by Stephen Dravis
by Adams Shanks in the Berkshire Eagle
10/14/2016 04:47:55 AM EDT
WILLIAMSTOWN — When Tropical Storm Irene dumped as much as 9 inches of rain on the Northern Berkshires in late August 2011, flooding at the Spruces Mobile Home Park left the town’s most vulnerable residents homeless.
Just over five years later, state and local leaders gathered on Thursday to dedicate a building that stands as a testament to the town’s unified response to the storm’s devastation: Highland Woods.
Built with the help of multiple agencies and funding from sources local, state and national, the 40-unit affordable senior housing facility is now fully occupied. Several were residents of the Spruces.
“This is a prime example of what a group of people and organizations can do when they get together behind a common purpose that they really believe in,” said Elton Ogden, president of project developer Berkshire Housing Development Corp.
The $8.5 million project was completed in the wake of devastation caused to the Spruces, which was closed permanently earlier this year and razed. Most of its residents were never allowed back after the storm.
Highland Woods was built on a 4-acre parcel on Church Street was donated by Williams College in 2013.
“It was clear that we at Williams were going to want to find some way to participate in making this situation better,” said Williams College President Adam Falk. “I’m deeply grateful that were given the opportunity to do something that was relatively simple compared to all of the other extraordinary work.”
Funding for the project came from a number of sources, including a $2.67 million grant from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development and $5.4 million in federal housing tax credits.
“Think about how quickly we were able to get the approvals, get the property zoned, get it designed and get it funded. What is normally a very long challenging process was just about cut in half,” Ogden said. He stressed that “no corners were cut on the design and construction of this building.”
A ruptured pipe caused water damage in the 40-unit building and caused delays in February — on the very day residents were set to begin moving in — but the project has since recovered. A sprinkler line in the attic was inadvertently filled with water and, when it thawed after the winter’s freeze, the two-inch pipe bursted open.
The damage from the incident only impacted the eastern half of the facility, which had to be stripped to the studs and almost entirely rebuilt, Ogden said.
Higher Ground, a nonprofit that formed locally in the wake of Irene, also donated $125,000 that contributed to the facility’s furniture and landscaping.
“The completion of Highland Woods is truly a community success,” said Susan Puddester, president of Higher Ground’s board of directors. “It’s been over five years since Tropical Storm Irene visited our town, but I’m sure for those who were adversely affected it seems like just yesterday.
The building, built by Allegrone Construction, is expected to be one of the most energy efficient of its kind in the state. There are plans for a solar array to be built on the building’s roof by the end of the year that will generate as much electricity as the building uses, according to Ogden.
In addition to the immediate success of Highland Woods, Ogden noted several other projects in Williamstown, such as the Cable Mills, that include affordable housing components.
“I think that really says something about the need for this type of housing,” Ogden said.
Click HERE to read the article on the Berkshire Eagle Website.
By Stephen Dravis iBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The spirit of co-operation that helped produce a 40-unit affordable housing complex in at least half the usual time was celebrated at Thursday’s dedication of Highland Woods.
Elton Ogden, the president and CEO of developer Berkshire Housing Development Corp., said the efforts of community volunteers, state and local officials and non-profit and for-profit businesses helped his group meet an ambitious timeline that saw Highland Woods’ opening coincide earlier this year with the final closure of the former Spruces mobile home park.
“Let’s think about how quickly we were able to get the approvals, get the property zoned, get it designed and get it funded,” Ogden said. “What is normally a very long, challenging process was just about cut in half or even less than that.
“I really feel this is a prime example of what a group of people and organizations can do when they get behind a common purpose that they really believe in. I think it’s particularly noteworthy in this day and age when there is so much cynicism about our ability to work together as people. This is a great example that we really can do this and we can do it for things that are important to us.”
The chairwoman of the Williamstown Board of Selectmen echoed Ogden’s comments.
“This is an extraordinary example of everybody, the folks involved in this, attacking this problem with the notion of, ‘Let’s get to yes,’ ” Jane Patton said. “I love ‘yes.’ ‘Yes’ is my favorite word in the whole world. I love to say it, and I love to hear it.
