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UMass students ’design-build gets festival premiere before being donated to Holyoke

GREENFIELD – The 2022 Green River Festival will feature a rich cycle of musicians, a diverse list of food vendors, activities for children, and even an open house of sorts.

Students and faculty members with the University of Massachusetts Amherst teamed up with East Branch Studio, of Chesterfield, to create Hygge House, a 350-square-foot accessory dwelling unit that is on display at the Franklin County Fairgrounds until Tuesday, when it will be delivered to Holyoke to be used for housing. Known as a design-build, the project allows students to apply classroom learning in a supervised real-world scenario.

“What was a little bit unusual about this is that the design part of this happened before COVID. Basically what you see was designed in 2020, prior to March, ”said L. Carl Fiocchi, a senior lecturer with UMass Amherst’s building and construction technology program. “When the pandemic interrupted things, we couldn’t do the build until this semester.”

Fiocchi said 11 students, who were not involved with the design, were introduced to the project through a one-week, pre-semester seminar before the build started in February. Construction took place on weekends and students had to commit to at least 12 days of labor.

The unit is a collaborative effort between East Branch Studio, owned by Kent Hicks, and UMass Amherst. Fiocchi said the 11 students consisted of five from the university’s building and construction technology program and four from its architecture program, as well as two Five College Consortium students – one from Mount Holyoke College and one from Amherst College. The students were a mix of advanced undergraduate and graduate students.

“Not a lot of places in the county have (design-builds) in their programs because it’s a difficult thing to do, but it’s certainly not unheard of,” Fiocchi said as a crane operator with Flach Crane & Rigging, of Selkirk, New York, helped put the structure, and then its roof, into place at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. The airtight, net-zero unit’s deck will be used as a stage for the Green River Festival.

On Tuesday, it will head to Gateway City Arts in Holyoke until the fall, when it will be donated to OneHolyoke Community Development Corporation. It will have a living room space, kitchen space, a bathroom and a bedroom.

“You know, in addition to the educational component, it’s addressing equity and the housing crisis that we have,” Fiocchi added.

He mentioned the unit – transported to Greenfield by Independent Homes, of Hoosick, New York – will likely house one individual or a couple.

“I don’t know if I’d want to live in there with a couple of kids,” he quipped.

Ahmed Fathhee, 37, a UMass Amherst student working toward his master’s degree in sustainable building systems, said he got experience with everything from framing and drywalling to electrical work, plumbing and insulation.

Adam Chartier, 33, helped with the initial design over two weeks in January 2020, four months before he graduated from UMass Amherst with a degree in building and construction technology. He now works for East Branch Studio.

“It’s amazing to see it finally come to fruition. I really thought it wouldn’t happen, honestly, ”he said. “We’re doing what we set out to do.”

According to information from UMass Amherst, the benefits of an accessory dwelling unit include adding density to existing neighborhoods, providing a diversity of housing types and lowering the costs of home ownership.

The unit was constructed using healthy, non-toxic materials such as low-carbon cellulose, which is wood-based, meaning it sequesters carbon and does not use petroleum. Products manufactured with synthetic petroleum-based compounds and other toxic agents contribute to poor indoor air quality through off-gassing, or the release of gas embedded in material. But Fiocchi said this project was not exempt from the world’s supply chain issues, which he described as brutal.

“It simply came to our notice then. We were as victimized as anyone else, ”he said, adding that he had never seen anything like it before in his career. “But we pushed ahead.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: [email protected] or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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