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Aug. 7, 2012

Victorian Factory Becomes Green Apartments

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Westford, Mass.—The Abbot Mill renovation in Forge Village of Westford, Mass., has been completed. Originally built in 1870 and long a part of the industrial history of Massachusetts, the property is now owned by Yule Development. The 239,000-square-foot project includes 131 residential units, 13 of which are affordable housing.

Once a busy fabric mill, Abbot Worsted Mills changed hands several times throughout the last 50 years and eventually fell into disrepair. After acquiring the property, Yule tasked Boston-area construction manager Tocci Building Cos. with restoring the landmark and transforming it into living spaces that adhere to current sustainable building practices.

After the mill closed, the structure was sold to Murray Printing and then to Courier Printing. When their needs changed over the decades, these successive owners built additions based on function with little regard for architectural integrity. During renovations, Tocci encountered numerous challenges posed by the sheer variety of these additions: brick, timber and concrete construction, varying floor levels and confined spaces.

“Our team was extremely sensitive to the building materials used and Abbot Mill owner Chris Yule was very engaged throughout the process,” Laura Handler, Tocci’s director of virtual design and construction (VDC), tells MHN. “It also required George Hunt, assistant superintendent at Tocci, to track a lot of design options and simultaneously manage different concepts while we were constructing the building. VDC and BIM [building information modeling] technology enabled us to meet the owner’s sustainability requirements, while giving him design flexibility for his tenants.”

A number of features of the original Victorian building were either restored or replicated, according to Tocci. For example, boarded-up saw-tooth skylights, originally constructed to draw natural light into interior spaces for mill workers, once again allow light to flood common areas and apartment units (the Victorians were “green” before their time in that way, apparently).

Whenever possible, the redevelopment re-used materials on site rather than throw them away. Lumber off-cuts were used as the stairs risers, for example, and steel plates that once reinforced the mill floor have been transformed into unit signs. Also, various techniques have been employed to limit heat and cooling loss, including sealing and insulating each unit.

Another primary sustainable feature is 40,000 square feet of solar panels on the roof, producing 331KW of non-carbon energy. The renovation kept heat exchangers in place, continuing to use canal water for heating and cooling, and Yule hopes to restore the original hydroelectric generator beneath the building to produce additional electricity.

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