“And everybody involved in this process came to it with, ‘Let’s get to yes.’ ‘Yes, we can get the funds.’ ‘Yes, we can donate the land.’ ‘Yes, we can get help from the folks in Boston.’ ‘Yes, [Rep. Gailanne Cariddi] is going to help us.’ And when everybody is all about ‘yes’ … now we’re standing here in the middle of a whole bunch of ‘yes’ — so much positivity, so many good things.
“Williamstown should be very proud. Everyone here should be very proud.”
Many of the key people who helped make the Highland Woods vision a reality were at Thursday’s ceremony, where the project was dedicated with a stone marker recognizing “community support” and the “fondly remembered home and neighborhood” that was the Spruces.
Speakers included Cariddi, Williams College President Adam Falk, MountainOne Financial President Robert Fraser, Kathy Quinn of Boston Capital Partners and Susan Puddester of the local non-profit Higher Ground.
Falk said the college was thrilled to be able to be part of the town’s solution when Tropical Storm Irene devastated the Spruces five years ago.
“It was clear that we at Williams were going to want to participate in making the situation better,” Falk said. “I am deeply grateful that we were given the opportunity to do something that was relatively simple compared to all of the other extraordinary work.”
Ogden took time to thank as many of the partners as he could, from the college, which donated the land to Pittsfield-based Allegrone Construction, which “worked very, very long days and long weeks because they understood our need to get this open in time, and they did it,” he said.
Two former public officials who were instrumental in obtaining the financing for the project also were recognized. Aaron Gornstein, the undersecretary for housing and community development in Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, attended Thursday’s ceremony. Retired Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin, who negotiated the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant that funded the Spruces’ closure and helped fund Highland Woods, did not attend.
“I’m sorry he’s not here to receive the credit,” Ogden said of Fohlin. “He’s going to get credit whether he wants it or not.”
Nearly $3 million in town money — mostly proceeds from the FEMA grant but also some Community Preservation Act funds — went toward Highland Woods.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say this project never could happen without the support of the town,” Ogden said. “Williamstown has contributed $2.85 million. That doesn’t happen, especially in a small town like Williamstown.”
Thursday’s ceremony was attended by several members of town boards and committees as well as town employees like Debra Turnbull, who managed the Spruces during the closure period, and Brian O’Grady, the director of the Council on Aging.
Earlier Thursday morning, the board of directors of Higher Ground, the Williamstown non-profit formed in Irene’s wake whose name is echoed in the name of the 40-unit Highland Woods project, voted to dissolve the organization now that its last project has been completed.
Ogden recalled Higher Ground’s efforts in the immediate aftermath of Irene to help Spruces residents find safe housing, its advocacy for the Highland Woods project and its grant of $125,000 to pay for furniture in the common areas at Highland Woods and landscape improvements.
Ogden called Higher Ground the conscience of the project.
“It’s been a long process, and it says so much about Williamstown that we, as a community, made this happen,” Higher Ground President Susan Puddester said. “Every individual who has been a part of making this a success should give your self a pat on the back. You are part of making Highland Woods a reality.”
Click HERE t0 read the article on iBerkshires.com.
Monday’s meeting included the announcement that [Williamstown Town Manager Jason] Hoch and his Town Hall team nearly have completed a years-long process begun under his predecessor, the closure of the former Spruces Mobile Home Park and the shepherding of $6.1 million grant funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Hoch told the board that the town has received its last pending major reimbursement under the grant, which was administered by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
The money, predicated on the flood-prone park’s closure and return of the land to a natural state, was used to relocate Spruces residents, remove park infrastructure and help fund the Highland Woods senior affordable housing project off South Street.
Hoch told the board the town has made its last $400,000 payment to Highland Woods developer Berkshire Housing Development Corporation.
“This is the end of a long process,” [Board of Selectmen Chair Andrew] Hogeland noted. “Thank you to Debbie [Turnbull], too. This was years’ worth of work.”
Turnbull, the town manager’s assistant, managed the mobile home park during the period when the town controlled the property on behalf of its owner Morgan Management, which only relinquished title to the town after the last residents were relocated. Turnbull, who was recognized at annual town meeting as the town’s employee of the year, was for many months the point person and advocate for Spruces residents at Town Hall.
Hoch told the board that while most of the money related to the closure has changed hands, there is still some paperwork hanging over the town’s head: the final signoff from FEMA that the terms of the grant have been fulfilled.
