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Boxborough

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Current Edition - 3/01/24

Acton/Maynard

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Previous Edition - 2/23/24

Boxborough

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Previous Edition - 2/23/24
Emerson Health Wellness Winter Classes

HEADLINES

25th Annual AB Community Skate FUNdraiser
is March 3

25th Annual Skate Party – Ice Skating, DJ, refreshments.  Sunday, March 3, 2:30pm-4:30pm at Nashoba Valley Olympia (rink #3), Boxborough.  All ages & skating abilities welcome + non-skater supporters too. Come learn about AB PIP STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) & our new STEAM (+ ART) vision!
 
Suggested donation is $5/pp, $20/family. Bring food pantry donations & items for Acton Housing families. ALL proceeds benefit Acton area causes: local food pantries, AB STEAM, wellness & eco causes thanks to the generous support of Nashoba Valley Olympia for ice rink time. Colonial Figure Skating Club (CFSC) members & teen volunteers will guide newbie skaters too! NEW this year One27 Photographer Lou Genovese will take professional 25th Annual event skate photos!
 
Thank you to Annual AB Community Skate supporters: NVO, Colonial Figure Skating Club, Cookes Skate Rentals, Acton Coffee, Legend Café, Edible Arrangements of Westford, Oscar's Burrito in Boxborough, Eve & Murray's Farm to Table, Bee's Knees British Imports & All Things Spiced Acton for hospitality donations + acanthi.com, Market Dynamics, UPS Store Acton, One27 Photo and Action Unlimited for event media & communications!
 
See you on March 3 for this AB Community FUNdraising event! More info at actonpip.org.
 

Q&A with BA-B’s new program director: What’s new with crew?

by Jill Maxwell

ACTON/BOXBOROUGH: The winter days are short and dark. The pond is frozen. To stay fit and have fun, the Bromfield Acton-Boxborough rowing team has to get creative. BA-B parent Jill Maxwell sat down with the team’s new program director, CB Sands-Bohrer, to hear about what they’ve been up to. 
Sands-Bohrer, who lives in Concord, rowed for the U.S. national team for eight years and is a two-time world champion. After working at Community Rowing, Inc. (CRI) for 17 years, Sands-Bohrer said, “I felt like I really wanted to be  on a team again.” When she heard about the position at BA-B, she jumped at the chance to work with Olympians Holly Hatton and Gary Piantedosi, who coach the varsity girls and boys. She knows Hatton well through the national team, and she ran a charity regatta for Access Sports America with Piantedosi for 10 years. “I felt like I knew before I came in that it would be a good fit and a good challenge. And high school kids are super fun.”

Congratulations and welcome, CB. You are new here, but BA-B recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. 
Yes. We had an anniversary party with several alums and former board members. Some were from as far back as when the program started at the Bromfield School prior to it becoming BHRA in 1993. A few of the recent grads spoke to the group about the different college rowing programs they are competing on now. It was a great way to get to know the history and hard work that went into making this program tick.

Rowing is all the rage these days, thanks to George Clooney’s “Boys in the Boat” movie. Tell us about the team’s special screening. 
In December, before the movie came out, we were able to rent a theater in Burlington. We got everyone together, the younger kids and the older kids, the boys and the girls. We just wanted to do something fun that was consistent with our team values of working hard and challenging yourself. It was a good message about somebody who starts rowing in college and works through adversity and makes it to the Olympic final and wins a gold medal. Kids might not be doing that, but they can understand the challenge of taking up a totally new sport, getting strong, and challenging yourself against yourself and your friends. 

How are the kids challenging themselves this winter? 
For the past four years the team has been lifting weights and working out on the ergometers (rowing machines, or “ergs”) in empty stores at the Gould’s shopping plaza in Acton. We work on strength, endurance, and technique. We can really work one-on-one with athletes more than we can in a launch on a pond where we can’t use megaphones. This year we did a “meters challenge” in January. We had 26 kids and two coaches row 3 ½ million meters. We had a lot of kids get over a quarter of a million meters. And now, over February break, some of the kids are going to Florida to train there for a week–some of our most competitive athletes and our seniors. Kids that are here will spend the week at the indoor rowing tanks at Holy Cross in Worcester. 
Another thing we did, for the first time, was an MLK Day of Service food drive. USRowing encouraged people to do some kind of service on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Donelan’s in Acton was very welcoming and supportive, and the kids just jumped right in. They handed out a little card to the shoppers. We didn’t want to interrupt them; we just wanted them to know they could pick something up while they shopped. We donated half the food to the Acton Food Pantry and half to Loaves & Fishes in Devens. We weighed it at Devens–we collected 810 pounds of food! It’s definitely something we want to do again. We thought we’d challenge another team at the high schools to do it with us. 

Excellent! When do they get to compete in rowing again? 
Sunday, March 3, is Ergzilla, which is an indoor race on the ergs that we run at Bromfield for our kids and the other local teams. And we have six or seven races on the water in April and May. In rowing, everyone races. No one sits on the sidelines. So it’s always a big, fun, team event.

What goals do you have for the team for this upcoming racing season? 
From a competitive point of view, part of our goal is always going to be to have a robust number of kids do well. Last year we took three boats to nationals. We’d like to do that again–to make it to nationals and be relevant. The kids can feel confident that they can make it through the heats make it through the semis. We have had boats finish in the  top 10 in the country. That’s pretty good for a little public school program. So we want to keep that high level of performance. 

What would you say to someone who wants to give rowing a try?
Rowing is not like hockey or football, where you have to start young. You can try it for the first time in high school and go on to row in college. We have had kids who started rowing with us, worked hard, and then got recruited. You can start as a sophomore or junior and progress to varsity your senior year. It is a great sport for somebody who is looking to stay in shape for whatever winter sport they are doing. It’s also a great sport for someone trying to change or learn a new sport. If you’re someone who is 13, 14, 15, 16, and you’re looking for something different to do, to build strength and endurance, meet new people, and make new friends, this is fun. You’re outside, you’re on the water. It’s really a wonderful experience for kids to get out on the water five days a week. When I was at CRI, we did athlete feedback four times a year, and now we are doing it at BA-B. And whether it was middle school, high school, learn-to-row, or masters or pararowers, people always said, “I just love being outside on the water.”

Registration for the spring season is now open at barehillrowing.com. The team will host information sessions at Bromfield High School after school on February 28 and at the Sargent Library in Boxoborough on the evening of February 29. Email Sands-Bohrer at programdirector@barehillrowing.com with questions.
Snake.rickroth.1

Snakes of New England & the World with Rick Roth March 17

ACTON: Acton Conservation Trust presents Snakes of New England and the World with Rick Roth at their Annual Meeting on March 17. This will be held at Acton Town Hall, Room 204 from 1-3pm with a short business meeting first.

Rick Roth, local snake expert and Director CAVPT, will share some of his favorite snakes and talk about their lives and habits in this live animal presentation. Fourteen species of snake are native to New England, and Rick will speak to preserving habitat and land and the important role snakes play in our ecosystem. This program is appropriate for families with children aged 5 and older.

John Watlington has been the land steward for the 180 acre Great Hill Conservation Land since 2014 and is currently Steward at Large, working where needed in all Acton conservation lands. He gives informative monthly talks about invasive plants, and is also a sawyer, keeping the trails cleared of downed trees following storms.

For more information and registrations, visit ActonConservationTrust.org.
Unnamed

Collage Night at the Windsor Institute

WEST ACTON: On February 23 from 7-10pm, you are invited to attend "Collage Night" at the Windsor Institute. Get creative! Make a piece of art or collage a box, bookmark, or gift tag - or just watch! Supplies will be available including lots of interesting paper, cardboard, calendars, magazines, plus glue, scissors, markers, pens, etc. Everything is provided, but feel free to bring anything else that you wish to work with or share... or just bring yourself! Please RSVP.

Park on the even side of Windsor Ave., in the driveway, or in the small parking lot on Pearl St. Let us know if you need to get picked up from the South Acton train station.

Windsor Institute is a non-profit based in Acton, and draws attendees from around the region. The Institute hosts, classes, events and visiting artists and scholars in a private home in West Acton, and
welcomes new people to its community. For more information, email windsor-owner@lists.mayfirst.org or call Karen at (617) 875-1790.
Agc

Acton Garden Club Floral Design Demonstration

ACTON: On March 5, the Acton Garden Club will present a Floral Design Demonstration with judging by Thelma Shoneman and Cathy Fochtman at Acton Town Hall, Room 204. The program and location has been changed, different from how the program was described in the yearbook.

AGC's own Thelma Shoneman will demonstrate winning floral design techniques. Learn what a typical Flower Show theme and categories might be like. As she creates several arrangements, Thelma will explain what the judges look for when they are reviewing a design. Cathy Fochtman will be assisting Thelma and will show slides of arrangements from past shows. A few lucky audience members will take home Thelma's creations.

This is a great opportunity to increase your confidence to participate in a Flower Show, or come to improve your arranging skills for your own enjoyment. The program is open to the public. For more information, visit actongardenclub.org.
Greenmaynard

Green News from Green Maynard

MAYNARD: As towns become more dense and lighting options more affordable there is a notable increase in the amount of light pollution. It may surprise you to learn that only 30 years ago, on any clear night one could easily see the Milky Way. This is no longer the case. Light pollution is harmful to many animals, including mammals, birds and insects who rely on natural cycles of light and dark to regulate their behavior. Light pollution also disrupts migration; interferes with reproduction cycles; changes predator-prey dynamics as well as pollination patterns and seed dispersal, therefore affecting plant populations and overall health of ecosystems. Many insects, (which are necessary as food for baby birds), are attracted to lights and expend needless energy, exhausting  themselves, flying  around the lights and become vulnerable to predators. You can help by not having unnecessary lights on at night, and when you must use outdoor lighting, be sure to use a warm (think yellow hued) bulb, as insects are more attracted to blue hued lights. For more information visit
darkskymass.org.
117 to stow photo

Maynard Hometown Heroes Banners - Phase 4

MAYNARD: The Maynard Hometown Heroes committee is now accepting applications for all Maynard veterans that would like to purchase a banner. Phase 4 is now open. Any Maynard-based veteran, whether native or a new resident is welcome to be part of the program. If the Veteran, or Active Military person were born and raised in Maynard but does not currently reside in Maynard would also qualify. The deadline for placing your order is March 15, 2024. Applications are available at the Town Hall on the tables upstairs and downstairs, the library, the Council on Aging office, and at the Maynard-Clinton Lodge of Elks, or you can go to: townofmaynard-ma.gov - the Town of Maynard website - and search Maynard Hometown Heroes. If you would like more information, you can email: MaynardHometownHeroes@gmail.com
Roy ditosti sailor kiss photo

“Military Mannequins” Photographs by Roy DiTosti

MAYNARD: 6 Bridges Gallery presents “Military Mannequins,” — photographs by Roy DiTosti. The exhibit will be on view at 6 Bridges Gallery, 77 Main Street from February 28-April 6. It will also be hosted online at 6Bridges.Gallery. (http://6bridges.gallery/6-bridges-gallery-updates.) A reception will be held on March 16 from 5-7pm.

