AGAWAM – The Planning Board has approved changes to Soldier On’s $12 million veterans housing project proposed for the former state police training academy building. They are needed for the Northampton organization’s project for low- and moderate-income veterans to conform to Massachusetts Historical Commission standards. “Overall, we’re very happy to have them (Soldier On) in the community. We were very happy to accommodate them,” Planning Board Chairman Travis P. Ward said Friday. The changes will reduce the number of its housing units from 54 to 53 and were approved by the Planning Board by a 4-0 vote Thursday. The board voted after hearing a presentation by Soldier On’s consultant on the project, engineer James M. Scalise II of SK Design Group Inc. of Pittsfield. He explained that the modifications are needed as a result of a detailed review of the former state police training academy building on South Westfield Street by the state historical commission. It has oversight of the project because the structure, which was built at the turn of the 20th century, is believed to have historic value. Plans call for revamping the building and constructing an addition. Steven E. Como, Soldier On’s executive vice president, said Friday that a groundbreaking could take place as early as late spring or early summer. The next major hurdle will be getting tax credits for the project through the National Park Service and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development as it will be government-subsidized housing for low- and moderate-income veterans. The changes authorized by the Planning Board must also be approved by the Board of Appeals. It will take up the matter when it meets Jan. 14. In a letter to the Planning Board, Scalise explained that changes are needed to preserve the former state police training academy’s first floor lobby, which is considered to be historic. The state has also required that the second-floor stage and auditorium be preserved and that the roof top on the proposed addition be lowered so as not to detract from the main building. Designs have also been altered so that the addition will not be visible from the road, In addition, changes have been made to the layouts of the units and the kitchen, and the rear entrance has been modified. The new site plan will result in about 600 more square feet of paved area than what the Planning Board allowed in the earlier site plan for the project. However, the new site plan will result in 160 square feet less paved area than currently exists.
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