Breaking Ground - Two Verses with a Common Refrain
A groundbreaking on adaptive reuse for a vacant, boarded up former school in Fitchburg- 68 apartments near downtown in this Gateway City. Another groundbreaking for a new construction project in Pelham, a Rural Town in Western MA with 1,300 residents- for a project half the size of the Fitchburg project. What do these two CDC events have in common? More than one might think- in a word (or two)- patience and partnership!
On a brisk early November morning, with a bright sun in a cloudless sky taking the bite out of the 30-something temperature, a large group gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking at the site of the former B.F. Brown School. NewVue Communities acquired the school in 2018, but as Executive Director Marc Dohan and other speakers noted, it’s taken more than 10 years to get to this point.
It’s also taken many hands. and the site’s neighbor, the Fitchburg Arts Museum, started talking about this in January 2013. The office has pushed this project forward- initially with former Mayor Lisa Wong, and now with Mayor Stephen DiNatale. Numerous public funders and policymakers were present to celebrate: Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC) Secretary Ed Augustus, senior officials from MassDevelopment, , CEDAC, the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC) and NeighborWorks America were among the speakers. Marc also thanked the Health Foundation of Central MA, and UMASS Memorial Health. The big sign with the list of supporters needed small lettering to include the organizations who made this happen.
Two things noted by speakers stood out for me. First, Marc Dohan thanked MHIC for working with the CDC to diversify the construction workforce, which will have 15% of the hard (construction) costs paid to Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs), and 25% of the construction jobs will go to workers of color. Second, Dan Rivera, CEO of MassDevelopment, said “CDCs are the most important letters in the development alphabet.”
That afternoon, Home City Development, based in Springfield, broke ground on Amethyst Brook Apartments in Pelham, a small town just east of Amherst. The crowd was a bit smaller than in Fitchburg, but no less happy to share this milestone. After an enthusiastic welcome from Home City’s Board Chair, Loleta Collins, Executive Director Tom Kegelman described the importance of this project. Tom noted that a recent count showed that there are 224 homeless individuals in Hampshire County, and another 6,000 households who encounter rents so high that they need to cut back on life’s other necessities, such as food. The project, consisting of 34 units in two buildings, will be built to Passive House standards, and will contain charging stations for electric vehicles and roof-mounted solar panels.
As in Fitchburg, the breadth, and depth, of the partnership is impressive. The Town’s Select Board and Zoning Board of Appeals fully supported the project. Tilman Lukas, who chairs the Town’s Housing Committee, provided a history of the site, noting the challenges of finding sites for housing, as a recent study found that only 8% of the land in Pelham is buildable. The Town provided $500,000 in Community Preservation Act funding, and at Meeting the vote in favor was overwhelming, with only a handful of residents voting no. On the State level, EOHLC and CEDAC provided critical funding. Bill Brauner from CEDAC noted that he received a call about this project from Tom Kegelman in 2019- so this project has taken more than 4 years to get to construction. MHIC CEO Turay said that this is the sixth Home City project MHIC has supported, evidence of the high regard they hold for Home City Development.
Patience and partnership were the themes of these two groundbreakings. I’m looking forward to the ribbon-cuttings, when these projects are completed!