Roy DiTosti has been going to military museums and exhibits for about 20 years. Many of the displays use mannequins to illustrate the lives of service men and women. The photographs in this show are the ones that he finds most intriguing. Some of them make him smile and some have the opposite effect. 
For more information about the exhibit, please visit 6Bridges.Gallery, Facebook, and Instagram.

6 Bridges Gallery was established in 2014 by a group of artists to create a retail and display gallery in the heart of downtown Maynard, Massachusetts. The ever-changing work in our gallery includes a diverse range of media and artistic styles. All of our artisans are local. Our gallery is owned and operated by our artists, so there is a unique opportunity to meet one or more of them on any given day.
Caucus

Acton Democratic Town Committee Annual Caucus

ACTON: Join the Acton Democratic Town Committee March 3 at 4pm at Congregation Beth Elohim, 133 Prospect Street, for their annual caucus to elect delegates to the 2024 State Democratic party convention which will be on June 1, and to elect representatives to the State District Conference on March 23.

Caucus Information:

Time: 3:30pm Registration/Doors Open; 4pm Caucus starts (if in-line, registration may continue process until 4:15pm). Election of representative(s) to the State District Conference will take place immediately after Caucus formalities are completed.
Eligibility: This meeting is open to any member of the public.
 
  • To vote in the Caucus, you must be a Democrat registered or pre-registered in the Town of Acton, and signed in before the caucus registration ends at 4:15pm. Absentee or proxy voting is not permitted.
  • To be a candidate for election in the Caucus as Delegate or Alternate: must be a Democrat registered or pre-registered in the Town of Acton, physically present at the caucus, signed in before registration ends and have formally consented to be nominated for election.
  • Pre-registered Democrats must be 16 years old by February 15, 2024 and must be pre-registered by the time registration at the caucus closes.
  • Rules for the follow-on meeting to elect representatives to the State District Conference are different. Though any Democrat registered in Acton may consent to be nominated only ADTC members (Full or Associate) may vote.

Please pre-register online at http://tinyurl.com/ADTC-2024. Any questions, please email ActonDTC@gmail.com or visit www.actondems.org for more information.

It Takes a Village – Revitalization of the Oval Garden

by Cathy Fochtman & Linda O’Neil, with commentary by Ann Marie Testarmata

ACTON: The Acton Garden Club, with the support of the Town of Acton, the Acton Historic District Commission, Club members, volunteers, members of the Acton community, and grants, is celebrating its 90th birthday with a revitalization of the Oval Garden in its very visible location in front of Town Hall at 472 Main Street.

Here’s the story of the Oval Garden…so much more than meets the eye...it takes a village. It started long ago with the building of the Italianate Town Hall in 1863, at the site of the town’s Second Meeting House, after fire burned the Meeting House down in 1862, along with the shoe factory and hotel. Acton Center was a much different place then, a bustling hub with a general store, commuting by horse and buggy and entrance to the Town Hall on Main Street.

A century and a quarter later came the creation of the Oval Garden by the Acton Garden Club in 1984 to commemorate its 50th birthday. Time did not stand still as the Town Hall was remodeled in 1988 and painted in its original colors in 2016.  Now, forty years after the first Oval Garden, the Acton Garden Club is celebrating its 90th birthday with a revitalization of the Oval Garden. The mission of the project is to reinvigorate the plantings in the Oval and create a focal point for the Town Center with a Victorian fountain.

An Oval Committee of the Acton Garden Club was formed under the leadership of Linda O’Neil, who has coordinated upkeep of the garden in recent years, and Cathy Fochtman, leader of the Garden Club Design Study Group. Eileen Ryan, Judy Dembsey, Maura Sharp, Janet Irons, Sue Whitcomb, Frances Portante, Joy Madden, Karen Martin and others have worked passionately to formulate a plan to renovate the garden. They have researched landscape and hardscape design elements, pursued grants and funding, and attended meetings with Town Manager John Mangiaratti, Select Board member Dean Charter, the Select Board, and the Historic District Commission.

I walked by the Oval Garden this morning, enjoying the early morning light, searching for the sun before the next gray day and storm come. Perhaps I was searching for more than light, for hope or peace, or perhaps I was just enjoying the light and remembering the days we worked planting the garden, this brisk January morning.

I thought about its story, one we’ve been asked to share with you by the Acton Exchange. It is very much the same as this emerging newspaper, a story of ideas, creativity, grants, volunteerism, and industriousness by members of all ages, of this diverse community. And like this blossoming news journal, it is in very much the same state, a state of evolution with a story.

The Oval Committee analyzed the site, noting the changes over the past forty years, such as the challenges of full sun exposure, car fumes, and changes in the Town Hall’s appearance. The Town Hall, a white building with black trim in 1984, was repainted in 2016 to its original colors of 1863, yellow with brown and green trim. Shrubs with green gold, like the former central shrub in the original Oval Garden, clash with the new building color palette. The Committee considered more compatible colors such as deep greens, silvery green, and blue green. They also considered plant maintenance which, in recent years, has become more difficult due to the encroachment of weeds, including bindweed and mugwort.

The plant material was also selected to coordinate with existing plantings next door in front of the Acton Memorial Library. That garden was planted by the Garden Club in honor of the club’s
70th anniversary and includes a tall evergreen tree, berry-producing hollies, and a low-growing juniper, all meant to accentuate the beauty of the Town Hall’s architecture.

To extend the Club's horticulture education efforts, one of each plant species in the Oval Garden will display a professional plant label from Nameplate & Panel Technology. The Botanical Labeling Project, in cooperation with Friends of the Acton  Arboretum, educates the public about the more than 580 specimen trees and shrubs at prominent Town locations.

The Oval Committee also recommended including a hardscape element in the center of the garden to be surrounded by holly and evergreen conifers. The Historic District Commission concurred with the design, and issued a Certificate of Appropriateness for the installation of a Victorian era fountain. The Fiske-style fountain, with elegant egrets surrounding the pedestal, was bequeathed to the O’Neil family by Mabel Jenks, a respected member of the Acton Garden Club. The O’Neil family has donated the fountain and it will be installed in the spring as a focal point in the garden. J. W. Fiske of New York was known for its cast iron ornamental fountains that were popular in the late 19th century.
A granite boulder will include an Acton Garden Club inscription.

The Oval committee obtained multiple grants to fund the project, including a $750 Civic Grant from the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts and $500 from an Acton Garden Club appropriation. The project was also chosen to be the recipient of a Plant America Community Projects Grant, from among one hundred applications nationwide, for $1,087 from National
Garden Clubs, Inc.

The Oval Garden’s construction will be completed this spring, in time for the club's 90th Anniversary and the Town's 250th Anniversary commemoration of the commencement of the
American Revolution.

The Town Highway Department prepared the site and provided new topsoil. Club members participated in the preparation of the soil and plant installation. Dick O'Neil of O'Neil Construction Co. assisted with ground preparation, and O'Neil Landscape/Oak Hill Mulch supplied the mulch.  Regular watering of the plantings and ongoing pruning, fertilizing, and weeding will be the responsibility of the Club's Oval Garden committee.

I see the garden in its winter state, the mulch, the bare spots, and the plantings that have held up in the recent rains and snows. I think back on the days of labor in November, digging the holes, planting the evergreens, raking the rocks, watching the spreading of the mulch with perfection by our landscape artist. I think about what spring will bring, the fountain, the flowers, the finishing touches and celebration.

I think about what people will see when they walk or drive by,  pressed by matters of importance. What will they see if they stop and look at all, for a moment, in the moment: a few green bushes and bare spots that need to be planted? Or will they see the story that has brought this garden to its present state, the story of Acton Center, community, volunteerism, and cooperation?

The Acton Garden Club, established in 1934, supports many historic garden areas and planters in town, as well as other community projects “to promote a greater interest in gardening and to share experiences that shall be of mutual benefit.” They welcome new members who are eager to participate in a wide range of engaging activities. Learn more about the Acton Garden Club by visiting their website or facebook page.
Valora washington

Discovery Museum Presents “How To Have Brave Conversations that Build Empathetic Kids”

ACTON: Via a live Zoom event, Discovery Museum Presents “How To Have Brave Conversations that Build Empathetic Kids” with Dr. Valora Washington on March 6 from 7-8pm.  How can adults have the brave conversations that develop kids' sense of empathy over judgment, and respect the complexity of the world we live in? Dr. Washington will help us understand why keeping children "in a bubble" is not a reasonable option in today's world, and how choosing to be a powerful parent (or caregiver, or grandparent, or teacher) is one of the greatest gifts we can give the children in our lives. This presentation is part of the Discovery Museum 2024 Speaker Series.

Dr. Valora Washington is an internationally recognized authority in early childhood education. During her decade tenure as CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition, Dr. Washington advanced and professionalized the field of early childhood education with her leadership of the largest credentialing program for early educators in the United States, the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential™. Dr. Washington is considered a pioneer in early education, having been named as a Legacy Leader by the Center for Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) for having shaped the early childhood education field, having a unique perspective on the history and context of today’s policy initiatives, and for developing strategies to address the issues that impact child outcomes. She formerly served as Vice President at Antioch College and the Kellogg Foundation and as a tenured faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has held leadership roles with the Massachusetts Governor’s School Readiness Commission; Voices for America’s Children; NAEYC; Black Caucus of the Society for Research in Child Development; National Head Start Association Commission on 2010; Boston Children’s Museum; and Wheelock College.

Brrrr-ave Supporters of Special Olympics Participate in Acton’s Second Annual Polar Plunge

by Alissa Nicol

ACTON: The Acton Police Department partnered with The Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) to host the second annual Polar Plunge at NARA Park on a sunny, but nippy, Saturday, February 3.  At last year’s inaugural event, plungers supported Special Olympics by running into the lake at NARA beach. This year, because the lake is frozen, a “Bear Force One” mobile plunge tank was brought in. Traveling to various schools, breweries and businesses in MA, the Bear Force One has assisted similar plunges around the state.

LETR is an international partnership between law enforcement personnel and Special Olympics, a year-round fundraising and awareness-building program. According to the specialolympicsma.org website, it was designed to “empower members of the law enforcement community to support Special Olympics athletes who live, work, and compete in their local communities.”

The Massachusetts chapter of the organization set a goal to raise $1 million, and Saturday’s Polar Plunge brought in $21K from the participating teams and individuals.

Awards were given to Westford Academy Student Council, the Top Fundraising Team, for raising $3000. Susan Guzman won the award for Top Fundraising Individual by raising $900. Guzman also won the Best Costume award for showing up dressed as Elsa from the animated film “Frozen.” She did lose her wig during her plunge, but the safety diver standing by in the tank was able to return it to her. Other participating organizations were the Hard Chargers Motorcycle Club, a motorcycle club for corrections officers and their families, local service organization Acton Lions Club, and Woodshed Strength and Conditioning, a personal training gym based in Littleton.

