I attended Monday night’s meeting at the building that will be the new Atrium School (69 Grove Street, formerly Wordstock, Wordsworth Books’ warehouse, and some other offices). The Atrium School presented its plans for the building to the neighborhood and invited questions and comments. On every seat there was a canvas bag with a coffee mug and two books about the history of the school. Here are my far too comprehensive notes (I’ll leave the editing to h2otown!).
Steve Middlebrook, who has been the school Director for six months began the meeting by asking everyone in the room to introduce themselves. I thought that was a great thing, especially for people like me who like to know who is listening before we talk. There were a lot of Crawford Street residents and some from Kondazian Street, the two streets that border the site. A number of the neighbors had been born and raised here and at least one had sent her child to The Atrium School. The Town Council was well represented by Mark Sideris, Angie Kounelis, Steve Corbett and John Donahue. Also there were Alan Shapiro, owner of nextdoor neighbor Delaney Linen Service, the traffic officer from the WPD, and of course, John Bartley.
Representatives of the school included a number of Watertown residents including the school’s administrator, the lawyer and at least a half dozen parents. I was told that about 10 out of the 80 families live in Watertown, the largest contingent from any town.
Atrium has taken a 20-year lease with three five-year extensions at Atrium’s discretion. They have an option to buy and an option for first refusal. They wanted to purchase the building but it was too expensive. Their goal was to get a long term space since they had been limited to three-year leases at the Browne School. I posted here about the tax implications.
After a brief introduction to the school, Jim Newman, head of The Atrium’s building committee explained how the site will be transformed beginning in March with a planned move-in in late August.
The biggest change will be the conversion of the huge parking lot into playing fields. The building will essentially turn its back on Grove Street and face the new green space and the neighborhood. This won’t happen all at once but eventually the houses on Crawford Street will be looking out on green grass and trees instead of black asphalt. Additionally, curbs and sidewalks will be installed around the back of the property from Kondazian to the school building. If I were a neighbor I would be jumping for joy.
The longest discussion was about the impact on traffic.
Instead of entering and exiting on Grove, cars will enter the property from Crawford and Kondazian Streets and only exit on Grove. A parking area will be located along the Kondazian Street edge of the property with an entrance there. Cars just coming through to pick up or drop off will enter from Crawford Street. Since most parents park and walk their kids into the building in the morning and then hang out for a little bit, this arrangement will break up traffic between the two entrances. There are no school buses except occasionally for field trips.
There are some bad traffic sites in the vicinity of the building. According to John Bartley, improvement of the five way intersection at Arlington/Nichols/Crawford/Coolidge Hill Road has been on the state list of projects for a while just waiting to be funded (Angie Kounelis circulated letters she wrote about this from 2003). The intersection of Grove and Arlington across from Tufts Healthcare is another problem spot. And during the morning rush hour cars back up Grove Street from where it enters Greenough Boulevard as far back as Kondazian Street. Angie Kounelis said there has been a promise to install signals at Grove and Greenough Blvd.
One Crawford Street resident said it was good that cars would exit on Grove since it’s so difficult to get from Crawford onto Arlington. Another agreed saying, “I remember when this was a full factory with tons of cars. And it wasn’t that difficult to get in and out when there was only one entrance to Grove, the back one was closed.” Another said that this traffic would be minor compared to the Aggregate site and the junkyard next to it. Another neighbor who is also an Atrium parent said that the parents will be much more cautious drivers than commuters would be. One resident suggested putting a stop sign at the intersection of Crawford and Kondazian because “cars fly on Crawford.”
A traffic consultant found that the school will add less traffic to Grove Street than the expected traffic if the property were continued to be used as an industrial site. It will add about 50 cars to the morning rush hour traffic (school drop off is between 7:30 and 9:00) on Grove Street and won’t add any to the evening rush hour because dismissal from school ends before then. Since the property has been underused for a while, it’ll be an increase from the current amount of traffic but the property could be used for an even greater commercial density than it has in the recent past when it’s been 1/3 warehouse and 2/3 offices.
Jim Newman, whose day job is running the Building Green web site, also explained the environmentally friendly plans for the building. For example, in the past, stormwater has run off the site into the neighborhood but the new landscaping will enable all the water (plus the water that flows onto the site from the higher Delaney Linen Service property next door) to be managed on the site. Some will be stored and used for irrigation. The building is being designed to use as little energy as possible with maximum use of daylight and insulation. The interior will manage dust and avoid toxic materials.
The Atrium said they are hoping the community will use the building and athletic fields as well. The back half of the building is being designed with auditorium space with its own entrance that could be used evenings and weekends. And, though they don’t have official approval from their insurance agent yet, the school expects to allow neighbors to park in their lot at night during the parking ban.
Future plans include expanding the school from 113 students to 150 over a number of years.
Angie Kounelis announced that the plans will be presented to the planning board on January 25. I suggested she post this on H2OTown but she proudly told me she refuses to go online, preferring only personal contact.