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North Adams Housing Authority Executive Director Jennifer Hohn, left, U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, Mayor Richard Alcombright and authority Chairwoman Marie Harpin 'break ground' on the energy efficiency project.

North Adams Authority Breaks Ground For Savings

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Housing Authority employees stand by information placards on the project's savings and environmental impact. U.S Rep. John W. Olver said it promoted sustainability and jobs.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The North Adams Housing Authority is breaking ground in more ways than one by using $3.2 million through HUD to enter into an energy performance contract to retrofit its 306 residential units.

The authority is thought to the among the first of its size to enter into such a contract, and possibly the first small community to receive approval through U.S. Housing and Urban Development's Section 30 process.

An estimated $7 million in savings through energy efficiencies over the next 20 years of the contract will not only provide funding to cover the cost of the project but up to $700,000 for operations.

"Operating subsidies are being cut from housing authorities nationwide right now," said Executive Director Jennifer Hohn. "So in a time when finding funding is difficult, it's giving us the opportunity to increase our revenue stream and be able to operate at the current level we're operating now and not cut our current programs."

On Wednesday, Hohn was joined by U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, Mayor Richard Alcombright, Housing Authority members including Chairwoman Marie Harpin, residents and others to ceremonially "break ground" on the project at Greylock Valley Apartments.

"These energy performance contracts, they allow communities like this to update their infrastructure and dramatically reduce their energy use," said Olver, who congratulated Hohn and the authority's board, as well as HUD. North Adams may be the smallest community to land such a project since most go to more urban areas, but it also has a large number of affordable housing units for its size, he said. "Overall, this is a sustainability measure that promotes the safety and security of the tenants while providing employment in the community. ... I think it's a great day for North Adams."

Hohn said the effort begin 18 months ago when the authority began reviewing its holdings and setting priorities for improvements. The nonfunctioning and aged heating systems were targeted for replacement but there were not enough funds in the capital budget for the extensive improvements. 

That had the board looking at an energy performance contract, in which an energy service company is paid back through the savings — a guarantee that real savings will be made. To take on the encumbrance, the North Adams authority also had to pass the HUD Section 30 approval process before the agreement could be signed.

Hohn said the North Adams Housing Authority was breaking ground for smaller entities with its energy performance contract.
The process wasn't easy said, Hohn, but "it increased my passion for the project knowing that North Adams Housing Authority is quite unique in size to be in a contract of this nature."

The contractor is CTI Energy Services LLC of Amherst. Infrastructure improvements include refurbishment or replacement of boiler and electric heating systems, addition insulation, updated lighting, new thermostatic controls and other infrastructure at the four complexes: Greylock Valley, Riverview, Ashland Street and Spring Street. The construction will mean 20 full-time equivalent jobs over the next year.

"We thought we might find a small project that would have significant ramifications for the housing authority," said CTI President Craig Meadows. "After looking at it, we realized there was considerably more to do here than we would ever expect."

For example, a co-generation system for the High-Rise installed to save money was actually costing the authority $60,000 more a year. The Greylock Valley boilers are poorly piped and designed and the boilers at the Riverview Apartments were outgassing.

"There will be massive infrastructure changes here," said Meadows. "We hope we make major improvements that will give both safety and security to the occupants and make everyone much more comfortable and energy efficient."

Alcombright said it was significant the Housing Authority was breaking new ground, "in a time when money is so tight and so competitive this is not an easy thing to do." He later described Olver as "a true champion for the Housing Authority and the city of North Adams" for helping push the project through.

"Coming from a rural community, I have been pressing for Housing and Urban Development to reach down from the larger communities and find commuities similar to North Adams," said Olver.

The work will begin within the next few weeks. Hohn described the yearlong project as win-win for everybody.

"The environmental impact of this is important also," she said. "In a time of green energy, I feel everybody should be proud we're reducing our overall carbon footprint on the environment ... certainly, it's a positive."

Tags: Housing Authority,   HUD,   Olver,   

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