Winter Tracking Walk

Adapted by Franny Osman from an article by Jody Harris written for Acton Conservation Trust

ACTON: The last snowfall had been a week before, but as temps all week were low and skies gray, the woods still held plenty of snow for tracking the animals who make their home there. Tracker Paul Wanta from Western Massachusetts stood in the Senior Park at Pratt’s Brook Conservation Land in Acton on February 3, surrounded by a circle of more than twenty-five people eager to learn to read those tracks. The walk was organized by Acton Conservation Trust. Wanta began the walk by familiarizing participants with their surroundings. Most of Acton’s conservation lands are places where people and dogs walk, so it’s helpful to learn what dog tracks look like, and that when humans walk, we also leave a track. He reminded the novice trackers to walk next to an animal track to avoid  covering the track with human footprints. The group headed down the trail towards water, as all animals must drink!

As Wanta walked, he was always scanning the trail and the snow along the sides of the trail. One participant pointed out some scat next to a mossy rock in the middle of the trail.

Wanta poked at the scat with a stick and found bone fragments. Thinking about the size of the scat and its location at an exposed promontory, he thought it may have come from a fox, and that the bones were probably from a mouse the fox caught. He said that the scat was likely a year old.

A little farther along the trail, the group followed footprints that looked like small human hands, left by a raccoon. Down by a vernal pool there were deer tracks and a few areas where the snow was scraped off and pine needles fluffed up. Deer bedding! Leaves were also roughed up in places where deer had probably dug, looking for a little green. Wanta explained how to tell whether a broken piece of grass had eaten by a rabbit or a deer; the rabbit makes a neat forty-five degree cut while the deer tears the plant apart randomly.

Wanta led the group off the trail toward the railroad tracks near an industrial building on River Street, to a huge fallen tree with a layer of snow along its length. Running along the tree were otter tracks and a little scat. The prints continued onto the snow next to the tree, where the otter had jumped off and walked along the forest floor.

Wanta, a nurse by trade, spent a lot of time down on the ground, pointing out track features most people would miss. He joked that his friends no longer like to hike with him, as he spends so much time looking at signs of animals that he doesn’t make any forward progress. He also reminded everyone to remember to look up, too, to not miss surprises such as owls at the tops of trees.

Override Talks and Economic Development Plans:  Finance Committee & Acton Leadership Group Meetings

by Tom Beals

ACTON: The upcoming budget override, its amount, and how it would be split between the town and schools, were the primary topics of discussion at the January 23, 2024 Finance Committee and  January 29, 2024 Acton Leadership Group meetings.

Of note at the Finance Committee meeting was a presentation by Economic Development Director  Julie Pierce and Economic Development Committee member Catherine Usoff. Pierce noted a television news story featuring Acton art and artists, and described her efforts to support and publicize local businesses, as well as to create a directory of Acton businesses. Usoff described activities following the approval of Article 36 (creation of an economic development plan) at the 2023 Acton Town Meeting, such as facilitating interactions between businesses and Town government. A variety of questions from the Finance Committee were answered in detail. The presentation is available online.

The Finance Committee reviewed Town Manager John Mangiaratti's revised budget proposal made at the January 22 Select Board meeting, and contrasted the approach taken with the Town vs. the School Committee's budget. In preparation for the January 29, 2024 Acton Leadership Group (ALG) meeting, the
Finance Committee discussed the School Committee alternate budgets, the average single family home tax burden, what the Committee's consensus for the ALG meeting would be, and how to publicize financial issues before the upcoming Town election.

The ALG met January 29 on a snowy morning and many participants were connected remotely. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District (ABRSD) Superintendent Peter Light and Acton Town Manager John Mangiaratti gave updates, not announcing any major changes. Much of the meeting focused on the financial models that are used and maintained by the ALG, among them the prediction of the property tax impact of  a range of override amounts.

The role of the ALG is to coordinate and find consensus among its representatives. The various representatives agreed to take an override amount of $6.6 million back to their groups. Notably, how that amount - if passed by the electorate - would be split between the Town and the ABRSD was explicitly left open. ALG facilitator Bart Wendell characterized consensus as when no one is happy, the alternatives are unacceptable, and no one can walk away. The
meeting closed with an agreement to meet again on February 12.
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A Revolution in the News with Historian Joseph Adelman

by Greg Jarboe

ACTON: Looking forward to next year’s 250th anniversary of the start of the American Revolution, the Acton 250 Committee is hosting  a series of lectures by historians, looking back at what the community was like when our nation was born. The third lecture in the series, by Professor Joseph M. Adelman, packed the Faulkner Room at Acton Town Hall on January 30.

Professor Adelman told the story of the Revolutionary War’s forgotten instigators: newspaper printers and editors. Eighteenth-century printers were instrumental in protesting The Stamp Act of 1765, shrewdly gauging the political climate and interests of their communities and balancing them with their own
commercial interests. Their editorial opposition to a tax on publications as well as all legal and official papers in the American colonies rallied the public to the revolutionary cause.

Professor Adelman earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins University. He currently teaches history at Framingham State University.  He is the author of Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763-1789, which  won an honorable mention for the St. Louis Mercantile Library Prize from the Bibliographical
Society of AmericaProfessor Adelman has published work in the Washington Post, Slate, and The Atlantic, is a regular contributor to the award-winning podcast, Ben Franklin’s World, and serves as an
Associate Editor for The New England Quarterly.

During the American Revolution, printed material, including newspapers, pamphlets, almanacs, and broadsides, played a crucial role as a forum for public debate. In his lecture at Acton Town Hall,
Professor Adelman argued that printers—artisans who mingled with the elite but labored in a manual trade—used their commercial and political connections to directly shape Revolutionary political ideology and mass mobilization. Adelman told the audience in Acton that printers balanced their own political beliefs and interests alongside the commercial interests of their businesses, the customs of the printing trade, and the prevailing mood of their communities.

Adelman described how these laborers repackaged oral and manuscript compositions into printed works through which political news and opinion circulated. Drawing on a database of 756 printers active during the Revolutionary era, along with a rich collection of archival and printed sources, Adelman analyzed
printers’ editorial strategies, summarized the development of the networks of printers, and explained how they contributed to the process of creating first a revolution and then the new nation.

By underscoring the important and  intertwined roles of commercial and political interests in the development of Revolutionary rhetoric, Professor Adelman helped to reframe our understanding of the American Revolution. Printers, he argued, played a key role as mediators who determined what rhetoric to amplify and where to circulate it. Offering a unique perspective on the American Revolution and early American print culture, he revealed how these men and women managed political upheaval through a commercial lens.

You can watch the third lecture in the “Acton 250 Lecture Series: A Revolution in the News” on Acton TV.

PHOTO: Pamela Lynn, Professor Joseph M. Adelman, and Robert Ferrara at the third lecture in a series commissioned by
the Acton 250 Committee to help us better understand and appreciate the times when our nation was born.

Discovery Museum Saw Its Strongest Year Yet in 2023

ACTON: Discovery Museum served nearly 253,000 people on site at the Museum and in school classrooms throughout New England in 2023, the largest number served in its 41-year history. A full 25% of those served were for free or nearly free through the Museum’s access programs for families facing barriers to visitation due to financial, physical, sensory, or learning differences. The 252,945 people served was a 24% increase over 2022. More than 53,000 of those served were PreK-8th grade students in 116 towns that received the Museum’s classroom-based Traveling Science Workshops enrichment program, which saw a 17% increase in the number of students served from 2022. Museum revenue grew 22% to $3.8M.

“2023 was a tremendous year for Discovery Museum, where we were able serve more kids, families, students and teachers with hands-on experiences that can change the way a child looks at their world, themselves, and their abilities,” said CEO Marie Beam. “Under the leadership of our former CEO Neil Gordon, we were able to grow our impact to new underserved audiences, continue on a path toward carbon neutrality, and work with our community partners to better reflect and serve a diverse community of interests and lived experiences. This next year we will take the opportunity to evaluate how best to build upon a very solid foundation to deliver even more joyful learning experiences to our existing community and beyond.” The Museum has issued an RFP for strategic planning consulting services to guide its Board and staff through a strategic plan process.

2023 saw the Museum focus on its own sustainability, with a 5-year plan toward carbon neutrality centered on its conversion to 100% site-generated solar electricity; environmental education for visitors through expanded outdoor education programs; a broadening of its community reach to underserved audiences through various initiatives including translation of educational materials into six languages, expanded offerings for families facing a disability, and a project to serve young incarcerated fathers housed at MCI-Concord and their families; and continued free educational opportunities for parents and caregivers through the Discovery Museum Speaker Series.

Discovery Museum saw its second year in a row of record donor support, with more than 1,200 donors and funders contributing more than $1M in unrestricted support of its educational and access programs. The Museum ended the year with more than 5,600 member families, more than any time in its history. Nearly one third were free memberships provided to first-time parents and families facing disabilities.

Discovery Museum is a hands-on museum that blends science, nature, and play, inspiring families to explore and learn together. The museum and its Discovery Woods accessible outdoor nature playscape and giant treehouse blend the best of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) learning on a beautiful 4.5-acre campus abutting 180 acres of conservation land. Originally founded in 1982 and expanded to two museums in 1987, the museum reopened in a single, 16,000sf accessible building after a complete renovation and expansion in early 2018. Hands-on, open-ended exhibits developed by professional educators inspire curiosity and exploration, providing a fun and engaging experience for children and adults to discover their world together. Serving families and schools from towns throughout the region, the museum is devoted to informal education that enhances classroom learning.For more information, visit www.discoveryacton.org.

Commonwealth Ballet Company Announces Spring Performances of “Peter and the Wolf” & “Continuum”

ACTON/MAYNARD: Commonwealth Ballet is pleased to announce its Spring program, being presented on March 23 and 24 at the Maynard High School Theater for three performances. The program, in two Acts, will feature the symphonic work “Peter and the Wolf” with music by Sergei Prokoviev, as well as “Continuum.”

“Peter & The Wolf” is a charming story where the boy, Peter, against his Grandfather’s warnings, climbs over the garden wall and encounters a great big wolf! With the help of quick-thinking friends, a bird, a duck, and a cat, Peter captures the wolf and takes it to the zoo. Through Prokofiev’s iconic score, and choreography from CBC’s Artistic Director Melenie Diarbekirian and Boston-based choreographer Juliana Utz, this symphonic tale teaches us to be brave and to have courage in challenging circumstances.

“Continuum” is a curated program of works both classical and contemporary, famililar and new. The company will revisit La Vivandiere Pas de Six; excerpts from Juliana Utz’s Siren; and an excerpt from Chip Morris’ The Nightingale, and will premiere new work created by Melenie Diarbekirian. Both dancers and audience are invited to journey through this sequence and experience a continuum of movement ideas.

