College's Winter Blitz Project Helps Residents Conserve Energy

By Kathy KeeserSpecial to iBerkshires
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Photos by Kathy Keeser
Williams sophomores Inez Tan and Nicole Wise wrap insulation around water pipes on a basement furnace in a North Adams home as part of a community project.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — More than a 140 college students and community volunteers helped area residents button up for winter last weekend.

The second annual Williams College Winter Blitz on Saturday, Nov. 7, included 28 teams working on weatherization projects at 35 homes in Northern Berkshires.

"The student turnout was amazing and I'm just so happy that we were able to make Winter Blitz a success for the second year in a row," said Madeline King, a Williams junior and a blitz organizer. Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students also participated. "The number of students who stepped up and showed leadership in the planning process and as team leaders truly made this possible."

Team leaders for each group attended a morning training session led by Malcolm Doble, a staff member of the Berkshire Community Action Council's weatherization department, coordinated with the help of Alan Silverstein from the Center for Ecological Technology.

Each team was provided with materials for installing basic comfort measures, such as window caulking and weather stripping. When they arrived at the homes, they worked with a family member to assess what needed to be done and then went to work.

Spending several hours at each home enabled the teams to do a thorough job. Working to install plastic storm windows and other weatherization projects at one house in North Adams were team leader Sarah Bender, a Williams junior, along with junior Susannah Eckman and freshmen Erich Trieschman, Phoebe Gould, Kyle Bolo, Clarie Seizovic and Emily Levy.

"Though it seemed daunting to come here without a lot of training; so far everything is going smoothly. The first window took awhile, but we got it down now and on our second house, we will be experts," said Levy.

At another house, team leader Lexie Carr, a freshman at Williams and Bhavya Reddy, a junior, were working out the length and other adjustments as they installed an automatic door sweeper on the front door to prevent drafts. When the door is closed, the "sweep" comes down to create a seal. Inside the house, Sally Mairs, also from Williams, was busy installing insulation around fixtures and outlets. 

Meanwhile in the basement of a third house, Inez Tan and Nicole Wise, both sophomores at Williams, put insulation on pipes and upstairs, Katharine Gallagher, team leader and sophomore, installed plastic storm windows along with team members Stephen Simalchik, Meghan Landers and Tara Deonauth, all freshmen from Williams. 

Gioconda 'Connie' Vecellio, 94, and her son, Michael. Vecillio's North Adams home was selected for the winterization project.
Word of mouth was used to spread information about event through the campus, with freshmen hearing about it during their orientation and through their junior advisers, and other students through the environmental group at Williams known as the Thursday Group.

"This project is important from an environmental perspective, houses should be more efficient with heating and energy and our work will mean cost saving for people," said Mairs. 

Some of the students mentioned working on Habitat for Humanity in the past. 

"I did Habitat before and this combines environmental with things I have done in the past," said Reddy. Simalchik added, "this was an opportunity through the college (Williams) to get a chance to do crafty things." Or as Wise put it: "I like tinkering, working on things, making things and putting things together."

For many this was their first community service project of the year, and quite a few expressed interest in doing future projects. The Winter Blitz gave students a chance to form connections between students and the community since, often, Williams students only pass through North Adams. One freshman had visualized working on a farmhouse with an elderly couple and was surprised by the more urban setting of the house the team worked on on Hall Street in North Adams.  

Sally Mairs, a Williams sophomore, said the project helps the environment and helps reduce heating bills.
Summing up the importance of the project was Gioconda "Connie" Vecellio, 94, who has lived at her house on River Street for more than 53 years, and her son, Michael Vecellio, who lives close by and stopped over to help his mother.

"This was the first time I have had something like this done," said Vecellio. Her son added, "that it is great that they have programs like this now and it is nice. It is important and will help with [my mother's] bills.” 

Funding for this year's Winter Blitz was received from the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, the Williams College Office of Campus Life, the Center for Community Engagement, Thursday Night Group, the Lehman Council for Community Engagement, and the College Council Co-Sponsorship Fund. Community partnerships include support from Take Charge at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and CET, and working closely with BCAC to identify the area homes designated for weatherization.
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Letter: MGRS Needs More Responsible Approach to Field

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Last week the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee grappled with how to advance the athletic fields improvement project. I came away from their meeting, disappointed with their approach to and the ultimate outcome of their decision. After having made a commitment in September 2019 to explore the possibility of a – much less expensive over the long-term – natural grass field along with an artificial turf field, the committee decided to proceed with only the artificial turf option.

Proponents of the artificial turf field argued that it was time to make a decision: they had worked long and hard enough on this issue. They avoided mentioning they had done next to nothing to address a committee vote made over a year ago to include a natural grass option in the bid documents. Last week, for the first time, they mentioned that it would cost over $40,000 in architect fees to include the grass, which they clearly wouldn't be considering anyway.

Inexplicably, this concern for spending does not seem to be relevant when they are considering the potential $3 million price tag. (This price reflects the cost of Title IX and ADA improvements, an artificial turf field, $100,000 premium for Brockfill infill, but not the $700k track.) The committee seemed to be feeling flush with funds, as the Williams gift has grown from $5 million to $6.8 million. It's important to note that between $1 million and $1.5 million has been set aside as an endowment to maintain the school, and $3.1 million has been committed to the administration building. That leaves $2.2 million to $2.7 million for the fields project.

Perhaps the current effort to value engineer some aspects of the project and a depressed economy will bring the bids in low enough. On the other hand, there was no mention of where the $400,000 to  $600,000 needed to replace it in 10 years time would come from.

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