Southern Hilltown Community Development Block Grant Awards announced

Hilltown Community Center, 9 Russell Road in Huntington (WNG File Photo)

HILLTOWNS – On Friday, September 20, the Baker Polito administration officially announced the awarding of $34 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to 63 communities in Massachusetts.

Nearly $2 million of these grant funds were awarded to the towns of Huntington and Russell for projects in their respective communities as well as social service programs that provided support to residents of Huntington, Russell, Chester and Middlefield.

Huntington will receive $683,752 for infrastructure improvements to Kennedy Drive. The award will fund repaving to improve the road’s surface and drainage. Construction is anticipated in the late summer and early fall of 2020.

Russell, Huntington and Middlefield will receive $1,296,830 for Pine Hill Road drainage improvements, a building re-use planning project, and for social services to support a food pantry, elder services, adult education, and domestic violence prevention.

Russell’s grant includes design and construction of drainage improvements on Pine Hill Road to minimize the erosion taking place along the road, also anticipated to take place in the late summer and early fall of 2020.

The town of Russell will also complete a planning project focused on exploring the long-term re-use of three vacant buildings in town; the former elementary school and the two mills in Woronoco.

The grant funding also supports four long-running social service programs; Hilltown Social Service Project, Southern Hilltowns Adult Education Center, Huntington Food Pantry, and Southern Hilltowns Domestic Violence Prevention Project.

Erica Johnson, PVPA principal planner (L) meets with Huntington town officials earlier this year. (Photo by Amy Porter)

The Southern Hilltown communities most often (but not exclusively) defined as Russell, Huntington, Chester and Middlefield, have been applying for, and receiving, CDBG funding since 1985 according to Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) Principal Planner Erica Johnson.

Johnson said the PVPC has worked with Southern Hilltown communities since its very first application, which included a housing rehabilitation program as well as a rural job opportunities program to address the high level of unemployment and obstacles for the rural hilltowns in accessing economic opportunities.

“Issues that community members identified in that first application persist today; older housing stock, loss of jobs and lack of public transportation. The housing rehabilitation and social service programs remain vital in these communities,” noted Johnson.

Currently, construction is taking place on two CDBG-funded projects in the Southern Hilltowns. In Huntington, a new water line was installed on Aldrich Avenue to replace a line that frequently broke. All residents have been connected to the new water main and final paving will be completed on Aldrich Avenue in early October.

In Russell, construction is just starting on Pomeroy Terrace where the retaining wall that supports the street will be removed and replaced.

“How do you replace a retaining wall that provides access to a dead-end street? With the support of very gracious neighbors,” Johnson, who is serving as project manager for the Pomeroy Terrace project, said.  Two landowners on Pomeroy Terrace and River Road have granted the town a temporary easement to construct an access road on their land. This roadway will allow Pomeroy Terrace residents to access their homes while the retaining wall is being replaced and will also ensure emergency vehicles have access to the street.

“Community involvement and support has been the foundation of the CDBG program in the Southern Hilltowns, and is the reason for its success over the decades,” Johnson said.

Over the years, the Southern Hilltowns have received funding from the CDBG program for a wide variety of infrastructure improvement projects including the repaving of streets, installing new sidewalks, and the replacement of failing water and sewer lines.

“Chester residents will remember the train overpass on Prospect Street and how the road flooded underneath every time it rained. That was fixed with a Block Grant. The new sidewalks on Main Street and Old Westfield Road in Russell, complete with curb-cuts and crosswalks, were also funded with a Block Grant. Block Grant funds supported building re-use in Middlefield and Russell to create Senior Centers, and funded the renovations to the Gateway Family Center space in Huntington,” Johnson said.

“Through the decades, CDBG funds have paid for the replacement of thousands of feet of water and sewer lines, replaced hundreds of drainage culverts, and have been used to pave miles of roadway; and this is just a small sample of projects,” she added.

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program is a competitive grant program authorized by Congress, funded under Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, as amended, and designed to help small cities and towns meet a broad range of community development needs. Assistance is provided to qualifying cities and towns for projects that assist low and moderate-income residents, or revitalize blighted areas.

Amy Porter can be reached at [email protected].

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