This program will run March 23 at 1pm and 6pm and March 24 at 1pm. Tickets are available at ticketstage.com/T/CBC, $30 for adults; $20 for children under 18. You can also call (978) 263-7794 for more information and for wheelchair accessible seating.

Based in Acton, Commonwealth Ballet Company is a pre professional dance company that develops, fosters and promotes the performance and appreciation of classical and contemporary ballet. To this end, CBC endeavors to maintain strong ties with the communities it serves, provide a substantial educational opportunity for young dancers, and demonstrate the highest level of artistic quality.
Abbey road at fpc

All You Need Is Love: A Beatles Celebration - FPC Sunday Service

STOW: The Beatles first arrived in the U.S. on February 7, 1964. Sixty years later, the Fab Four still have widespread appeal. On February 11 at 10am, First Parish Church of Stow & Acton (FPC) will hold a service exploring the enduring appeal of the Beatles' music and its relevance today. This all-ages celebration will focus on what their music says to us today.

“When artists have an enduring quality that lasts decades after the creation of their work, it’s often because they’ve tapped into something deeper — justice, inspirational beauty, spirituality, universal truths, awe and wonder,” said FPC’s minister, the Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum. “In the case of the Beatles, it's all of these, and that’s why we’re doing this service.”

The service will take place both in person and virtually. Masking is optional; a section of the sanctuary is reserved for those who wish to wear masks. Child care is available for ages 3 and under, and children over 3 are welcome to join religious education classes. For information, contact FPC Director of Religious Education Rayla D. Baldwin-Mattson at dre@fpc-stow-acton.org. To enter the virtual room, go to tinyurl.com/22-23fpc.

FPC warmly welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Its facilities are wheelchair accessible. For more information, call (978) 897-8149 or visit www.fpc-stow-acton.org. The church is located at 353 Great Road.

The Lowest Gas Prices in Acton May be Across Town

by Greg Jarboe

If you live in Acton, and search for the “lowest gas prices near me,” then you may want to go beyond the website that currently ranks #1 in Google’s search engine results page. It’s GasBuddy. Now, they do list the “Top 9 Gas Stations & Cheap Fuel Prices in Acton, MA.” But their top two listings were missing data for gas prices when I looked on January 29, 2024.

Besides, people who search for “cheap fuel prices” or “low fuel prices” aren’t necessarily looking for the same thing as people who search for the “best gas prices,” according to Alistair Rennie and Jonny Protheroe, who work on Google’s consumer insights team. In an article entitled, “How people decide what to buy lies in the ‘messy middle’ of the purchase journey,” they said, “The precise value of ‘cheap’ may vary between individuals, but it still carries a singular meaning. ‘Best,’ on the other hand, can have a wide range of meanings, including value, quality, performance, or popularity.”

So, what are your options?

Well, you can go to AAA Gas Prices to see the Massachusetts average was $3.118 as of Jan. 29. And if you scroll down, you discover that a year ago it was $3.435. So, whether you are driving to work, around town to shop for groceries, out to a local restaurant, or over a few towns to visit family and friends, you’ve probably noticed that the price of gas has gone down 9.2% in the past year.

You can also do what I did on January 27. I drove around Acton and a couple of surrounding towns to find the “lowest gas prices near me.” And I was surprised at how much a gallon of regular gasoline varied not only from the state average, but also from other gas stations nearby.

I started on Route 2A at the Mobil gas station located at 44 Great Road, Acton, MA. As you can see by their sign, a gallon of regular unleaded that day was $3.099.

And a short distance down Route 2A, I came to Bursaw Gas and Oil, which is located at 94 Great Road. As their sign displayed that day, the cash price for a gallon of unleaded was $2.999.

When I reached the intersection of Route 2A and Route 27, I saw two gas stations kitty-corner from each other.

One is Acton Gas & Service, which is located at 341 Great Road. As you can see by their sign, a gallon of regular was $3.039 that day.

And on the opposite corner is the Pro Tech gas station, which is located at 336 Great Rd, Acton, MA. Its modest sign shows that a gallon of unleaded gas was also $3.039.

I turned down Route 27 and soon came to Gulf Gas Express & Convenience, which is located at 289 Main Street. As their sign displayed that day, a gallon of regular unleaded was also $3.039.

A short drive later, I came to the intersection of Route 27 and Route 111. On one of the corners is the Phillips 66 gas station, which is located at 421 Massachusetts Avenue. Its sign shows that a gallon of regular was also $3.039 that day.

January 22, 2024 Select Board Meeting

by Tom Beals

Finances Update: At the January 8 Select Board meeting the Board asked Town Manager John Mangiaratti to prepare a budget that reduced the level services budget by $1 million. Before presenting the revised budget, Mangiaratti gave a brief update on health insurance, saying that a hiring freeze and other measures would allow health insurance costs to be handled without using free cash. Mangiaratti said that he would keep the board updated on that issue, and that the town and a health insurance working group are engaged in collective bargaining to find ways to reduce health care costs.

Turning to the municipal budget, Mangiaratti described a series of changes that resulted in meeting the Select Board's request for a $1 million decrease in the level services budget. Unfilled staffing positions that had been funded in the earlier budget were eliminated from a variety of departments, and contracted services budgets were reduced. Capital spending plans were adjusted
following the Board's January 8 prioritization exercise. Some of the listed revisions have yet to be approved; one (increased ambulance fees) was approved unanimously at the meeting. Select Board member Dean Charter had earlier suggested that the public be informed of the tax increases if an override is passed; the proposed changes to free cash usage and new borrowing will factor into the Acton Leadership Group model that is used to predict tax rates.

Solar panels Coming to Grace Land: The 2021 Town Meeting approved Article 16 that authorized Syncarpha Solar, LLC, to install a solar panel array on the WR Grace Superfund site. Select Board Chair Jim Snyder-Grant briefly summarized how a 2009 agreement resolved a dispute over sewer fees, resulting in Acton holding a lien on the WR Grace land. The issue before the Board was whether to agree that, in the event that the town came to own the land, the lease agreement for the Syncarpha solar energy facility would be honored by the town; the Board voted unanimously to approve a motion to honor the terms of the lease agreement.

Planning Updates: South Acton MBTA Zoning, Auto dealerships
By virtue of hosting the South Acton Commuter Rail stop, Acton is an MBTA community, and as such is subject to mandated zoning changes, in particular in an area within 1/2 mile of the station. The
rezoned area must comprise land without wetlands, flood zones, and protected open space. Acton Planning Director Kristen Guichard presented revisions to the South Acton Vision and Action Plan, shown as two new overlay districts on Central Street, Main Street, and in the Powder Mill Corridor. A Metropolitan Area Planning Council website describes the South Acton Vision & Action Plan, and more detail is contained in links within that website.

During discussions of the Nagog Park redevelopment Acton residents' comments included resistance to the perception of an "auto mile" along Great Road. Noting that perception, Select Board member David Martin worked with the planning department to address the issue. Guichard presented an overview of Acton car dealerships on Great Road and and on Powder Mill Road; mentioned the possibility of a town-wide survey on the issue; and noted the short timeline if a related Warrant Article was to be brought before the upcoming Town Meeting. Select Board discussion encouraged a public survey and discussed possible action with respect to Town Meeting timing.

Energy Use Regulation & Electric Vehicle Requirements: Acton is one of ten Massachusetts communities that have chosen to restrict the use of natural gas or other fossil fuel in new construction or in specified building renovations, under the Municipal Fossil Fuel Free Building Construction Demonstration Project . Acton sustainability director Andrea Becerra and Assistant Planner Nora Masler described the process that would be required to request a waiver of those regulations.

At a December 4, 2023 Select Board meeting, Becerra had presented the Board with an "Electrical Vehicle First" policy requirement for Acton Town government including schools. At the
January 22, 2024 meeting, the Board discussed exceptions to the policy for heavy duty vehicles and added an exemption for Department of Public Works vehicles. The Board voted unanimously to approve the policy with the changes that were discussed.

Additional Items: The Board moved quickly through the remaining agenda items. Ellie Anderson, Acton Financial Solutions Analyst, presented a recent financial history of the wastewater treatment facility and proposed a method for funding the facility, showing its projected financial future, including renovation costs, planned borrowing, and projected income from the Powder Mill apartments. The Board unanimously approved the proposed plan. In further sewer business, the Board unanimously approved
a request for proposals to find consultants who would evaluate the Board's options for obtaining expertise, opinion and advice on wastewater treatment-related technical matters.

Following the Board's approval of a Citizens Library Governance Advisory Committee, the Board approved Board member Alissa Nicol as Select Board Representative to that Committee. And finally, the Board heard from Fire Chief Anita Arnum regarding the increased costs of ambulance services, and approved rate increases for those services. During his report, Town Manager John Mangiaratti announced the appointment of new Deputy Fire
Chief Christopher Sammet.
Rabbi gordon

Scholar in Residence Program at Congregation Beth Elohim

ACTON: On February 9 at 7:30pm, in person and via Zoom, Rabbi Leonard Gordon will speak about "Interfaith Dialogue through the Lens of October 7th: Reflections on a Recent Visit to the Gaza border." At Sabbath Torah Study on February 10 at 9:30am, Rabbi Gordon will speak about "Legislating Emotions: Setting Boundaries for Anger." Later that evening at 6pm, Rabbi Gordon will host a Havdalah Service at a congregant's home where he will speak about shared stories, different traditions: "Decoding Islam for Jews."

You can sign up for one, two or all three of these sessions.While there is no charge for these events, donations to the CBE Adult Education Fund are always appreciated. For those who are not members of CBE, a donation of $36 is suggested. For more information or to register, visit www.bethelohim.org/scholar-2024.

Dr. Rabbi Leonard Gordon is the chair of the National Synagogue Council (NCS) and a frequent teacher in MEAH* (an intensive Adult Learning experience offered by Hebrew College.) since 2017. He served as rabbi at congregation B’nai Tikvah in Canton, MA through June, 2023. He currently leads trips to Spain and Morocco for interfaith and Jewish heritage groups, including a planned MEAH trip to Spain in May, 2024. Gordon received rabbinic ordination and an MA from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He also holds a BA and M Phil from Columbia University, and an MA in Religious Studies from Brown University. In 2018, he earned a Doctor of Ministry degree in Interfaith Studies at the Andover Newton Theological School. He has master’s degrees in comparative religion from Brown and Columbia Universities and a Masters of Jewish Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary where he was ordained.

Towns of Acton, Arlington, and Lexington Share Information on New Website Outlining Specialized Opt-In Stretch Code and Fossil Fuel Free Bylaw

ACTON: The Town of Acton announces that it has partnered with the Towns of Arlington and Lexington in developing a new website that provides information on the Opt-In Specialized Stretch Energy Code and Municipal Fossil Fuel Free Demonstration Program, which is now available to the public.

The three towns collaborated on a new website designed to provide permit-seekers, members of the development community and the public with information on Energy Efficient and Fossil Fuel Free building requirements.

