When we got this opportunity, it was a great way to take the skills and knowledge we've gained over the years and apply it to the neighborhoods we live in. I live up the street from here, so it's a personal project for me as well as a demonstration of what we can do to walk the talk.
A Nonotuck Story
In December 2007, ECS participated in the purchase, through Nonotuck Mill LLC, of a 150,000 square foot brick and mortar mill building, located at 296 Nonotuck Street in the beautiful Florence section of Northampton, MA. ECS’ financial institution, Westfield Bank, provided key financing for the acquisition and redevelopment of this flourishing location.
The site, which eventually became known as the Nonotuck Mill, is rich with history. It attracted its first industrialists, who were drawn to the natural 25-foot elevation drop in the Mill River, in the 1830s. The hydropower was soon expanded, and a silk plantation and processing factory was built. But in 1837, a nation-wide credit collapse caused the Mill to fall into bankruptcy. This created the opportunity for the Northampton Association of Education and Industry (NAEI) to purchase the property.
The NAIE was a utopian society which attempted to deal with some of the moral challenges faced by an agrarian society that was transforming itself to an industrial powerhouse, focusing heavily on the themes of education, slavery, fair wages, democracy and religion. Their choice to purchase the hydro-powered mill and grow silk was both practical and moral. It was a profitable industry which did not rely on a morally troublesome slave trade to generate those profits. Over the next half dozen years, the NAIE became an important stop along the Underground Railroad and a nationally significant center for suffragist discourse, drawing residents and visitors such as Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass.
Mostly as the result of 20th century manufacturing techniques, there are substantial amounts of waste oils and toxins on this property. “The presence of toxic chemicals is extraordinarily common at these types of sites,” says Doug McVey, ECS’ Chief Financial Officer. “Post-World War II, we didn’t know how to manage chemicals. We dumped them into pits or thought we were allowing them to evaporate when in fact they were going into the ground.” Although the documented environmental releases had achieved regulatory "closure" at the time of purchase, residual hydraulic oils contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were detected - after the building purchase - at a thickness approaching several inches beneath the building, resulting in a reportable condition to the MassDEP.
“Wells were drilled where the underground storage tanks were and where cleaning agents were stored,” Doug notes, “but nobody bothered to talk to the maintenance guy! When we interviewed him, he basically said, ‘we shipped oil into this place every month for the past 20 years, and oil never left the building.’”
“Oil was stored at one end of the building but used at another,” Doug explains. “We found the oil when we tested downgradient of the system used to transport it.”
When ECS and its partners closed on the property, the seller agreed to purchase environmental insurance as part of the closing process and ECS was named an additional insured in the policy. Approximately four months after the purchase, oil began seeping out of a basement wall as a result of rising groundwater. A claim was filed, and now with the coverage provided by the insurance policy, ECS is implementing the remediation plan created by our talented engineers and construction group to reduce the oil, PCB and solvent contamination that remains under a portion of the former machine shop and high bay manufacturing facility.
To date, over 200 gallons of PCB contaminated hydraulic oil have been removed using a unique multi-port fluid eduction system. Oil and groundwater are simultaneously “slurped” from the subsurface under vacuum, and the oil is separated from the groundwater. The groundwater is treated using activated charcoal and bentonite clay, and discharged to the sanitary sewer. The recovered oil is transported off-site for recycling. In the near future, ECS will be incorporating surfactant flushing to enhance the oil removal and accelerate the cleanup process. ECS will be using a nonionic surfactant (BioSolve) to solubilize residual oil trapped in the soil, and to facilitate the biodegradation of residual contamination in the subsurface.
Practicing What We Preach
In addition to performing its core services to clean up this Brownfield site, making it a wonderful and useful part of this old New England community, ECS has also installed three different ground source geothermal heat pump systems. The Mill has been utilized as a research and development “test bed” to perform a first ever, side-by-side comparison of three different geothermal technologies- 1) a traditional closed loop water system using two 500-foot-deep U-loops to provide five tons of capacity; 2) a direct exchange (DX) geothermal which circulates refrigerant through five 100-foot copper taps drilled diagonally into the earth to provide five tons of capacity; and 3) a Kelix Thermacouple™, an innovative coaxial, turbulent flow heat exchanger using one 300-foot borehole to provide five tons of heating and cooling. All three systems were completed and activated in July 2009. These geothermal systems have been monitored continuously for nearly two years using a web enabled energy logger. A live web feed of the geothermal systems can be found at http://welserver.com/WEL0201/.
Additionally, plans are currently underway with CAM Solar, LLC of New Jersey to install photovoltaic (PV) panels on approximately 30,000 square feet of the Mill’s roofing. The PV panels are expected to generate approximately 2.5 MW of electricity, and will allow for the purchase of green power for the next 15 years under a fixed purchase price agreement.
The Fabric of a Town
ECS takes great pride in the jobs that were created in Northampton as a result of the Mill redevelopment and in the diverse mix of businesses now comfortably ensconced under one roof. Approximately $2.8 million in improvements will have taken place when the Mill is fully refurbished, with an average job boasting a price tag of $50,000. Roughly 20 tradespeople have been employed full-time for two years in various aspects of construction.
“This is such an interesting, eclectic town,” notes Mark Hellstein, ECS’ President and CEO, “and the businesses housed in the Mill are truly symbolic of the fabric of Northampton.”
In addition to the 14 ECS employees who call 296 Nonotuck Street home, a dozen start-ups and established companies are helping to provide an economic boost for Northampton. DAX Transportation, specialists in fine art and antique transportation and storage, has continued to expand. Our largest tenant, they now occupy more than 17,000 square feet of warehouse and office space. Pave Tile joined the mix in September 2010, leasing 9,000 square feet of space. The tenant uses the space to stock reclaimed tile and new tile that they process to give it an older look and feel. Ross Brothers Antiques also recently moved in. The Ross family has been involved in the antique business for three generations in Northampton, and these days, they are focused on boats and canoes from the 1800s. Service Net, which provides a wide range of mental health and human services, houses their corporate staff of about 40 people at the Mill. They had started out as a small tenant, leasing space for a conference room for programs, and a space for a group that converts film to digital media. They eventually grew to love the charm of the complex, however, and the unique opportunity to house their records, office space and program space all at one location in Northampton. United Republic, located across the third floor hallway from ECS and Terraclime, is a newer organization working with citizens who envision a nation where the needs and ideas of the many can be accommodated. Additional tenants include a specialty wire company with Hollywood clients; a company that sells high performance audio and home theater products; a group dedicated to professional growth, transformation and evolution within the healthcare system; a firm that provides low cost, high quality health care; and a biological education group. Other current uses of the complex include exercise facilities and a practice arena for a local roller derby team.
“The bank building across the street from us now has another restaurant,” Doug says. “The revitalization of the Mill has led to other local businesses taking a risk and opening up to accommodate the people in our building.”