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.
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.
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.
By Stephen Dravis
04:15PM / Monday, February 15, 2016
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town’s new senior housing project threw open its doors on Friday to current and former town officials who helped make the project a reality.
On Tuesday, it begins welcoming its first crop of residents.
Highland Woods is a 40-unit affordable housing project built partly with town funds on land donated by Williams College. This week, it will begin welcoming the dozen former or current residents of the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
Most Spruces residents have long since found new homes since Tropical Storm Irene devastated the park in 2011 and certainly since the town assumed control in 2014 with the intention of closing the park under the terms of a federal Hazard Mitigation Grant.
Among the handful who remain at the Main Street mobile home park, at least six will be relocating to the new apartments off Southworth Street, behind the existing Proprietors Field senior apartments.
The bulk of the Highland Woods funding came from federally-funded, state administered low-income housing tax credits.
The town’s efforts to create replacement housing in the wake of Irene helped spur the development of the three-story Highland Woods in a remarkable period of time.
“We cut one and a half to two years off the funding approval time,” said Elton Ogden, the president and CEO of developer Berkshire Housing Development Corp. of Pittsfield.
Friday’s open house gave a look at project’s the one- and two-bedroom units as well as common areas throughout the building. Debra Turnbull, who has managed the Spruces for the town since it assumed control of the park, said those common areas — as well as the proximity to Proprietors Field and the town’s senior center — will help those Spruces residents making the transition create the same sense of community they had at the park.
Ogden said Friday that the apartments are starting to fill up, but Berkshire Housing is still accepting applications.
“At this point, half the units are filled,” he said. “We’re working from a good list of other people. But we’re definitely still in the marketing mode.”
by Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires.com, July 12, 2015
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Work at the Highland Woods senior housing project is on schedule with a planned opening in early 2016, the developer said recently.
“It’s really progressing well,” Berkshire Housing Development Corp. CEO Elton Ogden said. “We’re at the point now where we have the third floor framed and the roof trusses are going on for one third of the building.
“There’s been a ton of work being done, but it hasn’t always been obvious because there’s a lot of below-ground work. Once the framing starts, there is much more visible evidence.”
Ogden said he hopes to start signing leases after the first of the year.
Timing is important.
The town has invested heavily in the project being built near the current Proprietors Field senior housing project.
The largest commitment is $2.6 million the town plans to realize from the proceeds of the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant tied to the closure of the Spruces Mobile Home Park. The flood-prone park is scheduled to close for good Feb 29 2016.
Town officials have always intended that the 40-unit Highland Woods project, built on land donated by Williams College, will help fill some of the housing void left by the park’s closure. And the commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development has agreed to a weighted lottery to give preference to Spruces residents in deciding who gets to be the initial Highland Woods residents.
“The plan is we’re going to begin marketing in early September,” Ogden said. “What we’re hoping to do is have at least a six-week application period. Then what happens is we have to verify they’re [income] eligible. Then all the eligible people go into a lottery.
“Our hope is we’ll be able to conduct the lottery in November. That schedule is still somewhat flexible.”
Meanwhile, Berkshire Housing and its Boston-based partner the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development are moving forward with its plan to develop affordable housing at the town-owned former Photech Mill property on Cole Avenue.
“We’re finally getting that off the back burner,” Ogden said.
“What we’ve done is we’ve put out an RFP [request for proposals] for an environmental consultant. … Basically we’re looking for someone to assist with a remediation plan. What we know is the building has lead paint and asbestos.”
Ogden said developers will be doing the remediation plan in parallel with the start of the design process for the parcel.
“We’ll really be ramping up on that over the summer,” he said.
In recent months, the Cole Avenue site has been used for storage of building materials, leading to speculation that a building project there was imminent. But the land is currently being used with permission of the town by R.K. Miles, the nearby building materials supplier that is renovating its property at the corner of Cole Avenue and North Hoosac Street.