The website outlines both the Municipal Opt-In Specialized Stretch Energy Code and the Municipal Fossil Fuel Free (FFF) Building Demonstration Program.

The Specialized Code was developed by the Commonwealth in 2022 as an option for municipalities and applies only to new construction. It requires builders to meet high performance standards and prepare buildings for all-electric heating and cooling.

The Demonstration Program allows 10 municipalities to adopt and amend general or zoning ordinances or by-laws requiring new building construction or major renovation projects to be fossil fuel-free. The Town of Acton received authorization to implement its local bylaw on March 21, 2024.

More information on both initiatives can be found on the website here: Energy Efficient and Fossil Fuel Free Building Requirements.

The Towns will continue to expand the site and add additional information to the FAQ as more questions arise.

Questions regarding Acton can be directed to the Acton Sustainability Office at sustainability@actonma.gov or (978) 929-6515, or the Acton Building Department at building@actonma.gov or (978) 929-6633.

Food For Free Gets to the Core of its Mission Packing Apples to Feed those in Need

Foodforfree
ACTON: Recently, nine Food For Free staff members packed apples into boxes for distribution to food access partners during a service day at the Boston Area Gleaners farm. Earlier this month, Food For Free began receiving weekly installments of produce via a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) through the Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement Plus Program (LFPA Plus) that was awarded to the Boston Area Gleaners. The money from the grant will be used over the course of 18 months to donate locally grown produce to Food For Free, much of which will be sourced from socially disadvantaged farmers, for the nonprofit to distribute to those in need across the region. This day of service provided an opportunity for Food For Free employees to give back to an organization whose work has been pivotal in their efforts to provide fresh, local produce to the community for more than a decade. As one of the nation’s first food rescue programs, Food For Free now serves more than 150,000 Massachusetts residents who are food insecure and distributes over 7.5 million pounds of nutritious fresh and prepared foods annually. For more information, visit www.foodforfree.org.

PHOTO: Pictured left to right: Jessica Tretina, Adrienne Dunlap, Marena Burnett, Stephanie Tyer Smith (below), Akbota Saudabayeva (above), Jessica Cantin, Mark O'Neal, Timothy Cavaretta, Jennifer Pectol.
Gregjarboe

Acton Facing Prop 2 1/2 Operational Override Vote

by Greg Jarboe

ACTON: The Acton Leadership Group, which is made up representatives of the Select Board, the Finance Committee, and the Acton-Boxborough Regional School Committee, has its own version of “hot stove season.” But instead of gathering around an antique wood stove at a general store to discuss their favorite baseball team and players, they met at Acton Town Hall on January 10 to discuss the prospects for a Proposition 2 1/2 operational override vote this spring. Unexpected health insurance cost increases on both the Town and School side of the budget have contributed to an unforeseen need for an override of almost $10 million. The importance of its passage or failure makes this one of the most consequential local elections in a generation. That’s why the discussion of this “hot topic” was intense and reaching a consensus is a work in progress.

What’s an operational override?
In Massachusetts, an operational override is a voter-approved measure that increases property taxes beyond the state-imposed levy limit. The state-imposed levy limit is normally capped at 2.5% of the previous year’s limit, plus any amount derived from new taxable property development. In Acton, that’s bumped up the cap to about 3% over the past seven years.

An override results in a permanent increase in the levy limit of a community. And an override requires a majority vote at the upcoming Acton Town Election. The town is in the process of preparing two budgets: An “A” budget, if the override passes, and a “B” budget, if the override fails. Depending on the outcome of the April 30 town ballot question, the appropriate budget will be presented at Town Meeting.

What’s the background of this override?
According to an article by Tom Beals (Lessons from History: Acton’s 2005 Override), health care costs for both Town and School personnel were a major factor in budget shortfalls. He wrote, “Acton and the AB Regional School District self-insure through a Health Insurance Trust (HIT). The HIT, like commercial insurance companies, buys re-insurance to cover rare large claims. The collective number of insured people is large enough that in past years, claims history has been an adequate predictor of future costs.”

However, Finance Committee member Steve Noone reviewed health care costs in November and evaluated several factors that have led to unanticipated expenses. Beals wrote, “There was reduced health care utilization during the Covid pandemic, followed by a post-pandemic surge; and, after years of relatively stable prices, the recent increased inflation continues to raise medical costs.”

Advances in medical biology have produced astounding treatments, but those treatments have unprecedented costs. Beals added, “The HIT has had large claims that have not been completely covered by reinsurance. Although alternatives for medical coverage of Acton and the Acton-Boxborough Schools employees are being explored, the present costs must be handled in the current and next fiscal years and that may require higher costs for covered personnel.”

What happens if the override passes?
To ensure that the Boards work together to come to a consensus as to the best budget plan to present and recommend at the Annual Town Meeting, David Martin (pictured), a member of the Select Board and the ALG, presented a proposal for an “A” budget – one that would be presented to Town Meeting if the override for about $9.8 million (slightly over 10% increase to the levy limit) passes at the Town Election.
Nevertheless, he recommended cutting the Town’s budget by $1 million less than a level-services budget as well as cutting the School’s budget by $2 million less than a level-services budget. Martin said, “These would be painful, but not harmful, cuts.”

Christi Andersen, Chair of the Finance Committee, said, “We need to see the numbers.” She added, “We’ve seen the impact of cuts on the School side; they are staff cuts. But this is the time to be clear about the impact of cuts on the Town side.” 

The tax impact on the average home would be $1,395. Jason Cole, Vice Chair of the Finance Committee, said, “That’s still too high.”

What happens if the override fails?
Tori Campbell, a member of the Acton-Boxborough Regional School Committee, said, “David’s proposal is a good starting point.” But to show people the choice they were facing, she said, they need to also know what would be cut in the “B” budget. Campbell added, “There are two questions that we need to answer: What do we value in education, and how much are we willing to pay?”

Campbell shared some research that she’d conducted on school quality and home value. She said, “Since regionalization in 2015, our district has consistently been among the top in the state…And all this as a per-pupil spending rate that is near or below the state average. Our schools are efficient, and they make a difference in our students’ lives.”

Campbell then dug into the idea of schools providing value to communities. She said, “I looked at median home value in Acton compared to Massachusetts overall. Our rate of increase in median home value since regionalization has outpaced the state average. Both town and schools do a great job: Acton is a community people want to live in.”


Campbell concluded, “We all recognize that finding the right amount to propose to voters is critical to the success of our efforts. I think our next best move is to aggressively gather information about what is important to our residents.”

Reached for comment after the Acton Leadership Group meeting, Mike Balulescu, President of the teacher’s union, Acton Boxborough Education Association (ABEA) said, “If an override isn’t passed, it would be disastrous. The town would need to cut close to seventy teachers, increase class sizes well beyond any recommended limits, and possibly close an elementary school. Our teachers are anxious and scared about what could happen to our schools and our students without enough community support."
 
Balulescu added that teachers are already working with fewer resources after two years of budget cuts while trying to support increasingly complex and challenging student needs.

When is the Acton town election?

The Annual Town Election is held on the Tuesday immediately preceding the first Monday in May of each year. Thus this year, the election is on Tuesday, April 30, 2024.

Acton held nine Proposition 2 1/2 override votes between 1989 and 2005, however, there hasn’t been one in 19 years. The overrides passed in 1989, 1990, and 1991, failed in 1993 (twice), 1994, and 1999, and passed in 2003 and 2005.  

Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, many of the previous override votes were close, and this year is not likely to be an exception. The outcome could go either way; the Acton Leadership Group meeting was intense and reaching a consensus is still a work in progress.

In fact, the only thing everyone at the ALG meeting could agree on was the need to gather more information and start the process of reaching out to others in the community about what promises to be one of the most consequential local elections in a generation.
Actonmemorial

A Historical Walk in Acton’s Center

by Kimberly E. B. Hurwitz

ACTON: The Acton 250 Committee organized its third community event on December 17, a historical walk through the heart of Acton Center. Amy Cole, a local tour guide, historian, and Acton resident, led the walk that explored significant landmarks and shared the rich history embedded in the town center area. The participants consisted of twenty individuals, including Acton Boxborough Regional High School history students.

Commencing at Acton Memorial Library, the group examined the glass case that contains Pinehawk Native American artifacts, shedding light on the historical significance of the Pinehawk site (originally situated off what is now Old High Street), a home for Native American communities spanning 7,000 years. Ms. Cole then highlighted the pivotal land grants in 1655 and 1660, deeded to Simon Willard, which paved the way for Acton's official classification as a town in 1735.

Moving outside the library, the group gathered at the bottom of the parking lots to view the granite pillar marking a key spot on the "Line of March" for Acton's Minutemen headed to Concord for the battle that began the American Revolution.   The exploration next focused on Minuteman Road with its current terminus at the library lots. This road was once Acton’s main street, continuing through the library parking area and playground, and in between the historical homes beyond, crossing over Nagog Hill Road and ending at Meeting House Hill on the current Main Street.

As the group walked up Meeting House Hill, Ms. Cole shared photos and maps that underscored its historical importance as the geographic center of Acton. This spot witnessed the construction of two successive Meeting Houses which served as both places of worship and local governance. Over time, the hill saw transformations, from successive schoolhouses to its eventual abandonment, until the Acton Garden Club took on its stewardship.

Ms. Cole emphasized the evolution of Acton's center, noting that Main Street, as it is known today, did not exist in the early days. The tour provided glimpses into the town's changing landscape, including a home which was a schoolhouse in earlier days, the relocation of the colonial era Fletcher home to allow the building of the Acton Memorial Library after the Civil War, and the impact of fires that razed establishments like the Fletcher boot factory and an earlier Town Hall.

The tour concluded with discussion of the center's monument, erected in 1851, a result of an impassioned campaign led by Reverend Woodbury and supported by Issac Davis's elderly widow, Hannah. At the monument dedication in the center, a grand ceremony and celebration occurred that included a meal for 1,000 attendees and the respectful transport, viewing, and re-interment of the remains of Issac Davis, Abner Hosmer, and James Hayward from Woodlawn Cemetery.

The tour concluded at the library, this time in the original section, which itself is a tribute to Acton’s Civil War soldiers and victims. Inside are housed paintings of early Acton and other artifacts dating from the Colonial period forward.

The Acton 250 Committee continues to plan additional walks and events, offering residents and enthusiasts opportunities to delve deeper into the town's rich history. For more information, visit Acton 250 Committee’s website.

Select Board Meeting: Concerns on Resident Concerns, Budget issues, and Town Meeting Warrant

Sb photo
by Tom Beals

ACTON: The January 8, 2024 Acton Select Board meeting opened as usual with “Resident Concerns”, a forum for brief remarks from residents to the Board. A resident spoke regarding the use of a “Point of Order” to interrupt residents’ remarks at previous meetings, reminding the Board of the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) of Massachusetts ruling in Barron v. Kolenda

Barron v. Kolenda concerns a resident of Southborough who had used vivid language - "ha[d] been spending like drunken sailors" - in characterizing the actions of the Southborough Select Board. The presiding board member (Kolenda) interrupted the resident (Barron) before the resident's allotted speaking time had elapsed, and the situation escalated.

