer will take all the existing data (measurements, soils, traffic, roadway utilities, train schedules) and come up with three options for the type of bridge. Bridge needs to be raised and widened. A report will be submitted by year’s end.

Next will be the 15%-30% design phase. In this phase, the bridge type has been chosen, and presented for initial review and comment by all parties involved: internal MBTA departments, other rail agencies (Keolis, CSX, etc) , Town of Westwood, utility companies. All of these meetings and comments are incorporated into the next phase in the design process.

Next comes the 30%-60% design phase. In this phase, major design issues are resolved, specifications are assembled, and construction funding is requested.

Finally, the 60%-100% design phase. In this phase, the contract drawings and specifications go out to bid, eventually a contractor is selected to construct the bridge.

Construction of the bridge begins, and could last up to two years depending on the type of design and implementation for construction chosen.

Below is a listing of some of the items that need to be considered for this project:

  • Raise bridge or lower roadway and widening? If we raise bridge we raise tracks; this happens for many miles. What happens at Islington Station with raised tracks? New station to be brought up to latest codes ($30M) where money coming from to fund a new station? Now we need to design new station; this will take more time and money for design if we choose this option? If we lower road; what utilities in the road are affected? Water, sewer, drains, gas, electric, new drainage system for the road, neighbor’s driveways, how to access them? What is this cost? Who will pay for it? Do we need to purchase property to widen bridge? What is the cost, who pays for this land?
  • Bridge make-up and construction? Steel, concrete, pre-stressed concrete bridge? What is the span? How will it be constructed? Design drawings and calculations check and review. Shop drawings submitted checked and fabrication of bridge components. Is it staged construction; half built at a time? What about vehicular traffic; what about rail traffic? How is Islington Station affected? Where does all the construction equipment and supplies get stored? How long will this take? What are the cost differences?

School Committee Adopts Plan to Consolidate Elementary Schools

by Dave Atkins

Update: since I originally wrote this, the DRAFT meeting minutes upon which I based the headline were discussed by the school committee and remain in a draft form because committee members felt the minutes gave an inaccurate impression that the plan was finalized, when in fact the committee was stating a preference and authorizing the process to move forward. Subsequent meetings of the school committee recorded by WestCAT can be viewed online at and more details including summary presentations are available at the school website here:

At its June 23 meeting, the Westwood School Committee unanimously adopted a plan to close the Sheehan and Deerfield Elementary Schools, clear the woods behind the Hanlon School, and construct a new, $45 million 550-student elementary school. Upon completion of the new school, the Hanlon would be razed and replaced with a parking lot.

The choice is part of an overall plan to address the capital needs of the school district and to deal with the reality of declining enrollments and buildings constructed in the 1950s that require basic maintenance and upgrades that will cost at least $60 million just to maintain the status quo. No immediate actions will be taken; the vote is the beginning of a community process that will take years to complete. According to the meeting notes, "There is a tremendous amount of vetting that needs to be done and this is truly a community decision."

Click this link to read the 325-page report

The report is a comprehensive and thorough analysis of the current state of facilities and a demographic analysis projecting enrollment patterns into the next decade. The continuing migration/exodus of graduating seniors overwhelms the in-migration of new families, resulting in a long-term demographic trend of declining enrollments across all districts. Total enrollment is forecasted to decrease by 153 students, or -4.8%, between 2014-15 and 2019-20. Total enrollment will decline by 159 students, or -5.2%, from 2019-20 to 2024-25. According to the report,

Westwood Public Schools will continue to experience significant in-migration (movement of new young families into the district) over the next 10 years. However, the size and age structure of the pool of potential in-migrants will change and the effects of the in-migration of families on population growth will be greatly offset by the continued steady growing out- migration of young adults as graduating seniors continue to leave the district.

The impact of the changing demographics on individual schools can be seen on pages 79-80 of the report. Over the next ten years, enrollment at the Sheehan will decrease from 373 to 292; the Deerfield will decrease from 247 to 223; Downey is expected to lose 45 students. In 2025, the Downey will be smaller than Hanlon is today.

Declining enrollments do not mean our elementary schools will become ghost towns overnight. But the capital needs of the existing buildings mean that maintaining and providing the same level of service is going to become much more expensive per student. The study evaluated the physical infrastructure at each school, and while our elementary schools are in generally good shape, they are nearing the end of their useful lives and lack handicapped accessibility requirements. Increasingly, basic maintenance will become more and more expensive. The study presents an options grid on page 17 which shows how to simply maintain the status quo will cost over $60 million. The option C-1e adopted by the School Committee, including renovations to the remaining schools would cost $79 million.

Read the report. My personal opinion is that bussing kids from Grove Street and Burgess--and the likely reality of many parents driving their kids across town every day--will have a severe impact on traffic. Tripling the size of the Hanlon will be a dramatic change to the community--while it may have the positive impact of bringing the town closer together, it will be a shock to our neighborhood, not to mention the end, or at least relocation of the incredibly strong Sheehan community. I have less personal knowledge of the Deerfield, but I know one of the greatest strengths of our community is how personal our schools are. Creating a large combined school is a big change.

This decision and this report should provoke constructive discussion. Superintendent John Antonucci was happy to provide the report to me and offered to print a copy; I believe the people who have spent many hours thinking about these issues have the best interests of our community at heart. I do not believe anyone is trying to hide anything or rush the process. I hope sharing the report will inform and make for a productive discussion over the coming months and years as we decide what to do.

July Public Works Update

by Dave Atkins

Here's the next installment of the Public Works Update. This episode includes a brief update from Todd Korchin on the projects underway this summer and fall, and a discussion of energy efficiency projects from Tom Philbin, the town's energy manager.

Concept Plans for Islington

by Dave Atkins

The owner of 301-315, 317, and 323 Washington Street will meet with the Planning Board on August 18 in a Pre-Application Conference to review a concept proposal. The preliminary plans (see attached files below) will reconfigure the parking lot, upgrade the facade of the building currently housing the Islington Pizza, U.S. Post Office, and Wild Blossom, and replace the adjacent buildings with a 3-story building containing commercial tenants on the first floor and 16 one bedroom apartments on floors 2-3.

The developer is presenting the concept plans to get feedback before preparing a formal permit application. The same developer owns the other properties--the Cafe Diva/Barbershop building and the CVS/Crown Cleaners--but has not developed concept plans for these locations yet.

The August 18 meeting of the Planning Board is at 7:30pm at 50 Carby Street and is open to the public. It will be recorded and broadcast by WestCAT.

For more information, follow the link to the previous article on overall development of Islington Center.

Syndicate content