At the Felton Homes public housing complex, the duplexes that looked like rectangular brick boxes aren’t gone.
But they’re tough to spot, sandwiched as they are between new layers of insulation and hidden behind colored siding. They have more windows and doors, are decorated with gables, and their huge porches are held aloft by white pillars. The solar panels on the roofs shine in the sun.
In December, the “green transformation” of Felton Homes was completed, making the 100 units more comfortable, environmentally friendly and cheaper for many of the low-income residents.
The $13.5 million overhaul was made possible by an $8.5 million grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that required extensive “green” features, said Bruce Gerwig, special programs director for the Macon Housing Authority and president of In-Fill Housing Inc., a nonprofit developer affiliated with the authority.
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Those features included using low-flow water fixtures and all Energy Star appliances, windows, shingles, and lighting. The flooring, which was once vinyl, is now wood composite and tile, all free of formaldehyde. Smoking is no longer allowed in the buildings.
Roads in the complex were redrawn to improve traffic flow, add more parking and feature pavement that allows water to penetrate underground, which reduces runoff, said architect Bob Brown of BTBB Inc. in Macon. There will also be a gated entryway.
The entire complex replaced 10 percent of its energy demand with renewable energy, using a combination of solar panels and solar hot water heaters. Different units received different amounts and types of solar panels based on their angle to the sun.
Contractors reused almost three quarters of their construction waste, diverting it from landfills, far exceeding the grant’s requirement of 25 percent diversion, Brown said.
The authority had been looking for a way to transform Felton Homes, located south of Mercer University Drive, when the grant became available as part of the federal stimulus program, Brown said. Other funding for the project came from Alliant Capital, a private equity firm that raised $5 million by selling low-income tax credits, and from the authority itself, which contributed almost $500,000, Gerwig said.
Felton was a safe, quiet, stable public housing complex complemented by the Buck Melton Community Center, with its Head Start center, a Central Georgia Technical College center and other amenities.
“But it was stuck in the ’40’s,” when it was built, Brown said. The brick boxes had no insulation, just one door and no porches. The newly renovated units have back doors, ceiling fans and washer and dryer connections for the first time. More cabinet space and windows were added, and doors were moved to make the units look more like normal homes, Brown said. A second bathroom was added to the three-bedroom units.
Outside, the houses now have fenced backyards with walking paths and benches. The complex has a self-service laundry and community garden space for the first time, Gerwig said.
Mary Patterson, who has lived in Felton Homes since 1999, moved into her newly renovated unit around June. “I’m crazy about this,” she said. “It’s much better.” She said her old apartment didn’t include a microwave or dishwasher and the kitchen cabinets were much smaller.
Her electricity bill is also “much less,” Patterson said.
The well-insulated apartments, combined with the energy generated by solar panels, should save most residents money on their utility bills, although the amount will vary according to the number of solar panels at each unit, Brown said. Gerwig said the housing authority doesn’t expect to know how much savings has been achieved until this time next year.
The grant did not allow any of the existing units to be demolished, although four were in the way of the new road configuration, Brown said. So a contractor was hired to excavate under their concrete slabs, jack them up and roll them to new locations.
“You haven’t lived until you’ve driven up Felton Avenue and seen a building moving toward you,” Gerwig said.
Because the renovation was part of the stimulus program, contractors had to keep track of hours worked. Altogether, it came to more than 90,000 work hours between September 2010 and December 2011, according to data provided by contractor McShane Construction.
Gerwig said residents were moved to other public housing complexes in phases while the work was under way. Some of them chose to stay at those locations, while others returned to Felton Homes when renovations were complete.
“This is awesome,” said Arconda Davis, 32, who moved into Felton Homes for the first time a few months ago. She said she loves having so many windows, and the kitchen is “amazing” compared to the one at her old apartment in east Macon.
“It’s brand new and feels like home,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.