“There is no reason to expect any concerns, but the paper is not here with their signature and my signature,” Hoch said. “Hopefully, this will be done by the end of the year.”
The plaster lions were rebuilt with cement and weigh about a ton each. Each lion is about 5 feet high and 8 feet long.
(Everyone at Higher Ground sends prayers for peace and healing to all former Spruces residents and their loved ones on this sad anniversary.)
by Susan Bush for the Berkshire Eagle
WILLIAMSTOWN — When the rains of Tropical Storm Irene began on Aug. 28, 2011, most folks knew the storm would be big news. Weather predictions grew increasingly dire as high winds and tropical, consistently torrential, rains approached. At the Spruces Mobile Home Park, the situation became worse-case scenario in a matter of hours. The storm caused massive Hoosic River flooding in the low-lying Route 2 park. Despite initial hopes that at least a portion of the tightly-knit mostly senior citizen community could be saved, the 38-acre park was shut down permanently. The last of more than 300 residents left in 2015. The park is now empty, idle, and shows little hint of the 225 mobile homes once stationed there. Over $6 million of Federal Emergency Management Agency revenues were spent assisting flood victims and thousands more in donations and emergency supplies from private donors, financial institutions, and non-profits agencies and churches.
Victor Ziter and Lewis “Roy” Audette said they feel the loss of their former home despite purchasing a North Adams home in the North Street neighborhood.
“We loved it there,” Ziter said. “We were a close-knit community, we had parties, barbecues, Christmas and Halloween parties, it was wonderful.”
“It was a totally independent community,” said Marilyn Kirby, who spent three decades there as a park resident. “Every neighbor looked out for neighbor. It was an experience to live there. There was nothing like it. There still isn’t.”
Kirby lives in North Adams at another Route 2 mobile home park now. The people are pleasant and the park is well-maintained but “It’s not the same. It will never be the same. People that I encounter across the board say ‘I miss the (Spruces) park.'”
Arthur and Mary Smith relocated immediately following the flood. Soon after the flood, Smith purchased a Union Street house. The home needed extensive work and financial investment, he said. It was months before his wife could move into the home and then, when she was stricken with ill health, the couple had to put the house on the market. They moved again to a small one floor apartment.
Tackling these situations as octogenarians was not in their plan, the couple said during a recent interview.
“We figured that being in the Spruces was the last stop and we loved it there,” Mary Smith said.
“I thought we would go out feet first,” Arthur Smith said. “I lost about $70K through all that and that’s an awful lot at almost 80 years old.”
Emotional and financial losses were abundant, all agreed.
“It was heartbreaking and its still heartbreaking,” Kirby said. “We’ve lost so many people, and realizing that they passed (died) with this loss at the last part of their lives…it’s devastating. I don’t know if people ever understood how it was there.”
There is resentment and some anger on Ziter’s part, he said. He believes that despite many meetings with town and federal officials and the formation of several groups and committees, there was never a sincere desire to save any of the acreage as a mobile home park, he said.
“It was all nothing but being misled,” Ziter said. “I truly believe they didn’t know where to begin. I believe the Spruces was not fitting with the Village Beautiful.”
Ziter and Audette created a vibrant homage to the Spruces along the steep sloping property of their new home. Plants, flowers, and foliage fill the space and there is a bench with special meaning, Audette said.
“When everyone was leaving, so many people gave me plants and flowers from their yards,” he said. “Every flower and plant here came from the Spruces. The statues are from the Spruces. And this bench I will not part with. Never. This came from (park resident) Don Anderson, who was such a wonderful man.”
Anderson was a retired town police dispatcher and Charles H. McCann Technical School English teacher. He passed away following the flooding.
Five years have come and gone and every surviving resident of the former park has had to pick up the pieces and move on. But forgetting is not likely, said Arthur Smith.
“I rode my bike around that park almost every day,” he said. “People could know the time by seeing me on my bike. The newspaper (former North Adams Transcript) did a story about me riding my bike before the flooding. It was such a nice place, so friendly, everybody liked each other.”
“And every day I miss it,” he said.
by Scott Stafford
The Berkshire Eagle, 05/04/2016 06:02:00 AM EDT
WILLIAMSTOWN — When the floodwaters receded from the Spruces mobile home park in August 2011, more than half of the 225 units were left uninhabitable.
