It's been four years since the rain from Tropical Storm Irene flooded Melrose Terrace, a public housing complex for seniors and people with disabilities in West Brattleboro. And now crews have broken ground on a long-awaited apartment complex to replace the storm-damaged units.
Melrose resident Lena Fraga is ready to put the storm behind her. Fraga was one of the eighty or so residents of Melrose Terrace evacuated when Irene blew through West Brattleboro in 2011.
She is also one of the Melrose tenants slated to move into a new $16 million apartment designed to help replace the storm damaged units.
Fraga has been living at Melrose Terrace for 20 years, and she loves her community.
But since the housing authority decided to move the residents to protect them from future flooding events, Fraga says she has accepted the need to relocate.
"I don't have a problem with change," Fraga said, while sitting in her kitchen. "I love it here, believe me. It's quiet, it's beautiful. I'm not crazy about high rises, but I don't have a choice. I can't live anywhere else. I hate to leave. But I'm going to."
When it's finished, the new 55-unit project, called Red Clover Commons, will house about two-thirds of the residents at Melrose Terrace.
The housing authority is in the process of finding a second site for the approximately 25 residents who won't be able to live in Red Clover, because space only allows for 55 units.
Brattleboro Housing Partnership Executive Director Chris Hart says she knew the day after Irene that Melrose Terrace would have to replaced.
"When we came in the next day, you might recall it was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, and Melrose was just ruined. It was really ruined," Hart says. "I walked around here and just said, 'I hope we can rebuild long enough to get everyone out of here permanently.'"
Hart expected it would take three years to break ground on Red Clover Commons. It’s taken four, and the budget has jumped from an original estimate of $12 million to almost $16 million.
Part of the delay was due to the very public process the housing group went through in finding the new location.
Hart says the residents were included in the process from the start, and she says that has led to the widespread buy-in from most of the Melrose tenants.
"It was very important to include the residents, because we were going to move them," says Hart. "They needed to have a real voice in what we were going to do. They needed to know right along what the plan was. It was just really important to include them in a really truly meaningful way, not just sort of lip service, but to really give them some authority and some veto power."
Red Clover Commons is being built set back from a commercial area, within walking distance to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, a pharmacy and a supermarket.
The first residents are expected to move in by September of next year.