A Superior court denial of Barron's challenge to the Town of Southborough's public comment policy was heard on appeal by the SJC. Reversing the Superior Court in its decision, the SJC cited Article 19 of the Massachusetts Constitution, noting that "[Article] 19 reflects the lessons and the spirit of the American Revolution. The assembly provision arose out of fierce opposition to governmental authority, and it was designed to protect such opposition, even if it was rude, personal, and disrespectful to public figures...". The SJC recognized the requirement "that criticism is done in a peaceable and orderly manner…’Peaceable and orderly’ is not the same as ‘respectful and courteous.’”
Select Board member Dean Charter had independently prepared comments concerning the Board's various reactions to residents’ comments, also citing Barron v. Kolenda, and presented those comments later in the meeting during “Member Minutes”. Charter noted that he did not know that that resident would be talking on the topic. He said, “Certainly it is not pleasant to be subjected to public criticism and what may seem to be unfair comments. I have experienced discomfort from comments made by the public. Frankly, comments made in public sessions by my colleagues here on the board in response to comments by residents have bothered me more. It is imperative that free speech, including a robust exchange of ideas and opinions, within promptly regulated time constraints, be fostered and encouraged at all levels of government, especially at the local level, where residents can and should have open access to local officials.”

Budget and financial matters occupied much of the meeting. Town Manager John Mangiaratti proposed using existing funds that had been held pending a now-abandoned emergency dispatch regionalization plan. The Board unanimously approved using those funds for an emergency radio communication equipment upgrade and for fire department self-contained breathing equipment; both projects had been on the capital expenditure list.

As noted earlier, although the Select Board is likely to approve an override question for the next town election, the amount of the override has not been decided. Select Board member David Martin proposed specific reductions from level services budgets (budgets that would allow provisions of services at the same level as provided in the prior fiscal year) of $1 million from the municipal budget and $2 million from the regional schools budget - amounts that reflect the roughly 2:1 schools:municipal budget ratio. Martin characterized the reductions as causing pain but not harm, and made a motion to direct the Town Manager to reduce the level services budget as described, contingent on upcoming budget meetings with town departments and with the Acton leadership group. Four Board members voted in favor of the motion; Board member Dean Charter abstained, saying that he would like to hear the upcoming discussions before approving the motion as stated.

The Board continued its consideration of financial matters by re-visiting a list of capital expenditure items. Aided by a spreadsheet prepared by Mr. Martin, the Board examined proposed projects and funding possibilities in detail; weighing priorities and options for funding (pay now or borrow). Martin said he would make the spreadsheet available on the town website.

Opening the Town Meeting Warrant 
Assistant Town Manager Thomas Begin presented a proposed calendar of events in preparation for the annual Town Meeting that is scheduled for April 30, 2024. Both the Select Board and Acton residents may submit Articles to appear on the Town Meeting Warrant, and Articles may be binding or non-binding. The Select Board voted unanimously to open the Warrant for Article submission by residents as of the time of the vote, and to close the warrant at 5:00 PM on February 22, 2024. The Select Board may add Articles in the Warrant until the Warrant goes to press for public posting, which is scheduled for April 16, 2024.

The Select Board has repeatedly debated issues of governance at the West Acton Citizens Library, last reported on by the Acton Exchange on August 28, 2023. After a brief and harmonious conversation, the Board unanimously approved a charge for the Citizens Library Governance Advisory Committee to draft a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would "...represent a shared agreement on the currently assumed responsibilities and authorities of the [Citizens ’Library Trustees]..."

Boston Civil Rights Pioneer Jean McGuire Speaks at 22nd Acton Martin Luther King Breakfast

by Bob Van Meter

ACTON: Congregation Beth Elohim and its social justice committee Na’aseh hosted Acton’s 22nd Annual Martin Luther King Breakfast on Monday morning for over one hundred participants in person and over forty more via zoom. The event’s keynote speaker was Jean McGuire,  a pioneering civil rights activist. The large crowd was welcomed by Na’aseh co-chair Sarah Coletti and Congregation Beth Elohim Rabbi Braham David. Ms. Coletti acknowledged the work of Sal Lopes, who began the Acton MLK Breakfast and continues to be involved. Rabbi David welcomed the audience and acknowledged the elected officials attending the breakfast including Sen. Jamie Eldridge, Rep. Dan Sena, Rep. Simon Cataldo, Acton Select Board members Jim Snyder-Grant, Fran Arsenault, and Alissa Nicol, as well as Acton School Committee member Leela Ramachandran.

Acton resident and METCO Director for Concord Carlisle High School, Debra Jemison, introduced Jean McGuire. Ms. McGuire was a founder of METCO, the Boston region’s voluntary cross district school integration program, and its director for more than forty-three years. She was also an elected member of the Boston School Committee for ten years as its first African American woman to serve on that body. Ms. McGuire is one of sixty-nine Bostonians recognized on a wall as civil rights heroes as part of the Embrace statue on the Boston Common.

McGuire recalled her work at METCO, saying that she “never thought METCO would have to continue this long, We thought housing integration would take care of this,” implying that racial segregation would have been overcome through housing integration. She recalled the importance of the League of Women Voters and many churches in making METCO work. She also recalled the importance of host families that built bridges for the METCO families.

McGuire recalled marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Columbus Avenue in Boston. “There were not that many of us marching with him that day. Dr. King is loved now, but then he was not welcomed.”
McGuire,  a former teacher, also spoke about the importance of civic literacy and told the crowd that everyone should subscribe to a local newspaper and read it to be aware of public debates and different points of view. McGuire mentioned her own advanced age–she is ninety-two–and recalled being a sixth-grader when the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the Second World War.

When asked after the event why Acton was not a participant in METCO, McGuire recalled that the cost of participation in the early 1970s had been a barrier, along with the need to  have a large enough cohort of METCO students so that they would not be seen as tokens. She said that Acton could consider joining METCO now.

Discovery Museum Announces 2024 Speaker Series

Watkins beresin combined
ACTON: Discovery Museum kicks off the 12th year of its Discovery Museum Speaker Series with Dr. Gene Beresin and Dr. Khadijah Booth Watkins from The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, who will discuss “Parenting in a Time of Insecurity.” The event will be held virtually via Zoom on February 15 from 7-8pm. Registration is required, available at http://bit.ly/DMSpeakerSeries. All events are free.

The health and well-being of families, classrooms and communities today is increasingly affected by the insecurity, intolerance and injustice we see in the world around us. Beresin and Booth Watkins will help us understand the link between local and global events, social and cultural norms, and the confusion and uncertainty we and the children in our lives feel—and they will offer advice on how parents can care for themselves first, in order to successfully navigate the conversations that help children feel agency, safety, and security in uncertain times.

Other Events on the 2024 Schedule:
 
  • March 6 - “How to Have Brave Conversations that Build Empathetic Kids,” with Valora Washington, Ph.D., CEO & President, The CAYLS Institute; former Vice President, W.K. Kellogg Foundation. How can adults have the brave conversations that develop kids' sense of empathy over judgment, and respect the complexity of the world we live in? Dr. Washington will help us understand why keeping children "in a bubble" is not a reasonable option in today's world, and how choosing to be a powerful parent (or caregiver, or grandparent, or teacher) is one of the greatest gifts we can give the children in our lives.
  • April 25 - “How Art Can Inspire Civic Engagement in Kids,” with Chanel Thervil, Artist + Educator; Inaugural Discovery Museum Artist in Residence. Civic engagement is not just about voting and government—it encompasses all the ways in which individuals take action and get involved in their communities. Thervil will speak about helping children consider what they love about their community, so they see a place for themselves in making their communities better and how the creative process and experience of artmaking is a powerful tool in giving kids the space to connect, share ideas, and be present for others.
  • May 22 - “The Science of “Good Enough” Relationships: Trusting and Developing Our Capacity for Simple and Authentic Human Interactions,” with Junlei Li, Program Chair of Human Development and Education, Saul Zaentz Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education. What makes any of us “enough”? Whether we teach children directly, or support families and educators, we invest ourselves in building authentic relationships with human beings. This presentation is intended as a reflection and a reminder that the simple, ordinary things we do with other human beings matter in ways that can be seen and felt in moments when we really show up for others, and in ways that can be measured over the long run.
  • Fall - Climate Science and Preserving the Planet for Our Kids, a Science Moms panel discussion. Science Moms is a group of nonpartisan climate scientists and mothers, working to give children the plant they deserve. They were founded to help mothers who are concerned about their children’s planet but aren’t confident in their knowledge about climate change or how they can help. Together, they aim to demystify climate science and motivate everyday moms to demand climate change plans and solutions.

Discovery Museum is a hands-on museum that blends science, nature, and play, inspiring families to explore and learn together.  For more information, visit discoveryacton.org.

Acton Fire Department Reminds Residents to Get Open Burning Permit

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ACTON: Chief Anita Arnum and the Acton Fire Department would like to share with Acton residents that open burning season began January 15 and runs through May 1. A permit is required to open burn in compliance with Massachusetts law.
Residents can begin applying for a burn permit today by creating an account via the department’s new burn permit portal: acton.firepermits.com. Once you are registered, you can apply for your burn permit. Residents will receive an email notifying them when their permit is approved. If conditions are unsafe for burning, such as high winds or drought, a notification will be posted on the homepage. Individuals who don’t have access to a computer should call the Acton Fire Department at (978) 929-7722 for assistance with their burn permit application.

Open Burning:
 
  • Between 10am-4pm, now through May 1, 2024.
  • No fires may be started after noon.
  • At least 75 feet from all buildings.
  • Burning must be conducted without causing a hardship or nuisance to others.
  • The fire must be attended at all times by a responsible adult.
  • A means of extinguishment must be available at all time.
  • Issuance of this permit does not release the holder from liability for damages caused by his/her fire.
  • As close as possible to the source of material being burned.

Residents are allowed to burn:
  • Brush, cane, driftwood and forestry debris (but not from commercial or industrial land clearing).
  • Agricultural materials including fruit tree and bush prunings, raspberry stalks, and infected bee hives for disease control.
  • Trees and brush from agricultural land clearing.
  • Fungus-infected elm wood, if no other acceptable means of disposal is available.

Residents may not burn:
  • Leaves.
  • Brush, trees, cane or driftwood from commercial or industrial land clearing.
  • Grass, hay, leaves, stumps or tires.
  • Construction materials or demolition debris (carpentry debris, building debris, or paper/rubbish).
  • Household trash.
  • Absolutely no starter material such as tires, gasoline, motor oil or any other petroleum accelerant may be used.
  • No burning in barrels
  • .
What times are best for open burning?
  • You can help prevent wildland fires by burning early in the season. Wet and snowy winter conditions help hinder the rapid spread of fire on or under the ground.
  • Changing weather conditions and increased fire danger in spring can lead to many days when open burning is not allowed.
  • April is usually the worst month for brush fires. When snow recedes, but before new growth emerges, last year’s dead grass, leaves and wood are dangerous tinder. Winds also tend to be strong and unpredictable in April.

