Photo Courtesy of the Stone Building Feasibility & Re-Use Committee

Hello, Lexington!

Good morning and welcome to this week’s LexObserver news roundup. 

It’s the last day of April which means Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month starts tomorrow. Here are a few events to look out for from the Chinese American Association of Lexington (CAAL):  

  • AAPI Art Exhibits and more at Cary Library: You can view AAPI photo and art exhibits featuring artwork from fellow Lexingtonians starting tomorrow until June 30, and you can meet the artists at a May 11 art reception. The library will also feature an AAPI book display throughout this month.
  • AAPI Food Cultures: Pre-order a cookbook featuring community members’ favorite recipes. Panelists will discuss “the nuances of food culture” at Cary Library May 24. This is also a great time to patronize AAPI restaurants.
  • Culmination Festival: An AAPI 5K Run ‘n’ Walk will take place May 30 at Lexington High School. Community members can also gather at the Field House for a celebration of AAPI history, art and food to cap off the month.

You can learn more about these events on CAAL’s AAPI Heritage Month Celebration website.

Now, this week’s news.

IN THIS ISSUE:

  • At this week’s School Committee Meeting, members unanimously approved Kidsborough as the new after school provider for Lexington Public Schools.
  • What’s the future of the Stone Building? Hopefully, “a 21st-century lyceum.”
  • Town Meeting wraps up with a vote NOT to have another vote on two previously passed articles.
  • COVID-19 Weekly Update: Cases decrease slightly in town, rise at Lexington Public Schools following spring break.
  • Community Announcements: Sign up for your Discovery Day Booth by this Monday, May 2; celebrate Independent Book Store Day with local authors at Maxima Book Center today; League of Women Voters First Friday next week; congratulations to two LHS National Merit Scholars.

At Tuesday’s School Committee Meeting, members unanimously approved Kidsborough as the new after school provider for Lexington Public Schools

Members acknowledged great work of Lextended, emphasized importance of listening to support of Kidsborough voiced by many special education families

  • A tough decision: After many public comments advocating for Lextended Day and Kidsborough respectively over the past couple of weeks, School Committee members unanimously approved awarding the elementary after school contract to Kidsborough as recommended by the review committee. All members acknowledged that this was a hard decision in light of the great work Lextended and their staff have done for the community over many years.

  • Hackett says the procurement process “worked as designed”: Superintendent Julie Hackett compiled an April 20 memo and Q&A about the state-governed Chapter 30B procurement process which includes details about how the process worked and what factors led to Kidsborough being awarded the contract. She pointed out that the longstanding relationship with Lextended Day could not be taken into consideration as the selection process has to be fair and competitive. A major factor in the selection of Kidsborough is their strong commitment to inclusion — the company employs a behavior specialist and staff are trained to support children with special needs. Kidsborough has provided care to children diagnosed with Asperger’s, Cerebral Palsy, ADHD, hearing impairment and other differences. 

  • Passionate community engagement: School Committee members acknowledged very high levels of community engagement in favor of both Lextended and Kidsborough — nearly rivaling the amount of input they got about redistricting previously, Chair Kathleen Lenihan said. Several community members spoke up Tuesday evening as well, including current and former elementary school parents and students, the Lextended Board president and current Executive Director, and even a little girl named Amelia who shared her love and appreciation for Lextended as a new kid in town this year.

  • Concerns about a for-profit company: Individuals who spoke in favor of Lextended cited personal formative experiences with the program and concerns about the process for awarding an after school contract, as well as fear of replacing a local nonprofit with an out-of-town for-profit entity. Hackett noted that Kidsborough, while for profit, is not a corporate behemoth either; it’s a family-owned company based in Hopkinton. The owner has conveyed her desire to become embedded in the Lexington community. They want to “be at Patriots’ Day,” Hackett said. Additionally, this contract has “no budgetary impact” on Lexington Public Schools, Hackett wrote in her memo; the increased rent Kidsborough has offered to pay will offset buildings’ operating costs, be collected by the Department of Public Facilities and “be accounted for in a Public Facilities Rental Revolving Fund,” per the LPS Facilities Use Policy. Because the contract does not impact the budget, the School Committee did not even technically have to vote to approve it; that said, Hackett wrote that “in this case it would be helpful for you to vote and take a position on this matter.” 

