New Haven operates the largest school construction program in the State, and the largest per capita in the country. Begun in 1995, the Citywide School Construction program has evolved into a national model for its massive scope, innovative financing and high degree of community involvement.
From 1995 to 2010, 34 schools have been rebuilt (some with additions) or built new. They are listed on the gallery page. Four more new schools are in construction, with three of them set to open by the start of the 2010-2011 school year. Two schools are in design and a third will begin design shortly. These 38 school construction projects, all approved by the State of Connecticut and City of New Haven, will total $1.375 billion in a building investment by State and City taxpayers. Six more projects, all renovations of existing buildings, are slated for applications and funding in future years to complete the School Construction Program. Nearly 4 million square feet of school buildings will have been impacted by the program by its end.
The buildings are designed to enhance the learning environment for students and staff alike – as noted in the 2008 Cambridge Report – and provide facilities that can be used year-round by the school and community. They also have been designed to implement the transition to pre-K-8 and K-8 schools, from the elementary and middle school model, and to provide smaller, themed high schools. By downsizing the enrollments at the middle school and high school level, there can be more of a focus on the individual student and a link with the student’s family.
Every school project has been designed with the assistance of a School-Based Building Advisory Committee (SBBAC), which includes school staff, parents, community members and the area alderpeople, all of whom work with the architect and school construction staff to design a school that meets the State’s various standards, BOE requirements and the needs of the school and neighborhood. The SBBACs report to the Citywide School Building Committee, which oversees the program.
Each school has unique features that preserve the history and character in its neighborhood, expand, and create new schools to make room for programming needs now and into the future, and above all else, put students and learning first. The renovated buildings have been fixtures in neighborhoods for many decades, going as far back as 1900, and their preservation has benefited the surrounding neighborhoods. Many schools incorporate facilities that benefit the neighborhood as well; virtually all have library/media centers, computer labs, cafeterias, gymnasiums and playgrounds; all are air conditioned; five have pools; many have fields where none previously existed. Fixed seat auditoriums have been renovated and are in use in schools throughout the City and other multi-purpose gathering spaces have been developed. Since the New Haven School District is the largest early childhood provider in the State, many schools have pre-K classrooms.
A standard for construction has been adopted and guidelines defined to ensure consistency and continuity across diverse construction projects. These guidelines include familiarizing design firms with program requirements on what needs to be provided for teachers and students in order to teach the defined curriculum. Material guidelines relate to New Haven's design requirements. Standard specification guidelines were developed to ensure consistency in form and content between specifications of various design professionals.
Energy efficiency is one of the most important priorities of the School Construction Program. The guidelines place particular emphasis on energy and indoor air quality performance and identify design tools and methodologies necessary to achieve an Energy Star Label for school buildings. In addition, the guidelines have meant that schools would meet LEED certification standards long before they became a State requirement (the School District has not pursued actual certification in most cases because of the cost entailed in obtaining certification). Five schools have been named Energy Star partners in the last two years and one has been awarded a LEED Gold certification. The construction projects are overseen by a Commissioning Agent, which is an independent agent who reviews the methods and procedures used during design, construction, system startup, testing, and turnover for compliance with defined guidelines.
The school buildings set the stage for the many programs New Haven has put in place, including the diverse magnet schools and choices offered by all schools, the curriculum, and the reforms yet to come. They will serve the educational system for many decades to come.