FITCHBURG — The gathering on Valley Street Tuesday afternoon was more than just about the 65th anniversary of the Canton Valley Community Apartments dedication, it was an opportunity to recognize the many local and state partners who worked hand in hand to bring the recent modernization project at the public housing complex to fruition.
“This is a great day,” Fitchburg Housing Authority Executive Director Doug Bushman said to the large crowd, praising the entire FHA team and everyone involved in the project.
The $4.2 million Canton Valley Development Envelope, Lighting, Site and ADA Upgrades state housing project was funded by several sources including a Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development Comprehensive Sustainability Initiative grant applied for and awarded several years ago.
The largest project undertaken by the FHA in almost 40 years is scheduled for completion of all site work by the middle of December and interior work for three ADA units by February.
The scope includes many accessibility and energy efficiency updates such as new roofs, siding, windows, and sidewalks as well as energy efficient lighting and more at the 48-unit apartment development that was built in the late 1950s.
“Combined, these improvements will create a new integrated community accessible to everyone while being more energy efficient,” Bushman said on Wednesday. “Altogether, all the energy efficiency improvements will on average, on an annual basis, save the FHA $44,000 a year in utility costs and reduce CO2 emissions by about 260,000 pounds annually.
“The Canton Valley project is an example of how construction projects can combine accessibility and sustainability with affordable housing,” he continued. “The project originally began with the sole goal of increasing energy efficiency but then expanded to create three new ADA units as well as replacing the sidewalks with new ADA compliant ramps. These improvements piggyback funds provided by MOC and Unitil for new boilers in 2019.”
Recently re-elected state Rep. Michael Kushmerek was one of the speakers at Tuesday’s event and said the large-scale undertaking was made possible through “collaboration.”
“It starts with visionary leadership and takes capable and competent management,” he noted, praising the “entire team at Fitchburg Housing Authority … our partners in Boston” and everyone involved.
“Fitchburg is back on track to be the premiere housing authority in Massachusetts,” Kushmerek said. “Everyone in this room has played a part.”
Bushman greeted the packed house and noted that the 1957 dedication of Canton Valley was held “exactly 65 years ago to the second” and pointed out that the original program from that event was included in the program for Tuesday’s event.
“The whole city was here, it was a big event opening up Canton Valley,” Bushman shared. “It was very innovative and won a national award.”
He recognized two people from the past, whom he noted “are the reason why we are here 65 years later.” Clarence ‘C.J.’ Durkin, the first FHA chair who has a high-rise city apartment building named after him, and Herbert Groop, the first and longest FHA executive director for over 40 years who grew up as one of ten children and according to Bushman “aspired to make more quality affordable housing for the city.”
“I ready about the legacy they created,” Bushman said of researching the men. “Those two individuals built the Fitchburg Housing Authority. Right here in this room you have people from all different backgrounds…and we all work together, you should be proud of that. The reason why this program has been such a great success.”
Project architect Nora Shull of Next Phase Studios said the project features “high quality work” and that everyone involved “has and continues to put in a lot of effort.”
“I can’t say enough about the collaboration” she noted of the partnership between FHA, the state Department of Housing and Community Development, Making Opportunity Count, and Unitil that helped make the project a reality. “We are grateful that we were able to work with them on it.”
Fitchburg Disability Commission Chair Bill Tolos said he was happy to be there and “see this project moving on” before thanking Bushman and everyone involved in making Canton Valley “more accessible” by widening doorways, removing stairs and installing ramps, updating bathrooms and other spaces, and more.
“It is certainly going to help people with disabilities for many years,” Tolos said. “It will make independent life available.”
DHCD Senior Project Manager Tiffany Yu talked about managing “all the large Fitchburg capital and housing projects,” including this one.
“Without a great team and a great leader as dedicated as Doug it couldn’t have been as successful,” she said.
Longtime FHA Board Chair Linda Byrne echoed her sentiments, saying that “Doug has done a wonderful job” and that “we have never had major projects like Doug has brought it.” She encouraged people to come by Canton Valley next summer and check out the finished project.
Bushman said funding for a project like this is not always easy to come by and recognized Kushmerek and state Sen. John Cronin for their efforts, saying they have “been amazing to work with.”
“The money doesn’t materialize out of thin air,” Bushman said. “We elect people to go to Beacon Hill and get funding.”
Cronin returned the compliment, noting that the FHA team is “so focused and deliberate about moving the housing authority forward.”
“This is your legacy, and we are all grateful to you.”
Canton Valley Tenant President Michael Farrow, who will be moving into an ADA unit once it’s ready, has been living at Canton Valley for 10 years. He spoke about growing up in the Boston area in public housing in Jamaica Plain and other places.
“This is something that is really, really great,” Farrow said before thanking Bushman, FHA Deputy Director Andrew Skoog, and the FHA staff and board. “Living here in Canton Valley is really good.”
Mayor Stephen DiNatale joked about Bushman’s love of throwing a good party before talking about his dedication to the city and its residents.
“He always talks about the housing authority as a first resort, not a last resort,” DiNatale said before presenting Bushman with an official certificate acknowledging the project and declaring November 15, 2022, Canton Valley Day.