The State of Connecticut is upgrading and changing the name of its trade schools from Regional Vocational Technical Schools to Connecticut Technical High Schools. That, says Paul Antinozzi, AIA, is a welcome design challenge from the client. The architecture and design of the buildings can help people understand that there is very high-quality education going on at these facilities, he says.

Connecticut’s plans to upgrade 17 vocational education facilities means more work for Antinozzi’s firm, Antinozzi Associates, which is taking one former regional vocational school in Manchester from a conventional trade school to contemporary technical high school. The firm has just received its second commission for a school in Hamden, which will include 111,000 square feet of renovations and 117,000 square feet of new construction.

This process of revisiting all these schools is not only to upgrade them for code and programmatically, but also to change the image of the schools,which have somewhat of a stigma attached to them, Antinozzi says. The Howell Cheney project in Manchester includes 88,000 square feet of renovations and 101,000 square feet of new space. It’s like a little geometric puzzle. One thing moves here while you build it, all the time maintaining safety and code. Formal groundbreaking for that $42.9 million project was June 13.

We’re in the feasibility study stages for the Hamden project at this point. Antinozzi lists four of the firms primary programmatic considerations: concern for student safety; maintaining the facility in operation throughout the process; phasing in the design to avoid putting any activities off-site during construction; and making sure, at the end of the process, everything is in its proper location. It’s much more of a planning exercise with the idea being the exploration of several different design solutions.

For the Manchester project, we came up with an innovative solution where we stacked the technical trades. That hadn’t been done before. Because of a slope in the site we were able to do it in a way that was able to save a lot of area, reduce overall construction costs, and combine several phases into one. We’re hoping to do that here [at Hamden], too. The architect anticipates that the 225,000-square-foot building will be completed in three phases over an 18- or 24-month construction period.

At Cheney in Manchester, we really found that there was a strong goal of the client to make this building into a very attractive and engaging structure.” Like magnet schools, the architect says, students apply from multiple towns to attend the technical facilities. We’re trying to make them look very contemporary. By doing that at Cheney, we introduced some large curves to the appearance of the building, a glass curtain wall, and battered pilasters. At the same time we are bringing a unity to the whole building so that the building has a vernacular that is the same at back as it is in the front. We are also upgrading all of the finishes and introducing good landscaping and lighting so that ultimately it looks like a new school. The architects are renovating all classrooms, administrative space, the gymnasium, cafeteria, and library. The addition will encompass a new wing with 12 new classrooms and 10 new shops. The project also will include a restaurant to seat more than 50 people.

The $57 million Eli Whitney project ($43.2 million for construction) will include 111,000 square feet of renovations and 117,000 square feet of new construction. The state’s technical high schools are the original magnet schools, bringing together people from many communities under one roof for a specific educational focus, he adds. Not only is the program at Eli Whitney exciting in its own right, but, along with the other technical high schools in the state, way ahead of their time, Antinozzi says.
Now the architecture will represent the fact that this is a vibrant, exciting educational facility, he says. Clearly, we have a client, the state departments of public works and education, that really values the message that good architecture can present.

The trends in vocational education are driven by the local and statewide job markets, Antinozzi says. Some of the newest trends in trades are television studios and macroelectronic shops and softer trades such as culinary programs. The architect notes that although the schools will not seek green building certification, the design team is going through the process of analyzing them to make them as environmentally friendly as they can.

Educational facilities represent a unique challenge for architects because of generally significant budget constraints that are coupled with a pronounced need to balance aesthetics with practicality, said Paul Antinozzi, president of the architecture firm. I am particularly pleased with the Manchester project. The substantial use of glass will create an uncluttered, warm atmosphere to satisfy student and faculty requirements while at the same time maintaining the fiscal restraint required by the state.
Antinozzi says there’s a strong commitment on the part of the state to support this effort. Connecticut’s Department of Education has budgeted for upgrades at 17 technical high schools. Work is awarded through a strict qualifications-based selection process.

Connecticut’s Antinozzi Associates gives schools new self-respect
by Tracy Ostroff © 2005 The American Institute of Architects. All rights reserved.