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Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Carolyn Valli answers questions about the project Tuesday night.

Pittsfield Council Accepts Grant, Easements, For Habitat's Condo Project

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Habitat for Humanity has put together more pieces to bring the Gordon Deming project to fruition.
 
The City Council on Tuesday authorized the acceptance of an easement and a $425,000 state grant allowing the long-awaited project to move forward. The $1.1 million project has been in the works for about a decade when Berkshire Gas first donated property on Deming Street. That building has been torn down and Habitat is now planning a six-unit condominium project in its place.
 
"Normally we do one to two homes a year so this will be six in 18 months," Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Carolyn Valli said.
 
The state grant was announced in November 2017 by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. It is intended to help with the infrastructure, particularly creating the roadway and water infrastructure.
 
From there, Habitat will build three, two-unit condominiums on the property. Valli said Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity is in consideration of being a national advertising site because of the project. 
 
After the project's financing was in place, Habitat was faced with some permitting snags that delayed construction. The project ran afoul of the Wetlands Protection Act, raising concerns from the Conservation Commission. Engineers had worked to provide enough restored wetlands on site but fell short. That led Habitat to have to look for, and eventually purchase, property elsewhere.
 
Habitat bought land on West Housatonic Street — between McDonald's and Roasted Garlic — and is restoring that land into wetlands to replace what was being lost with the project. In September all of those permitting pieces had come together and were approved. 
 
The City Council praised the project and the work of Habitat on Tuesday. Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo was particularly happy with that the project helps local families.
 
"The families have to put in a number of hours in work and time doing these houses is why it is so easy to stay local," Mazzeo said.
 
The recipients of the homes are required to go through a number of financial coaching and other training. Then they are expected to volunteer between 400 and 650 hours of volunteer work with Habitat. In the end, the recipients are able to purchase the newly constructed building. 
 
In this case, the purchasers are also going through training on how to run an ownership association. The six occupants will be forming the association to handle the maintenance of the shared land in the development.
 
"They will get a lot of training on how to run these meetings," Valli added.
 
Valli said even after handing the project over to the new association, Habitat will still be there to "keep the peace" and will be the tiebreaker if there are any conflicts among the association members. 
 
In other business, the council also accepted two grants for the airport. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation awarded the airport $182,000 to upgrade the airport's security gates and $152,000 to purchase a new front loader.
 
Airport Manager Kristopher Keane said the front loader currently there is aging. He expects a few more years out of that one and for the time being, the airport will have two. He added that the attachments to the old front loader will be interchangeable with the new one. 
 
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell questioned if the airport is still using the General Services Administration for equipment purchases. The airport is eligible to purchase surplus equipment at a reasonable price through that program.
 
"I thought it was a really good deal because only the airport could be getting the equipment from the GSA for basically nothing, hold it for a couple of years, and then hand it over to the city," Connell said.
 
Keane said the airport hasn't done that recently but some of the equipment purchased there is being used. He added that there is also equipment there that is not being used and he's offered it to other departments. The former assistant manager had used the program to purchase equipment that needed repair and then make the repairs. There are a few pieces that still need repair at the airport, Keane said. 

Tags: habitat for humanity,   housing,   

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Hancock Shaker Village Opening For Baby Animals, Outdoor Spaces

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Hancock Shaker Village will hold a limited opening on Thursday, June 4, as part of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's Phase 1 initiative. 

The Village will open only its outdoor spaces — including its beloved baby animals in outdoor fenced-in areas — to the public Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This schedule will be in place at least through June, as the Village plans for a full reopening in Phase 3. 

Leaders of the iconic living history museum have been working for weeks on a reopening plan with new measures in place to ensure the safety of visitors and staff. Such health and safety measures include online and timed ticketing, guest capacity limits, one-way paths to control guest flow, clearly designated distance markers ranging from 6 to 10 feet, enhanced cleaning protocols, more hand sanitizer stations, and COVID-19 training for all staff.  

Visitors will be required to pre-purchase timed admissions, available online at hancockshakervillage.org or by phone at 413-443-0188. Members are always free, but must reserve a time slot prior to their visit. Guests and staff are required to wear face coverings.

"The health and safety of our community remains our top priority," Director Jennifer Trainer Thompson said. "With guidance from Governor Baker, we are looking forward to once again welcoming visitors and continuing our mission of connecting people to the Village and the stories of the Shakers."

The museum has been offering virtual programs such as a stream on YouTube of a dance performance by Reggie Wilson and Fist and Heel Performance Group in the Round Stone Barn and virtual talks with authors and Shaker collectors. The Village also expanded its social media presence, offering programs such as Facebook livestreams from the farm and popular Zoom with Baby Animals sessions. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Village also made the decision to plant its 5-acre vegetable garden, which supports a 65-member CSA and provides 15 percent of its crops to local families in need.

"We know people have been eager to visit the farm when it is safe to do so," Thompson said. “Self-guided discovery has always been important to the museum experience here, and with baby animals, the trails, the architecture, and the gorgeous gardens, we’ll offer what has always been a hallmark of the Village: an inspiring, holistic experience."

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