  • Prioritizing inclusivity for special education students: A couple of parents spoke in favor of switching to Kidsborough on the grounds of inclusivity, primarily for special education students. One parent, Casey Lan, said that since kids with special needs are in the minority, if majority support is always the factor determining which after school provider is awarded the contract, special needs students would never be heard. “The majority has to help the minority” became a point that multiple School Committee members emphasized in reflecting on their decision to vote in favor of Kidsborough. Lan, and at least one other parent, said that many special education students cannot currently access Lextended’s services, and believe Kidsborough will be able to provide access to more students, in part due to their employment of a behavior specialist. Hackett emphasized a desire to “manage expectations” and ensure parents understand that there will still be some special needs students Kidsborough cannot serve, in part due to capacity constraints which will continue to exist. Hackett expects the new program will provide the same total number of spots as Lextended did, but will not exceed that number, she added.

  • Lextended Board President asks for improved district communication moving forward: After the vote, Lextended’s Parent Board President Sarah Conrad asked that the LPS district work to improve communication in the future. Lextended had not received broad feedback about challenges with special education access, she said, and would have wanted more information about how to improve prior to this decision.

  • DEI in athletics: In other news from Tuesday’s meeting, Hackett outlined some steps LPS is taking in line with state initiatives to proactively embrace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in athletics, especially in light of disturbing accounts of negative behavior and experiences in other districts statewide. These steps include participation in upcoming conferences and workshops, a requirement beginning next fall that all Lexington interscholastic student athletes “read and sign the MIAA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Pledge,” and a policy effective immediately that calls for addressing, reporting and removing from the facilities any student-athletes, coaches or teams “who engage in or use discriminatory/ harassing/bullying actions, language, or behavior, or who is in possession of such signage or props.”

  • Outdoor lunches reinstated where possible as cases increase: In COVID news, Hackett said that “no surprise,” cases are rising following spring break; she’s not currently too concerned overall, but is encouraging lunch be held outside wherever possible. She believes in this practice even beyond COVID because “sunshine is good for the soul.” You can read about these topics and more, including exciting recognition for LPS music education, in her report.

  • No vote yet on Thursday v. Friday elementary half-days: The School Committee did not vote on the weekday of elementary half-days for the next school year. Hackett said more discussion with the teacher’s union (Lexington Education Association) about Thursday v. Friday needs to take place first. You can view the School Committee’s response to an LEA letter raising concerns about the previous SC vote to approve the calendar minus the half-days here.

What’s next for the Stone Building? Hopefully, “a 21st-century lyceum.”

The Stone Building Feasibility & Re-Use Committee plans to present a report to the Select Board in May.
 

  • What’s the Stone Building? The Stone Building is a historic building in East Lexington that has sat empty for more than a decade following damage from a burst pipe in 2007. A committee has been investigating potential uses for the building for over a year; on Wednesday, they presented their findings at their third and final virtual public forum attended by around 50 community members. Stone Building Feasibility & Re-Use Committee member Melinda Nasardinov explained the committee’s recommendations – including that, reflecting its roots, the building be used as a 21st-century lyceum and space for recognizing the history of slavery and abolitionism in Lexington. 

  • A rich history: “The Stone Building is believed to be one of the earliest lyceums in America,” according to the committee’s charge, which imbues the building with both architectural and historic significance. Built in 1833 by East Lexington civic leader Eli Robbins, the Stone Building has hosted eminent historical figures from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Henry David Thoreau. It served as a hub for abolitionist speakers at a time when they were not welcome elsewhere in Lexington and also hosted religious services. Prior to the burst pipe, the building had served as a branch library for over a century after owner Ellen Stone sold it to Cary Library. Today, it’s included in the National Register of Historic Places. 
  • Why did almost nothing happen to the building between 2007 and now? While a 2009 Historic Structure Report was prepared which included “detailed plans and cost estimates for rehabilitation…other than some basic stabilization no further improvements were made to the building,” committee member Carolyn Goldstein wrote in an email to LexObserver. When Select Board Chair Jill Hai convened the committee in late 2020, “she made it clear that the Town is really behind restoring this building,” Goldstein wrote. But to move forward on the building, and to justify public funding, the Town needed a “raison d’être” for the building. That’s where their committee came in. Previously, “In recent years it seems the Town has had competing priorities and the Stone Building hasn’t had the type of champion that restoring and reactivating it required,” Goldstein wrote.
     
