CDC collaborates with the area's Habitat for Humanity for the first time

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POWNAL — The Bennington Area Habitat for Humanity (BAHfH) dedicated its 19th home on Sunday, to the Gagnon Family at Swallow Hill Road.

Construction commenced in late April as the first project on which the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center (CDC) collaborated. Sophomore and juniors from Mount Anthony High School built the foundation, framework and sheetrock at the school, and then transported it to the site in May.

"We had a nice group of volunteers from the whole area to build for a deserving family," Curt Merrow, site supervisor said. "We plan to continue the partnership with them [BAHfH] in 2016."

About 110 people volunteered more than 2,800 hours to make the Gagnons' dream of owning a home reality.

"This is a house that love built," Mari Bennett, community relations associate, said. "The love started when John and Sarah, because of the way they feel about their children, wanted to give them a better opportunity."

One of BAHfH's requirements for a partner family is to invest at least 400 hours of sweat equity toward building the home, 100 hours for each primary applicant and at least 60 hours per month, according to Habitat's website. John Gagnon exceeded the goal by completing over 1,000 hours.

"I'm excited. It feels good to do work on your own house," Sarah Gagnon said. "The kids benefit from seeing it come together, definitely."

John works for Weaver Excavating Inc. in Shaftsbury and was fortunate to have his boss donate machines to help construct his new home.

"There's something about this house that offers this family freedom," Bennett declared. "Where you [Gagnons] live right now, you're temperature is locked and if it gets too hot in the winter, and you dare to crack the window on the second floor, they'll charge you $25 more a month for doing that."

Volunteer Oliver Durand presented the Gagnons with a birdhouse to replicate their new home, which has become a tradition for each home the BAHfH dedicates.

Back in July, 12 volunteers from Global Village and from across the country traveled to Swallow Hill Road to assist in construction of the Gagnon home for a week. Those volunteers signed the front page Banner article covering Global Village Week, along with various spots in the house that are now covered up.

"It [the newspaper] is hidden in the house as a time capsule, and maybe in 50 to 100 years, someone will open up some hidden spot and they'll find a Banner dated from July 2015 with all the good well wishes from the volunteers of Global Village," Merrow said.

Despite being able to have control in helping construct their new home, John and Sarah had little say in the design stages. Merrow said the homeowners typically only choose the colors of the rooms, the cabinets and outside face of the structure. Architectural features must fit the family's financial ability.

"We stick to the saying, 'simple, decent, and affordable,'" Merrow said.

Applicants chosen to become a partner family of BAHfH is based on the size of the family, the need for better housing and they must also live or work in Bennington Country for one year, Monica Knorr, president of the board of directors said. The applicant of a family of four people must obtain income of between $33,000 and $43,000 per year, for example.

The Gagnons' new home includes four bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a full basement, living room and kitchen and a shed that CDC helped build as well. All appliances are energy star labeled and confirmed by Efficiency Vermont.

According to Efficiency Vermont, homes and businesses that invested in energy-saving in 2014 will gain over $178 million in continued savings. Also, for every $1 put into energy efficiency, $2.60 is returned.

The Gagnon home is also equipped with a heat pump heater and a pellet boiler to incorporate renewable resources. A heat pump water heater heats water as well as air conditions and dehumidifies the space surrounding and can save over $4,900 over the unit's lifetime, according to Efficiency Vermont. A pellet boiler heats water that is distributed throughout the home through in-floor heating systems or wall radiators.

Efficiency Vermont evaluated the Gagnon home to see how tight and efficient it is to generate a final report. Merrow said once the home gets a star rating in the top five, a $15,000 grant is given for building an energy efficient structure. Other locations that have benefitted from Efficiency Vermont include Bennington College and Energizer.

John, Sarah and their three children will make their house a home starting next week and close on it in Jan.

"This house is a place of freedom. John can step out his back door and hunt in the woods. Your son can build his own fort and doesn't have to worry about it being torn down," Bennett said. "Habitat gives that freedom to each one of us who believe in the pride and value of home ownership."

Over 1 million homes and more than 5 million people worldwide have been served by Habitat for Humanity worldwide.

For more information on BAHfH, or applying for a home in the Bennington area, visit www.benningtonareahabitat.com.

Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.


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