Highland Woods: Housing development puts a roof over those displaced by Irene

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Photo Gallery | Highland Woods Housing Dedication

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.

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"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.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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