  • Vision – a 21st-century lyceum: The committee has held multiple public forums, received community comments, met with community groups and reviewed detailed proposals to gauge interest in the shape of the Stone Building’s future. They found that five concepts rose to the top among nearly a dozen considered as best suiting the Stone Building’s past while providing maximum contemporary community benefit: a History Center or Museum; an Intercultural Center; a Center for Racial, Social, and Environmental Justice; a Branch Library; and a 21st-century lyceum. These recommendations should also meet the use specifications of owner Ellen Stone’s deed. The committee believes the Stone Building should become a space for gathering, lectures, exhibits about slavery and abolition, and a place to explore other histories less present in other parts of Lexington. It can provide a “third place” (gathering places other than the home or workplace) of use to local cultural and civic organizations, Town departments, local schools and community members – something the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee LexingtonNext has notedis sorely lacking in town.

  • Recommendations: The committee has currently reached three major conclusions: Lyceum should be the overarching theme of the building’s rejuvenation; the building is “a national historic treasure and urgently needs to be restored;” and the Town of Lexington and/or Library Trustees “should appoint or hire a coordinator” who leads the restoration efforts, spearheads fundraising and community engagement, and otherwise champions the building’s purpose and restoration. The building is currently stable despite not being used for 15 years, but is in need of rehabilitation. 
  • Community feedback: Several community members thanked the committee for their work to advance this vision and gather community feedback. In particular, residents expressed enthusiasm for the possibility of a place to focus on diversity and racial justice in town. Janel Showalter said she loved the recommendations; “I love the idea…of using [the lyceum] to tie the past to the present…I think that’s wonderful,” she said, adding that a space dedicated to the history of slavery and abolition in town as well as present-day DEI work will speak to a “broad range” of people in and beyond town who might be interested in “moving beyond what everyone knows about Lexington and talking about something different.” Additionally, “East Lexington has a history of being kind of a gateway to Lexington, and also to America, for a lot of immigrant groups – historically and in the present,” Tony Rotundo noted as another natural connection of the building to this mission. Amy Rosenstein encouraged the incorporation of a reading room into the space; she recalls the building’s previous use as a branch library fondly, she said. People also asked about parking, accessibility and the possibility of showing films. Jennifer Zacharis asked what the steps are to make the plan a reality. “I’m concerned that there is a chance that nothing will happen and the building may continue to sit empty,” she wrote in the Q&A. “We need to have a clear plan in order to move forward,” Nasardinov agreed. 
     
  • Next steps: According to the committee’s original charge, the Select Board hoped to receive a report in September 2021. It’s taken longer than that, Goldstein said, to fully develop this vision and gather sufficient community input in public meetings. The committee plans to present their findings in a report to the Select Board in May. They will also share recommendations with the Board of Library Trustees. Now that the committee has nailed down a vision grounded in community feedback for what the building should be, they’re drilling down into possible concrete next steps to make their vision a reality. They are outlining various possible public-private funding partnership structures for the Select Board’s consideration based on information they’re gathering from other towns about how they’ve handled historic buildings and to specify future phases for moving this project forward. “We’ve learned by looking closely at a number of case studies that historic structures are unique unto themselves and usually require customized solutions,” Goldstein wrote. “Our report will provide directions, but there will still be questions that need to be answered by the key players in town.” The committee ultimately hopes that the Stone Building will be open to the community in time for the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington in April 2025, Goldstein said.

Town Meeting wraps up

…with a vote NOT to have another vote on two previously passed articles.

  • Done until the fall: After more than three weeks, Lexington’s nearly 200 Town Meeting Members are getting their Monday and Wednesday nights back — Town Meeting wrapped up this Monday after a week-long hiatus for Patriots’ Day and spring break. What happened in the seventh and final session? Not that much – Town Meeting debated ‘reconsideration’ of two previously approved renovation/building articles around the Center Recreation Area (10e and 10f), but voted against actually reconsidering them.