For more information on open burning in Massachusetts, visit Mass.gov.

Countdown to April 19, 1775: “A Revolution in the News” with Historian Joseph Adelman

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ACTON: All are invited to hear from Professor Joseph M. Adelman on January 30 at 7pm in Room 204 at Acton Town Hall, 472 Main Street. This is the third lecture in a series commissioned by the Acton 250 Committee to help us better understand and appreciate the times when our nation was born. Please register at https://actonmemoriallibrary.assabetinteractive.com/calendar/countdown-to-april-19-1775-a-revolutionin-the-news-with-historian-joseph-adelman so that you may be contacted for future activities. You can also watch live on ActonTV (www.youtube.com/@ActonTV1/streams) or Zoom at actonma.zoom.us/j/81741134640 if you would like to engage in the Q&A portion of the talk.

Professor Adelman will tell the story of the Revolutionary War’s forgotten instigators: newspaper printers and editors. Shrewdly gauging the political climate and interests of their communities and balancing them with their own commercial interests, eighteenth-century printers were instrumental in creating propaganda and rallying the public to the revolutionary cause. Adelman earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins University. He currently teaches history at Framingham State University and is the author of Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763-1789. A noted speaker and author, he has published work in the Washington Post, Slate, and The Atlantic, is a regular contributor to the award-winning podcast, Ben Franklin’s World, and serves as an Associate Editor for The New England Quarterly.

All Acton 250th celebration events and historical information is located at www.actonma.gov/250. If required a “snow date” for this talk has been set for February 12. There is no charge for this event.
Feb pearson garden hi

Creating Beautiful Garden Photographs

ACTON: You can take more beautiful photographs if you understand the nuance of natural light, the art of composition and shooting with a vision of the story you want each photograph to tell.  Regardless  of what camera you use, understanding these elements will lift your garden photography from the run-of-the mill to an artistic level. The Acton Garden invites the community to the presentation From Just a Snapshot to Art - Creating Beautiful Garden Photographs by noted photographer Joanne Pearson on February 6 at 10:15am at Acton Town Hall, Room 204. 

Joanne Pearson, Photographer and Landscape Architect will lead you through the art of seeing as a professional photographer does, framing and creating dramatic compositions of overall garden views, plant groupings and close ups. You will learn about balance and movement, leading lines, depth of field, the nuances of natural light and photographing with a vision of the story you want each picture to tell.

Pearson has been a professional photographer for over 25 years and was a registered landscape architect in the state of Massachusetts where she practiced for 12 years. Her photographs of gardens, landscapes and people have been featured in magazines, books and calendars. Among them are Yankee, Vermont Life, Mahoney Publishing, BrownTrout Publishers Inc. Willow Creek Press, Country, Insight Guides and Lonely Planet. She is the solo photographer for Mahoney Publishing’s yearly calendar “Flowers and Gardens of New England”. She photographs interiors, exteriors, lifestyle, food and of course, gardens, for inns and resorts throughout New England for their websites and collateral marketing. Joanne regularly lectures on gardens and photography seeking to inspire and educate her audiences with her beautifully illustrated presentations.

For more information, go to http://actongardenclub.org.

Lessons from History: Acton's 2005 Override

by Tom Beals

ACTON: A tax limit override that, if approved by Acton voters, would raise property taxes beyond the Proposition 2½ statutory limits has recently been discussed at the Select Board, Finance Committee, and Acton Leadership Group meetings. It seems likely, following those discussions, that an override will be on the ballot at the next town election. However, important details have yet to be decided. Those details include: how much revenue should be raised, how many fiscal years the additional revenues should cover, and how the override should be structured. 
Acton voters were last presented with an override decision at the March 29, 2005 annual town election; and details similar to the above were discussed in preparation for that election. The structure of the override was discussed at the Finance Committee, and those discussions may be useful as the town prepares for the next election. 

It is interesting to note the parallels between 2005 and now. From the September 14, 2004 Finance Committee minutes
"[An ALG spreadsheet] show[s] a decline in incremental revenues of about $650,000. This is a result of using non-recurring revenues in FY05. If all of the FY04-05 cuts were restored and additional minimal staffing increases made, this would result in a budget deficit of about $6.5M. There was also some discussion of revenue sharing between the town and school budgets. Mr. Ashton presented a spreadsheet, which Mr. Chinitz has revised, showing how the split has varied over the last 10 years. Ten years ago, the split was 39.1% for the town; in the FY05 budget, the town’s share is only 31.5%. The decline, in part, results from budgets emphasizing personnel and cut-backs in operating capital, which disproportionately affects the town side." 

The current split between Acton's share of the Acton-Boxborough regional school district budget and Acton's FY2024 municipal budget is 65%:35%. $6.5M (million) in September 2005, adjusted for inflation, is about $10,509,900 in December 2023.
The Health Insurance Trust was also an issue in 2005. From the Finance Committee minutes, January 2005: "...we are facing a series of large claims this year ... big enough to cause a problem, but not large enough to trigger our re-insurance."; and March 2005, "The municipal budget includes a 25% rate increase for health insurance..."; "Rheta Roeber asked if this is the time to stop self-insuring. John Ryder explained that at least over FY2000 to FY2004, we have saved about $5M compared to what we would have paid for our policies, which are very generous compared to most products in the market."

At the Nov. 9, 2004 Finance Committee meeting, Committee member Gim P. Hom made a presentation entitled "Pyramid Overrides Menu Overrides"; that presentation illustrated options that were later described in detail in the 2017 "Proposition 2½ Ballot Questions" document from the Massachusetts Division of Local Services (DLS). (Proposition 2½ is relevant because it it the 2.5% limit on property tax increases that is 'over-ridden'.)

In a pyramid override, two or more spending levels are proposed; the greatest dollar amount that passes is enacted. The 2005 Board of Selectmen (as the Select Board was then known) opted for a pyramid override. Questions 2 and 3 on the 2005 Annual Town Election ballot were almost identically worded: "Shall the Town of Acton be allowed to assess an additional $3,800,000..." (Question 2) or $4,500,000 (Question 3), "...in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the operating expenses of the Acton Public Schools, funding the Town's regional school district assessment for the Acton-Boxborough Regional School system, funding the operating expenses of the Police Department, Fire Department ...". Question 2 passed, with 55.7% voting "Yes", 43.5% voting "No"; Question 3 did not pass, with 46.4% voting "Yes", 52.5% voting "No".

The DLS document cited above provides an example of a menu override, a series of questions naming specific municipal departments:
 
  • Shall the Town of Yourtown be allowed to assess an additional $250,000 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Fire Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, ? 
  • Shall the Town of Yourtown be allowed to assess an additional $250,000 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Police Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, ?"

While the Select Board makes the final decision on the ballot question, Select Board and Finance Committee members have spoken of familiarizing the electorate with the urgency of current financial issues; one term that has been used to describe that familiarization is how to 'socialize' the upcoming ballot question(s). That process might include a public discussion of override question options.
Woodturtle

Zoo New England proposes to Improve Habitat for Wood Turtles in Acton 

by Bettina Abe
 
ACTON: In the fall of 2023, Zoo New England and the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program contacted the Acton Conservation Department with a plan to enhance the habitat for Wood Turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) along Nashoba Brook in Acton.  The enhancements are designed to protect overwintering turtles from predators. Winter is a vulnerable time when Wood Turtles are often attacked by otters, who are known to bite off turtle legs. 
 
The Conservation Commission will be considering Zoo New England's habitat enhancement proposal at an upcoming hearing in January or February. Watch the Conservation Commission website or contact the Conservation Department (nr@acton-ma.gov or (978) 929-6634) to find out the date and time.  
 
Zoo New England's plan is to strategically cut down trees or utilize medium sized snags to place into the river to create log jams and branch/brush cover for turtles in the stream. Wood Turtles have been observed using fallen trees as wintering sites at Nashoba Brook. Scientists would target 4-8 medium-sized hardwood trees (maple or oak) along the brook that could be cut and dropped into the stream. A company would be hired to do the tree cutting and strategically place the trees within various segments of the stream where there are known locations of several radio-tracked Wood Turtles. 
 
The Wood Turtle is endemic to the northeastern United States, and is found in western, central and northeastern Massachusetts. Acton has tiny populations of the turtle residing in and adjacent to Nashoba Brook and Fort Pond Brook. Across the state, the species’ populations are declining due to habitat fragmentation and degradation, as well as illegal collection and intensive agriculture cultivation near streams, according to a recent book edited by the Massachusetts State Herpetologist, Mike Jones. They are listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act as a “species of special concern.” 
 
The Wood Turtle is so named because its carapace (top shell) looks like carved wood. They grow to 6-8 inches in length. According to a factsheet from the Mass Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, they like clear, sandy streams and require multiple habitats (high-quality stream, forest, open field, and nesting areas) in tight proximity, to complete their life cycle;  this is a challenging requirement as streets, buildings, and parking lots interfere with these ranges. They can live to be more than 70 years old, although few hatchlings survive to adulthood. They have the ability to remember and navigate to locations even when displaced downstream by floods.  
 
The Town of Acton Conservation Division (previously Natural Resources) has been working with local and state herpetologists for years to assist in monitoring and conservation strategies to keep these ancient animals from disappearing altogether. Turtles evolved more than 200 million years ago, and wood turtles have lived in Eastern North America since well before the beginning of the last ice age about 100,000 years ago. But as biologist Mike Jones bluntly stated in his 2010 Massachusetts Wildlife (Vol.LX, No.2) article:  "If Wood Turtles were gone tomorrow, almost no one would notice because almost no one notices them now." 
 
Acton Wood Turtles are among several populations in Eastern Massachusetts monitored by Zoo New England’s Field Conservation Department, in a project launched in 2019.  The turtles are tracked at multiple stream sites to better understand their movement patterns, habitat use, and survival rates. Zoo New England protects turtle nests from predators and “headstarts” hatchlings by raising them to a size where they are less vulnerable to predators. The goal is to build partnerships with local communities to identify key management actions while giving populations a little boost. According to Mike Jones, it is rare in the eastern part of the state to find sufficiently large and diverse landscapes to support thriving Wood Turtle populations.
 
That’s why Anna Campbell, Acton’s first female Eagle Scout and passionate herpetologist, conducted her project at Veteran’s Field to improve Wood Turtle nesting habitat. Supervised by Zoo New England’s Bryan Windmiller, Town Staff first hired a contr actor to scarify a sunny, sandy area behind the bleachers with a powerful mower to uproot invasive multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and black locust. Anna planted dozens of New Jersey Tea Plants and Sweet Fern, a short grass prairie seed mix, and other suitable species as foraging material. She hand-watered them throughout the summer with her help of dedicated community volunteer turtle lovers, who weeded invasive re-sprouts. Anna created and installed a beautiful, informative, outdoor educational panel at the project site. Her panel explains how Wood Turtles overwinter in local streams by hiding under roots or log jams. In November, 2022, Anna was recognized in the traditional Court of Honor ceremony for her Eagle Scout achievement.

