Habitat continues building houses in Salisbury — with precautions

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoConstruction on several homes being built by Habitat for Humanity in Salisbury is moving along, although slowly in light of the pandemic.

SALISBURY — The COVID-19 crisis may have brought many plans to a crashing halt all across the region, but Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity is continuing to get its work done, slowly but surely.

The nonprofit organization is building seven homes — a single-family and three duplexes — on Old County Road in Salisbury as well as six more units in North Andover. The novel coronavirus hasn't stopped the work from moving forward.

"We have a very small group of volunteers and staff and are continuing to build," Executive Director Meegan O'Neil said. "We're not going at the same speed we were at before, but we are still making progress."

Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity will usually have up to 25 people on a build site on a normal day but the pandemic has limited that number to half a dozen, including a construction manager and an assistant construction manager, according to O'Neil.

Workers need to complete a health screening each day. They must also stay at least six feet away from each other.

"We are doing as much outdoor work as possible and as little indoor work as possible," O'Neil said. "We are also avoiding shared tools and are wearing masks all day."

She added that her organization qualified for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan and is looking to hire a pair of Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School carpentry students to work on the project.

Five of the seven Salisbury families expected to move into their new homes this spring but the coronavirus crisis has delayed the move-ins for the time being, according to Marketing Director Jacques Du Preez. 

“Everything just stopped in its tracks with social distancing and those families are experiencing big delays right now,” Du Preez said. "We don't know when we will be able to move them into those houses. But, by getting more people on payroll, we can get a fair amount of work done so that we can get those families in there as quickly as possible."

Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity also runs a discount home improvement ReStore in Lawrence that had to close its doors during the crisis, according to O'Neil.

"The store was closed in mid-March, so we have lost about $100,000 in revenue," she said. "But we just started doing some online sales (at mvrestore.org) over the past couple of weeks. It won't make up for what has been lost, but it is a help and we'll be opening doors with limited hours of operation there again in May."

Financial contributions are always welcome, but every dollar is especially helpful at this time, according to O'Neil. Donations can be made online at www.merrimackvalleyhabitat.org.

"I know that everybody is in the same boat but, if people are able to donate, they can do it online," she said.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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