For many residents of that community, the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Irene marked the beginning of an ordeal that would last nearly five years.
Within two days, a number of efforts popped up to raise funds and find shelter for the victims. About a week later, the various efforts coalesced into an organization that soon would be named Higher Ground.
“At the time, it was very chaotic,” said Susan Puddester, president of Higher Ground. “Some people lost cars as well as their homes. Some of them couldn’t even go back into their homes to get their stuff because of the damage. It was really frustrating for them. Very upsetting. And looters have been a concern through the whole process.”
Higher Ground now has fulfilled its mission to offer assistance and relief to more than 300 former residents of the Spruces with the help of hundreds of donors, thousands of volunteer hours from towns people, college staff and students and dozens of local companies. It also took millions of dollars gathered from the federal government and local contributors.
The last resident moved out of the park in the last week March, and demolition crews have removed all structures left on the property. During the coming weeks, utility crews will be removing electric and phone lines and other utility infrastructure from the property. Eventually, what is left of the roads will also be removed.
The only thing left will be the matched pair of lions at the entrance, the trees and the adjacent pond.
Torrential rains from the storm — as much as 9 inches was reported in some Northern Berkshire communities — swelled the Hoosic River over its banks and inundated the community of mostly retirees.
Some flood victims had relatives or friends who took them in, but many others needed food and housing — quickly.
“There were quite a number who needed places to stay, and we were negotiating with different hotels in local towns for good rates,” Puddester said. “We were also providing them with gas cards and food cards.”
Other accommodations shortly after the storm included vacant faculty apartments provided by Williams College. A number of pets had to be boarded or put into foster care for a time.
“That was a really big concern for them because they were being separated from their pets,” Puddester said.
She noted that many of the Spruces refugees, most of whom lost everything to the flood, were in hotels through October of that year. Volunteers at Higher Ground helped them through the next phase, finding permanent accommodations.
All of this took not only volunteer hours, but lots of money.
According to Higher Ground volunteer Cathy Yamamoto, $90,000 was raised from local donors immediately after the flood. Another $307,000 was raised locally after Higher Ground was formed. Altogether about 800 individuals contributed money to the cause. That funding was used to help with immediate needs and with cost of relocation to permanent housing.
And dozens of local organizations and corporations, including many Berkshire County banks and churches, made grants to Higher Ground for disaster relief.
About $6.2 million in FEMA funds also went to the town, which hired a relocation expert to help the victims through the transition. The federal funds also helped with cost of relocations, and will be used to purchase the property from Morgan Management.
Yamamoto also noted that over the last four years, there have been about 50 people involved with Higher Ground as board members, advisers and volunteers, and more than 50 Williams College students and alumni, along with groups like the Gale Hose Company and the Girl Scouts, who volunteered for the cleanup sessions at the Spruces. Several Williams College student groups raised money for the effort.
“It was a great community effort,” Puddester said. “There were lots of donations large and small to help with the cause.”
Eventually, Higher Ground began working with the college on replacing the lost housing with something affordable. After a multiagency effort, Williams College donated land and a variety of agencies and others were able to finance the construction of Highland Woods, with 40 units of affordable housing.
About 10 of them were rented by former residents of the Spruces.
“Probably under 30 people were able to stay in Williamstown,” Puddester said. “The affordability of the Spruces was tough to match anywhere, particularly in Williamstown.”
Now that the relocations and relief efforts are largely over, Puddester said, Higher Ground will take the next few months to evaluate its status as an active relief organization.
“It’s a pretty good feeling to begin a mission to help people with a clear goal, and to be able to sit back and say ‘We did it,’ ” she said. “It just shows what you can do when people pull together like this town did.”
As for the vacant housing community, once all the details are worked out, the town will finally purchase the property from Morgan Management for an as yet undetermined amount which is expected to be the range of $4.5 million, according to Williamstown Town Manager Jason Hoch. Ownership could transfer as early as this month.
Meanwhile, the Spruces Land Use Committee, appointed by the town, is exploring potential uses for the property.
According to Dr. Thomas Hyde, committee chairman, voters at the May 17 town meeting will be asked to authorize $41,500 to pay for an engineering study to evaluate the land for use as a recreational area.
