Editorial: Zaccheo renovation projects epitome of think global, act local

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mark and Barbara Zaccheo just keep showing us how it can be done: renovating what look like tired, old castoff buildings into modern, attractive apartments using cutting edge, sustainable technology.

Their most recently completed project converted the nearly 70-year-old former Montague Center elementary school into a 22-apartment building that uses practically no fossil fuel energy. As a result, the old brick schoolhouse has again become a centerpiece of this little village.

The Energy Star-certified building includes one- and two-bedroom open-floor plan apartments — some loft-style with spiral staircases — between 540 and 1,340 square feet and featuring granite counters tops and cherry cabinetry. Rents range from $1,060 to $1,950, including all utilities. While not everyone in Franklin County can afford those rents, there are many who can, and so these become an important part of the county’s housing mix, while recycling old but sturdy buildings that have much more life left in them. Being green means reusing old things.

The Zaccheos have made the old school a showpiece of modern, low-energy construction.

Built with roughly a quarter-million dollars of federal and state incentives, the school’s green features include: solar hot water, a high-efficiency backup propane boiler for common area heating, a carport supporting a photovoltaic array to provide electricity for high-efficiency heat pump heating and air conditioning, triple pane windows, soy-based closed cell spray foam and cellulose insulation on exterior brick and roof, low-flow shower heads and faucets, dual flush toilets and water-conserving landscaping.

The 20 inches of blown cellulose ceiling insulation, and 5 inches of foam insulation behind the exterior brick walls are a sharp contrast with what Zaccheo says was originally just 2 inches of fiberglass in the attic that had been the only insulation in the 20th-century school.

An innovative recovery system collects hot shower drainage to preheat additional shower water.

The project, which sits on a little under 3 acres, includes a pond, and there are plans for compost collection, a vegetable garden and an electric-vehicle charger.

The building’s final tenant moved in at the end of December, but the project took about a half-dozen years to complete, in part because of neighborhood fear of an apartment building in the village center. How wrong they were.

One inadvertent benefit of the neighborhood opposition was that in the intervening years, sustainability technology got better: LED lighting and efficient heat pumps that can heat an entire apartment, even on negative-10-degree days “with no issues,” according to Mark Zaccheo.

This is the third such project for the Zaccheos. In Greenfield, where they moved in 2002 from the Washington, D.C., area, they converted the former Mix n’ Match building at Olive and Hope streets into elegant offices and apartments, and the former 12,000-square-foot Allen Street School into a dozen green-energy apartments.

The Allen Street job was approved by Greenfield in a month. We’d like to think that with this track record in Greenfield and Montague, other smart redevelopments like these will encounter less reflexive neighborhood opposition in the future. The Zaccheos’ latest project, now in the design phase, is converting the former Dakor Center on Greenfield’s Davis Street into 11 apartments. We’re looking forward to seeing what the Zaccheo’s come up with there.

These projects, but especially the most recent Montague Center School rejuvenation, shows us what to aim for in new construction and in renovations, if we want to live in a sustainable, energy conserving way that bucks global warming. It’s the epitome of thinking globally, acting locally. Their projects show you can build a home that barely uses any fossil-fuel energy — at least in a state like Massachusetts that offers tax and other incentives to nudge our economy and lifestyle toward a green future. We hope pioneering developers like the Zaccheos will show us what can be done, and that in the future the technology and techniques they are using will become commonplace and more affordable.