Joe Simon of Allegrone holds daughter Julianne at the Habitat worksite. Volunteers from the community and local construction and service companies are lending a hand during the 'blitz.'
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — On a weather perfect Saturday, Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity along with an army of local volunteers and suppliers led by Allegrone Construction, kicked off a weeklong "Builders Blitz" with the goal building six units of single-family housing.
The first of its kind project in the city started in 2009 with the donation of a parcel of land on Deming Street from Berkshire Gas Co.
The project has overcome several hurdles. Not the least of which was a shortfall for necessary public infrastructure improvements to accommodate the three duplexes. A new road and water system for fire suppression was needed and they kept coming up short.
"We have been working on this project for 10 years and every time we crunched the numbers, and I'm creative, we didn't have enough for the infrastructure," said Carolyn Valli, executive director of Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity. That problem was solved when Lt. Governor Karyn Polito presented the city with $425,000 to cover the cost of the work through the state's MassWorks program.
Louis Allegrone, one of the leads on the project for Allegrone Construction, gave a brief outline of the project and his family's motivation for getting involved.
"We've been involved with Habitat for many years now and this project in particular dates back many years. After the MassWorks grant got approved, that's what kicked off the possibility of doing the Blitz Build," Allegrone said."It's a national event, and to have the ability to have an impact and bring all of our crews together, subs, suppliers and build these out in one week that's why we got involved. To have a huge impact on the city."
Louis' brother Anthony, who served as the in-house architect for the project, spoke of a different vibe as opposed to regular building projects.
"There's a motivational aspect to a project like this that you don't usually see with other projects. The turnout has been amazing," he said.
Anthony also cited some of the challenges in designing a project on a limited budget.
"The challenge comes into play with the building codes, especially the energy code. The goal is to be net-zero ready. You want to minimize the quantity of work but at the same time you want buildings that have some aesthetic character," he said. "The design process is going back and forth between the two and finding that balance."
The Allegrones went out of their way to praise the city and the neighborhood for working with them.
"They've been very accommodating throughout the process. Meeting with the inspectors and town officials early on goes a long way," Anthony said. "They are as excited to be a part of [a first of its kind] process as everybody else."
Valli has shepherded this project from its first day as a concept to today's kickoff.
"The thing that really warms my heart is that so many professionals are willing to give up their time, talents, and materials to make this a reality. It's the only new, affordable home ownership that's happening in Pittsfield," Valli said. "The fact we're gonna have six units for families, add to the tax base, and have a mini village here where people can thrive is so exciting."
Valli was approached by a local company as we spoke to donate his employees' time.
"John Arseneau from Arseneau Construction just pledged four guys today and four guys tomorrow."
Volunteered labor and materials were one challenge to getting Habitat homes built but ultimately financing was the deciding factor. Not only for the project itself but for potential homeowners.
Greylock Federal Credit Union filled that need.
"The other thing that's super terrific about this [project] is they (Greylock) are doing a special Habitat financing. They have 30 year, fixed-rate mortgages at 2 percent interest. It makes the monthly payment, all-in, under $1,100."
Greylock FCU was not the only financial institution to contribute.
In 2018, Berkshire Bank supplied 150 volunteers for a one day "panel build." The bank closed some of its local branches so the volunteers could construct all the walls needed for the project ahead of time. The space was donated by Mike Panek who had a vacant store on Merrill Road.
Valli also talked about the livability and walkability of the neighborhood itself.
"There's a bus stop at the end of the street. You can have your hair done over here, you can walk to mini-golf and ice cream in the summer," Valli said "You've got a great school system here. This is really an ideal [location]. The neighbors have been phenomenal. Just so cooperative through the whole process."
Valli was another team member thrilled with City Hall for its assistance over the last decade.
"I'm very, very thankful for the partnership with Community Development because if they had not helped us get the MassWorks grant for the infrastructure we couldn't have made the numbers work for these homes."
John Pariseau, recently "retired" owner of Pariseau Heating & Cooling talked of his involvement with Habitat for Humanity.
"We've been working with Habitat for 20-plus years ... it's just a good experience for everybody to give back to the community."
Pariseau recently passed his company on to two longtime employees but still puts in a solid 40 hours a week.
"We've done quite a few heating systems in the homes and when this Blitz Build came up we committed to it," he said.
Several contractors from throughout the county will build the first four of six units in a matter of days as opposed to months. Louis Allegrone estimated a project this size would normally take six to nine months.
Project Manager Joe Simon and Project Superintendent Aaron Singer have been and will be an integral part of the project for Allegrone.
"It's been great to be involved and even have the opportunity to help out," Simon said. "Things have been going well, we've got a big contribution from the community. The contractors have volunteered most everything. Nobody is really asking for much."
Simon said working with Habitat had been a goal of his for a while.
"It's always been a goal of mine," he said. "I've talked to Lou [Allegrone] about it for a while now so when the opportunity came up, I jumped at it."
Singer was impressed with the cooperation among different companies.
"We have a lot of competing companies from the commercial side of the business working together hand in hand. We've got a lot of work done in a short amount of time. Everybody is putting business interests aside for a good cause."
The process of applying for a Habitat house can be long but Chris Gregory, a member of the homebuyers selection committee, said it's not intimidating. Once a prospective buyer shows interest the people at Habitat will help them along. The first step is visiting the office.
"The application process is through the Habitat office [at 399 Hubbard Ave.] and applicants will be vetted there. We have a meeting once a month to review the candidates," Gregory said. "They have to be willing to invest some sweat equity of their own, meet certain financial requirements, and then we go through a couple of meetings and go back to the board with a recommendation. At that point the prospective buyers will come to the board meeting for approval."
The event on Saturday was not only crowded with volunteers but, fittingly for a Habitat for Humanity project, family and friends as well. Three generations of Allegrones were present. Spouses and children of some members of the crew were eating cookies and brownies supplied by the culinary program at Taconic High School. Dawn Giftos, who heads community outreach for Habitat, had friends show up with about 80 lunches for all the volunteers.
Work at the site on Deming Street will continue all week and culminate in a Home Builders Blitz 2019 Celebration on Saturday, Sept. 14, at noon. Several city officials are expected to attend the event to celebrate all the community partners, contractors, vendors, and donors who had a hand in the project.
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