After surveying residents, several options were proposed, including hiking trails, a parking area with water permeable surfaces, an open-air covered event stage, rest rooms, soccer fields, picnic tables along the river, boat access to the river, a toddler playground, and ice skating on the pond.
“I think it will be great for local residents to have access to that land,” Hyde said. “It has great views and it’s just a real nice area.”
Hoch said the lion statues at the entrance will likely be cleaned of the peeling paint and remain on guard, as a Williamstown landmark and a gateway to what will become a town park.
“They’re a symbol of that site, and sort of another welcome sign for folks coming into town,” he said. “So we’d like to leave them there.”
Former Spruces resident recalls 2011 flood that washed her from her home
By Scott Stafford
The Berkshire Eagle, 05/03/2016 08:13:29 PM EDT
WILLIAMSTOWN — Carol Zingarelli clearly remembers that chaotic day in August 2011 when firefighters helped her and her three panicky pets out of her home, through the floodwaters wrought by Tropical Storm Irene, and on to safe shelter.
The previous night, she said, residents of the Spruces mobile home park were told to get out, but the park had weathered other storms, so most of them stayed.
But by morning, the rain-swollen Hoosic River rolled spilled over its banks and headed straight for the park. In all, the storm dumped up to 9 inches of rain on Northern Berkshire communities.
Firefighters had come through the park earlier in the morning again to urge residents to evacuate to a shelter that had been set up in the gym of Williamstown Elementary School. But pets weren’t allowed. So Zingarelli, like many others, refused to leave their pets to the rising river.
Around noon, as the water was threatening to spill over her front doorstep and into the house, Zingarelli recalls, the firefighters returned and the evacuation — pets included — began in earnest.
And so did commence an emotional, yearslong transition for residents of the neighborhood, which was devastated by the storm.
That transition is now complete. The last of the park’s 325 residents moved out in late March, and the remaining structures have been razed.
The once-tight knit Spruces community of mostly retirees has now scattered throughout the county and beyond; only about 30 were able to find lodging in Williamstown. The vacant park is now desolate, but the memories remain, as do the stately matched pair of lion statues marking the entrance to a neighborhood that no longer exists.
“It was a wonderful community,” Zingarelli said. “And that’s what it was — a community.”
A transplant from Denver, Zingarelli had moved in just three months before Irene. At 58 years old, she was ready to settle in.
“I was convinced this was going to be my last place to live,” she said, “and of course it got washed out from under me.”
On the day of the flood, she finally got to the shelter with her dog and two cats in crates. Exercise mats had been spread out over the gym floor for folks to sleep on.
Zingarelli was recovering from a recent stoke, and had limited movement. And all the pets in the shelter were agitated, as were most of the displaced flood victims. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to get any rest, she rented a room at a local motel that allows pets, and the four of them stayed there for two nights.
She had the chance to return to the park later that afternoon to check on the fate of her home.
“The water was over the windows of the mobile homes and the rec center,” she said. “And the water was still pouring in from all sides. It was coming from everywhere. I knew at that point that the mobile home park would no longer exist.”
Zingarelli lost everything in the house. Because the damage to the trailer’s support structure, she wasn’t permitted to go back inside for three more days, leaving everything inside soaking wet in a closed and flooded trailer.
“There really wasn’t anything that could be salvaged,” she said.
After two nights in the hotel, Zingarelli was out of money, so she checked in with the Red Cross, but it was apparent that state and federal emergency relief efforts were spread thin by Irene’s wrath along the East Coast.
With no place to stay and nothing left to live on, about a dozen evacuees, including Zingarelli, decided to try to find help at a church. They stopped in at the First Congregational Church of Williamstown.
The pastor of the church at the time, Carrie Bail, and the former church administrator, Gail Burns, told them to relax. The pair then started contacting parishioners, who quickly came through with help.
“They told us, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you,’ ” Zingarelli recalls. “Within an hour, we each had hotel rooms for a week, gas cards, and gifts cards for food. That’s really how we got through that first couple of weeks.”
With the need for shelter and food taken care of for the near term, the Spruces refugees were now in a holding pattern waiting for FEMA and the Red Cross to respond.
But from the beginning, a loose group of volunteers had started raising money and handling logistics of housing and food for the flood victims. The group gelled quickly, with Susan Puddester at the helm of an energetic, focused and growing team that named itself Higher Ground.