  • The articles: You may recall that Article 10e appropriates $680,000 for the renovation of the Center Playground Bathrooms and Maintenance Building, and 10f appropriates $2.5M for hard court resurfacing of basketball and tennis courts at the Center Recreation Complex. Both articles originally passed in the second session of Town Meeting, though the Hard Court Resurfacing Article 10f passed by just a few votes. The only action taken Monday was a vote NOT to have another vote on the two previously passed articles.

  • The arguments: Members in favor of reconsideration argued that new information about “all options being on the table” for the new high school construction had come to light after the 10e and 10f votes, and worried the bathrooms and courts could fall within the footprint of the new high school, making investing in them now imprudent. A few TMMs also brought up the Town’s separate discussion about cutting down 37 beloved white pines adjacent to the courts, which the Town-contracted arborist found pose a risk, arguing that this context could be relevant to members’ votes on whether to renovate the courts. The majority of TMMs indicated by their ‘no’ votes on reconsideration that they did not believe there was sufficient new information to warrant a new vote on the two articles in question.

  • The final tally: Town Meeting resoundingly voted against actually holding new votes on those articles with 67 votes yes, 104 no and 5 abstaining. Moderator Deborah Brown soldiered through laryngitis to dissolve Annual Town Meeting 2022. “See you in the fall, I guess!” she said.

COVID-19 Weekly Update


Cases decrease slightly in town, rise at Lexington Public Schools following spring break

 

  • This week, Lexington had 83 new recorded COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, down from 93 the previous week. 
     
  • At Lexington Public Schools, cases noticeably rose following last week’s spring break but have not reached triple digits. In the week of April 14, 68 staff and students were absent who had tested positive, while 4 students were on quarantine; this week, as of April 28, no students were on quarantine, but 90 staff or students were absent who had tested positive.

Community Announcements 

  • Sign up for your Discovery Day Booth by this Monday, May 2 (from Eric Michelson, Lexington Retailers Association President): Sign up now for a booth at Discovery Day, Lexington’s “Town Day” Street Fair, held on Saturday, May 28 from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm. Massachusetts Avenue will be closed to vehicle traffic from Waltham Street to Meriam Street in order to host this much loved community street fair. A booth at this event will expose your organization to thousands of people. Sponsored by the Lexington Retailers Association and hosted by over 90 of Lexington’s businesses and civic organizations, this event lets people “discover” what our Town has to offer. A grant from the Town of Lexington has reduced the registration fee. Only Lexington-based businesses or organizations can participate. For more information and to register, businesses can click here; civic organizations can click here. The registration deadline for a Discovery Day booth is May 2.

  • Maxima Book Center hosting multiple local authors today: In honor of Independent Bookstore Day, Maxima Book Center is hosting several Lexington authors for book readings and signings from 10:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. today. You can view the full lineup and learn more here.

  • League of Women Voters First Friday Forum May 6 (from Jeanne Canale, LWV): The League of Women Voters will host their May First Friday Forum on May 6 at 9:30 a.m. via Zoom. The topic is an update on Emergency Preparedness in Lexington in Times of Climate Change with Fire Chief Derek Sencabaugh and IT Director Dorinda Goodman. This program is the eighth in the 2021-2022 First Friday Forum series hosted by the League of Women Voters to promote awareness and understanding of public policy issues, and will include a Q&A. You can find more information about the webinar once posted here.

  • Congratulations to two Lexington High School National Merit Scholars: Congratulations to Rajendro N. Dutta and LexObserver intern Sarah F. Liu on winning the National Merit Raytheon Scholarship and National Merit Bristol-Myers Squibb Company Scholarship respectively! You can learn more about the first group of winners in the 67th annual National Merit Scholarship Program here.

That’s a wrap for today. Was this roundup useful to you? What do you want to see in this email next week? Let us know, and please ask your friends to sign up and DONATE too! Reach out to sophie@lexobserver.org with tips and questions anytime. As always, you can also check out and share our website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages. Thanks so much for reading and have a great weekend!

With gratitude,
Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper and the LexObserver Team

Edited by Lauren Feeney

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.