Longtime residents of Lee's Consolati building pleased with results of renovation
LEE -- For Ed Handberg, dealing with the renovation of his downtown apartment was worth the hassle.
Handberg, who has lived for 21 years in the Consolati building, was forced to relocate to the second floor for months while renovations were completed on the third floor.
And even when he got back to his own unit, he endured the occasional inconvenience of ongoing construction on the second floor.
Now that the project is finally complete, Handberg is glad that he's still a Main Street resident.
"It's very important to me because I don't drive any more and everything is within walking distance," he said.
Berkshire Housing Development Corp. recently completed its yearlong, $2.7 million affordable housing rehabilitation project. In all, tenants in 13 of the 16 apartments occupied when the project began last fall have returned to the upgraded units, according to the developer. Several, like Handberg, relocated within the building during construction; others lived elsewhere until their apartments were ready for occupancy.
BHDC has renters lined up for two of the vacant apartments with the third, a handicap accessible unit, targeted for the most qualified person next on a waiting list. That there are only three apartments available is testament to the affordable housing demand in Lee and elsewhere in the county, Executive Director Elton Ogden said.
"This type of housing is needed more than ever; modern, safe and accessible for all," he said.
The renovation mostly involved the interior of the three-story structure, with work done one floor at a time on the 16 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the upper two floors. Each dwelling has energy-efficient, heating, lighting appliances and windows; all have improved the quality of life according to Deidre "Dee Dee" Consolati, a 30-year inhabitant of the building.
"There is more natural light through the windows and they are draft-free," she said.
In addition, a new, enclosed elevator behind the building increased accessibility to the upper floors.
The first floor remains commercial space occupied by Mac Caro realty, Finders Keepers antiques and consignment shop and a pet supply store. All three moved in to replace existing businesses that left during -- but not because of -- the renovation work.
While renovation started in 2012, BHDC's quest for financing began five years ago toward the purchase of the building and construction.
After a lengthy process, the agency secured a combination of state funding and private loans to pay for a rehabilitation project that was a collaboration of BHDC, Lee and the Patrick Administration.
"This demonstrates the importance of affordable housing in a small town ... as having support from the town is absolutely critical to getting the project done," said Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary for Massachusetts Housing and Community Development.
Gornstein recently toured the refurbished apartments with local business leaders and Berkshire state lawmakers, Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli.
Pignatelli cited the importance of housing to downtown Lee's revitalization.
"The architecture, size and scope of Lee's Main Street is like no other in the county," the Lenox Democrat said.
The Civil War-era Consolati building is the second Main Street block to undergo extensive renovation within a two-year period.
In June 2011, local businessman Michael McManmon completed a $3.7 million restoration of the Baird & Benton block at 40-50 Main St. That project created classrooms and office space in the upper two floors -- vacant for more than 50 years -- for McManmon's Lee-based College Internship Program.
The first floor remained commercial space that includes a cafe, art gallery, tanning salon and manicure shop.
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