It was a gargantuan effort that involved local churches, Williams College students and staff, and other individual community members, with Higher Ground coordinating the effort to provide Spruces residents through the difficult transition physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially.
“Higher Ground started raising money, and the Williamstown Community Chest got involved, and FEMA funding started coming through,” said Zingarelli, who now serves on the board of the organization.
She wound up staying in a motel for three months.
“Really it was the local folks who came to the rescue,” she said. “There was even emotional support. People were in shock. Our lives were in shambles. But they opened their arms to us, said ‘We are here for you. What do you need?’ ”
After three months, with help from Higher Ground, she bought a mobile home from another Spruces resident whose trailer was among about 66 that were still habitable, but had decided to get out. At the time, the fate of the Spruces was still undecided.
So Zingarelli moved back into the park,.
“It was a very frustrating process for all of us,”she said. “[The information coming out] wasn’t consistent. We really didn’t know what was going on. I knew they would close the park at some point, but there were a lot of people who were hopeful they could stay in their homes.”
By October 2014, it became clear that the park would close, with March 2016 set as the deadline. Along with more than 100 others, Zingarelli started looking for another home in Williamstown.
But because of her compromised mobility, Zingarelli needs to live on the ground floor. And she had three pets, and she needed something affordable. She was unable to find anything in Williamstown to meet those criteria.
She found a place in Northampton, and now drives back to Williamstown periodically for meetings of the board of directors of Higher Ground.
“Higher Ground is a remarkable organization and I am so honored to be a part of it,” she said. “The heart and soul of that group was to help out the people of the Spruces. The community, Williams College, the churches all worked with Higher Ground. It was amazing, all that pulling together in a campaign of good will for folks in real trouble.”
But still, having been gone from the Spruces for more than a year, the sight of the empty park prompts an emotional reaction for Zingarelli.
“When I drive by there now, it all comes back — the flood and a flood of other memories,” she said. “It’s pretty devastating.”
Statement from Susan Puddester, President, Higher Ground of Northern Berkshire, 2/19/2016
“Sadly, there is significant water damage to Highland Woods due to a Sprinkler malfunction. Clean up has begun. All parties involved are working hard to an effective resolution. The town, Highland Woods, and Berkshire Housing are working with those individuals affected by this situation.”
By Stephen Dravis
05:43PM / Friday, February 19, 2016
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A sprinkler system failure has caused a delay to occupancy of the Highland Woods senior housing project.
Berkshire Housing Development Corp. CEO Elton Ogden confirmed on Friday evening that the 40-unit apartment is closed to tenants after a pipe burst on Tuesday while the first batch of residents were in the process of moving in.
Ogden said most of the residents who were planning to move into the apartments this week have been able to stay in the homes they were vacating. And none of the residents’ property was damaged during the incident.
Not so, the building itself.
Ogden said the current plan is to keep the east wing of the structure, where the burst occurred, closed for the foreseeable future and move the residents into the west wing as soon as possible.
About half the building’s apartments were affected by the sprinkler system failure. Ogden said the damage to that side of the building is extensive.
“Obviously, it’s incredibly disappointing for people moving in and us and the construction team,” Ogden said. “Now we have to take it apart and put it back together.
“The good thing is that this didn’t happen two weeks from now [after residents were moved in].”
Ogden said experts have yet to identify the exact cause of the system failure, but he said last weekend’s extreme cold temperatures may have played a role.
The Highland Woods apartments, on land donated by Williams College, sprang from the efforts of town officials and local non-profit Higher Ground to address the crisis arising from Tropical Storm Irene and the subsequent closure of the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
The town has committed $2.8 million toward the project, which is funded largely through federally-backed low-income housing tax credits.
The town’s portion came in the form of $100,000 from the Affordable Housing Trust, $100,000 from the Community Preservation Act fund and $2.6 million in projected proceeds from the Federal Hazard Mititgation Grant tied to the closure of the Spruces.
Last Friday, town officials past and present gathered at Highland Woods for an open house scheduled four days before the planned move-in of the first residents. Among the first occupants of the 40-unit apartment building are a dozen current or former residents of the Spruces, which is slated to be closed for good on Feb. 29.