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FARRELL Agency pushes ahead with project



Published: Sun, July 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Construction needs to begin by Nov. 30 to secure federal funding for the project.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

FARRELL, Pa. -- Mercer County Community Action Agency isn't letting a little thing like an unacceptable site stop it from building apartments for people suffering from severe mental illness.

The nonprofit agency, backed with federal funds to finance the project, had planned to put a 10-apartment complex on the city's former ash and salt storage site on Hamilton Avenue.

It was forced to scrap those plans in April, however, when it became apparent that environmental concerns with the ground could have made it cost-prohibitive to build there, said Ronald Errett, the agency's chief executive officer.

The project would have required putting concrete pilings through at least 23 feet of bad soil to reach solid ground. The bad soil is an unknown mass of a variety of material dumped at that location over a period of decades, officials have said.

Errett said an environmental consultant did an initial examination of the site, which involved testing surface soils and some test borings, but recommended a more extensive property study.

Another location

That study alone would cost between $10,000 and $20,000, Errett said, adding that his agency decided to look for another spot.

It has since signed an option agreement with Farrell Redevelopment Authority to buy some vacant lots between 613 and 629 Spearman Ave., about a block south of Roemer Boulevard.

"As far as we know, there's no physical problems with the site that would prevent us building on it," Errett said, explaining that an initial environmental look at the new site turned up no suspicious findings.

A concrete pilings to support a concrete base slab will not be required on Spearman Avenue, he said.

There still will be 10 apartments, but the project will be altered to fit the site, placing six apartments in one building and four in a second with a small park-like green space separating the two, he said.

Funding

The U.S. Department of Housing & amp; Urban Development has earmarked $714,700 for the project and Community Action Agency has secured a $45,300 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank which should complete the necessary financing, said Gary Cervone, agency vice president of administration and chief financial officer.

HUD still must give approval to the site before it will release its money. HUD representatives have visited the location, Cervone said.

A final HUD commitment is expected by the end of August, he said.

"Everything looks pretty good," Errett said, adding that requirements of the HUD grant stipulate that ground for the housing must be broken by Nov. 30. "We're optimistic we can do that," he added.

The original project timeline called for ground to be broken this past spring.

The apartments will house people suffering from severe mental illness who can function independently, Errett said. This won't be a supervised group home, he said.

The agency has other living units serving the same clientele in Sharon and Greenville, but those are in individual houses that were purchased and converted into efficiency apartments, he added.

gwin@vindy.com




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