Ruptured pipe damages Highland Woods senior housing project, delays opening

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Damage from a burst pipe has set back by months the opening of half of the $8.5 million Highland Woods senior affordable housing project — just as new tenants were set to move in.

During a recent stretch of frigid temperatures, a 2-inch pipe in the attic froze — and then ruptured — damaging walls, insulation and other infrastructure in half the 40-unit building.

It may take three months or more before that half is repaired and again is ready to occupy.

"It's pretty disappointing to say the least," said Elton Ogden, president of project developer Berkshire Housing Development Corp. "People were moving in when it happened. Thankfully nobody's personal possessions were damaged."

It will take officials about three weeks to evaluate the damage and ready the western, unaffected side for occupancy, Ogden said. In the meantime, officials are assessing the damage to design a demolition and repair plan.

Allegrone Construction will likely do the work, Ogden added, since they are the ones that built it.

The opening of Highland Woods was timed to coincide with the closing of the Spruces, which was deemed impractical for housing after trailer homes in the park were lost to Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Only 66 of the park's 225 units were cleared for occupancy after the storm, and the park was slated to close this March.

There are just a few residents remaining at the Spruces.

Ogden said the pipe is part of a dry sprinkler system that runs trough the attic. For some reason, water had inadvertently been pumped in the dry system in the attic, and after the deep freeze started to break, the pipe burst in the mid-afternoon of Feb. 16. It was found and shut off after about 15 minutes.

Being a senior housing project, the walls are heavily insulated to prevent inter-building drafts. Much of that insulation became soaked through, requiring removal and replacement, Ogden said.

As a result, residents previously slated to live in the east side of the building are being offered a spot on the western side, he added. Or they can wait until the repairs are complete. There are about 20 tenants already committed to living there.

The project sits on a four-acre parcel donated by Williams College in June 2013. The three-story building is adjacent to Proprietor's Field housing complex and near the Council on Aging's Harper Center. It houses a mix of single and double rooms with common areas and a large green space, with some power provided by solar panels.

Project funding came from a number of local, state and federal grants, including $2.67 million from the state's Department of Housing and Community Development and $5.4 million in federal housing tax credits.

Local funding came from $2.6 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency money, representing a portion of a grant meant to relocate residents of Spruces, and $250,000 from the Williamstown Community Preservation Fund.


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