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.”
Activity in The Spruces has slowed to a crawl as the number of residents has diminished
and cold weather has set in.
Sixty two of seventy three households have met with Trish Smith, Relocation Advisory
Forty one owner-occupants of forty three mobile homes have relocated. Three additional
individuals living with owners of mobile homes chose to establish their own residence when
leaving the park. Two tenants of the apartment building have relocated. Twenty seven trailers
with valid occupancy permits remain occupied. Three of these have identified their future housing and are likely to relocate soon. This leaves 24 households needing to identify future housing.
Eight households have remained in Williamstown.
Six residents have not yet scheduled their appraisals. Fifteen trailers have been removed
at a cost of $52,300. Asbestos remediation has been completed on nine trailers at a cost of
$26,268.22. The trailers will be removed in the spring.
We have sold eleven trailers for a total of $6,686. The Town is scheduled to appear in Pittsfield Housing Court on January 21 to secure ownership of 32 trailers that have been abandoned for more than three years so they may be demolished and disposed.
Utilities, pads, and driveways have been removed from 110 of 225 lots. There are eight
lots ready for utility, pad, and driveway removal in the spring. The apartment house is vacant and shut down.
The apartment house and recreation hall will be demolished summer of 2015. All roadways remain intact for now.
Determinations of Benefit have been approved by Trish Smith for 50 households totaling
$937,156.51. We have distributed $902,756.51 to 49 residents and tenants.
We have submitted five requests for reimbursement to FEMA/MEMA of $1,255,810.98
as of December 31, 2014 and have received four payments totaling
– Peter Fohlin, Williamstown Town Manager