Acton Water District Finance Committee Discusses Financial Policy and Fiscal Year ‘25 Budget and Water Rates

by Kim Kastens
 
ACTON: The Finance Committee (FinCom) of the Acton Water District (AWD), along with the District Treasurer and Manager, met on January 4 to continue crafting the District Financial Policy, review the draft Fiscal Year ‘25 (FY25) budget and Annual Meeting warrant articles, and discuss water rates for FY25.  FY25 for the District runs from July 1, 2024 through June 30, 2025.
 
The emerging Financial Policy document formalizes and articulates policies around: annual budget, cash management, reserves, investments, stabilization fund, general fund, capital expenditures, other liabilities, accounting and financial reporting, and risk mitigation. The intent is to finalize the document early this year, and it will be a public document.
 
At this relatively early step in the budget planning process, the FY25 budget is projected to be in the range of $7.2 - 7.9 million, as contrasted with $6.7 M for FY24. A water rate increase will be required to meet the larger budget. Most of the new expenses are for remediation of PFAS, including the ongoing cost of replacement filtration medium and rental of the treatment system at the North Acton plant.  
 
As an alternative to spreading the unavoidable cost increase evenly across all water usage, the Committee discussed the possibility of loading the rate increase disproportionately onto summer rates and higher-volume rate tiers. The goal would be to use the pricing signal to further discourage non-essential outdoor water use in the summer, when the system is most stressed.   The budget is expected to be finalized at a joint meeting of the AWD Board of Commissioners and FinCom on January 22.

Discovery Museum Appoints Marie Beam as Chief Executive Officer

Marie beam  discovery museum ceo effective jan 1 2024 (c) jessica vultaggio
ACTON: Discovery Museum’s Board of Directors announced the appointment of Marie Brais Beam as Discovery Museum’s new Chief Executive Officer, effective January 1, 2024. Beam most recently served as the Museum’s Chief Development Officer, a position she held since 2013.

“Over her nearly ten years of leadership as Chief Development Officer, Marie has demonstrated a deep commitment to and passion for our work and has been a remarkably effective advocate of all that the Museum values. She brings a vision for our future that builds upon Discovery Museum’s many strengths with an eye towards the issues affecting kids and families and how best to support them,” said outgoing board president Harry Hollenberg. “In searching for our next CEO, the Board spent more than six months on a thoughtful, detailed, competitive, and rigorous selection process, resulting in our enthusiastic choice of Marie to lead Discovery Museum. We are very confident in Marie’s ability to position Discovery Museum for continued leadership both in our community and more broadly in the museum field nation-wide.”

Beam replaces outgoing CEO Neil H. Gordon, who retired at the end of 2023 after 14 years leading the Museum. Gordon led the beloved 41-year-old institution through transformative growth, an impactful physical expansion, and tremendous advancement in the depth, breadth, and reach of playful learning experiences serving kids and families throughout Massachusetts.

“In a time when we need more curious and creative problem solvers, Discovery Museum is helping thousands of kids each year to explore their world confidently and recognize their own abilities to make a difference,” said Beam. “It is an honor to be chosen to lead this wonderful organization and its extraordinary staff in its fifth decade of service to the children and families of our region.”

Beam oversaw the $8.8M, five-year Campaign for the Discovery Museum, the institution’s first campaign in 30 years, which funded a complete campus overhaul to create the Discovery Woods outdoor nature playscape and treehouse and a new and expanded museum facility, both of which are fully accessible to people with disabilities and learning differences. She spearheaded fundraising through the COVID-19 pandemic that flipped the Museum’s traditional earned and contributed revenue shares, helping to ensure that all staff were retained during a 4.5-month closure and the Museum could reopen with a month of free admission for all. Beam also conducted the $900K Bridge to the Future Campaign to fund the Museum’s conversion to 100% on-site solar electricity. In addition to campaign fundraising, Beam’s leadership of the Development function effected a nearly 250% increase in Annual Fund giving, which increased from $286K prior to her arrival to more than $1M in 2022.

Before joining Discovery Museum, Beam served as Director of Advancement at Fay School in Southborough, and prior to that held several roles in development at Simmons College in Boston and St. Sebastian’s School in Needham. She is currently a Board Member for the MetroWest Nonprofit Network (MWNN) and has served as an instructor in the MWNN/Framingham State University Certificate in Nonprofit Management program. In 2021, she was nominated by her peers and awarded a New England Museum Association Excellence Award. She earned a B.S./B.A. with Distinction from Simmons College.
Quarryroad

Planning Board Discusses Quarry Road Development Project

by Ron Beck

ACTON: The Acton Planning Board convened on Wednesday evening, Dec 20, for a “continuation” hearing for a Planned Conservation Residential Community (PCRC) application for 123 Quarry Road. According to Acton’s Zoning Bylaw section 9, PCRC’s are communities with housing clustered in one section, leaving at least 60% of the property as preserved open space. Sometimes property owners deed some of the open space to the Town. The 123 Quarry Road property has two dwellings on it at present, and the development would add four more. After discussion, the Board continued the hearing to a future meeting, with no decision.

The Quarry Road project requires the granting of a special permit under the PCRC provisions of the Town zoning code. The property is in close proximity to NARA Park and involves potential deeding of a portion of the land to the Town for future open space use.

The discussion focused on the Conservation Commission review, location of the septic field, and an easement to provide public access to the potentially deeded conservation land.
The Acton Planning Director Kristen Guichard and a representative of the applicant’s engineering consultant, Stamski and McNary, reported on the Conservation Commission’s review of the application. A small fraction of the proposed project is within the 100-foot buffer zone of an isolated wetland. Both the Acton Planning Director and the engineering consultant described the project as having minimal impact on that wetland. Both individuals reported that the review of the two departments had indicated the need for an easement to provide access to the proposed conservation-restricted acreage. Stamski and McNary had now added a public easement along the property line.
Conservation Officer Mike Gendron entered the meeting to provide a summary of the Conservation Commission’s deliberations. He conveyed enthusiasm over the potential addition of the new open space and the possibility of connecting other open space parcels and NARA Park with this parcel through a trail that might be enabled by easement.
One Board member asked for some clarification of why the septic field would be located so far from the residences. The Stamski and McNary consulting engineer stated that the septic field is well located because it is at a low point of the property.
Because the portion of the land proposed to be deeded to the town included the septic field, there was discussion of whether the Town would be responsible for the septic field. The engineer stated that no maintenance would be required other than occasional field mowing. The Conservation Officer stated that it would be unusual for the Town to take ownership and responsibility for a septic field serving a private party. The Planning Director concurred.

The property owner, Bettina Norton, expressed her dissatisfaction with the pace of the hearing and review. She asked,  “Has anyone here seen the property we are talking about? It has been extremely well cared for over the years, and is highly suitable for conservation.” The Planning Board members indicated that none of them had viewed or walked the property they were discussing. Norton invited them for a property tour. 

The Board decided to continue the hearing to await the engineering consultant’s wildlife inventory, and to meanwhile direct the Planning Director to prepare a draft opinion of approval. Norton said she was dissatisfied that the Board would not be making a decision and that she would “not be able to sleep at night” until this was finished.

Norton has owned the property since the late 1940s, and made clear that it is her interest that the conservation portion of the property be maintained for the good of the town.

State Approves Acton’s Participation in Fossil Fuel Free Building Construction and Renovation Demonstration Project

Warrent
by Jim Snyder-Grant

ACTON: On December 22, 2023, the Town of Acton received approval from the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) approving the Town’s participation in the Municipal Fossil Fuel Free Building Construction and Renovation Demonstration Project. This approval means that beginning March 22, 2024, new buildings and major rehabilitation projects in Acton must use electricity for heating, cooling, hot water and cooking, instead of piping in any fossil fuels (gas, oil, or propane), unless a waiver is provided by the Town.

In 2021, Town Meeting created Chapter AC of Acton’s General Bylaws (“Regulating Fossil Fuel Infrastructure in Buildings”) that laid out the requirements for fossil-fuel free building in Acton, and asked the state legislature to approve it. In response, instead of directly approving the bylaw, the legislature created a demonstration project in 2022 (Section 84 of Chapter 179). The DOER published regulations (225 CMR 24.00) that established a framework, requirements, and timeline for up to ten communities to participate. Acton then passed Article 13 at the 2023 Town Meeting, which amended Article AC to meet the requirements of the state program, and sent in a formal application in August 2023.  

The intent of the program, and Acton’s Chapter AC, is to reduce the amount of climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions from new buildings, consistent with the Town’s Climate Action Plan of 2022 and Town Meeting’s declaration of a climate emergency in 2020

Waivers can be requested by a developer or builder if an aspect of a proposed project is financially or technologically unfeasible without the use of fossil fuels. Exceptions to the need for a waiver include buildings where the primary use is as a research laboratory for scientific or medical research, or as hospitals or medical offices. Rehabilitation projects that involve less than 50% of the current floor area are also exempt.  The Select Board will be holding hearings for proposed regulations of the waiver process before the bylaw takes effect. 

A related building code change took effect January 1, 2024: the “municipal opt-in specialized code” came into effect, which residents approved at the 2023 Town Meeting. This new code tightens up insulation and air sealing requirements for new buildings, defines different requirements for all-electric versus fossil-fuel construction, and adds requirements related to wiring for electric-vehicle charging. 

Detailed questions about requirements of the new specialized code and the fossil-fuel free program may be directed to the Town’s Building Department at Town Hall or by email at building@acton-ma.gov.
Pasdedeux

Pedestrian-friendly Traffic Signal Installed at Great Road and Brook Street

by Kim Kastens

ACTON: On December 29, workers and a pair of bucket trucks were observed setting up a new traffic signal on Great Road, near the intersection with Brook Street.

This intersection was the site of a fatal accident in October 2022.  At several meetings in the fall of 2022,  the Select Board discussed traffic accidents along Great Road and decided to install a high-intensity activated crosswalk beacon (HAWK) signal at this location. Many pedestrians cross Great Road to access Donelan's and other shops in Gould's Plaza, the Great Road Church, Rapscallion restaurant, the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, Coach Estate apartments and other destinations.

A HAWK signal protects pedestrians by stopping vehicular traffic as needed. The traffic lights remain dark until a pedestrian activates the call button. The HAWK then shines yellow to alert drivers that a stop signal is imminent and they should prepare to stop. This is followed by red, and the pedestrian begins crossing. Vehicles must stop, as at any other red light. Flashing red means that the pedestrian has probably finished crossing but that drivers should be attentive and proceed only if the intersection is clear.