Search for architect for Cheshire school project narrows

CHESHIRE — The town’s Next Generation School Building Committee continues its forward momentum toward accomplishing its ultimate goal: two newly-built elementary schools ready for students by the fall of 2026.

On Feb. 28 and March 1, the Committee conducted 90-minute interviews with representatives from the four architectural firms selected as finalists. The Committee intends to finalize that evaluation process at its March 9 meeting. Most likely, that means making its recommendation of one or possibly two firms to the Town Council for approval at its March 14 meeting, per Committee Chair Richard Gusenburg.

Gusenburg says of the interviews that “there was an excellent and positive interaction between the Building Committee and the design professionals.”

To prepare for those interviews, Committee members conducted a series of in-person viewings of school projects across Connecticut.

“The firms picked the schools to visit and the visits were set up for us to see examples of their previous designs,” explained Gusenburg. “The creativity of each firm was on display as we drove up to each school and then walked the buildings. Professionals from the architectural firms toured with us and pointed out specific design features. In some cases we were also accompanied by the principal of the building and/or the chair of their construction committee. It gave us a chance to see the uniqueness of each firm as well as an opportunity to get to know many of the design professionals who may be working on our projects.”

The site tours kicked off with a visit to the Barack Obama Magnet University School in New Haven on Feb. 15. An elementary school that partners with Southern Connecticut State University and is located on its campus, it is 64,000 square feet in size and cost $45 million to build. The architectural firm responsible for the design is JCJ Architects, one of the four finalists being considered by the Committee..

On Feb. 22, the group traveled to Darien to visit the Tokeneke Elementary School and to Greenwich to visit the New Lebanon School, both of which were projects handled by TSKP Architects. The New Lebanon School, at 61,230 square feet, is LEED Gold Certified, according to TSKP’s website. Energy efficiency has been a concern for the Committee and for some members of the public who have attended meetings. The Tokeneke site, at 65,000 square feet, replaced a 1950s-era school of the same name, a similar process to what is envisioned at the current Norton School site.

The Committee was in Tolland on Feb. 23, looking at Birch Grove Elementary, another project of JCJ Architects. The school previously had crumbling foundations, which required expedited approval and cooperation from the state to remedy. At 85,000 square feet, it serves over 500 students and cost $40.3 million to rebuild, 89% of which was paid for by the state.

On Feb. 24, the group toured two projects from SLAM Collaborative — Ox Ridge Elementary in Darien and Samuel Staples Elementary in Easton. Ox Ridge replaced a previously existing school on the same site. It opened in August 2022 and serves more than 500 students. The Samuel Staples School cost $30.5 million back in 2005 and is 121,000 square feet, per a New York Times profile on the project.

The final visits, on Feb. 25, were to the Candlewood Lake Elementary School in Brookfield and to Oxford Middle School, both designed by Tecton Architects. The middle school is 82,000 square feet while the elementary school is more than 156,000 square feet. The Candlewood Lake school is environmentally-themed and incorporates innovations such as a living roof. It is the first school in Connecticut with Insulated Concrete Foam construction, according to the firm’s website.

Selecting an owner’s representative to oversee the construction process is the next major agenda item for the Committee. Gusenburg anticipates receiving RFQs for the position at the group’s next meeting and selecting up to four candidates for the interview process at the meeting scheduled for March 16.

Travel, meetings, tabulating scores, conducting research, and other related tasks represent a lot of hours for the all-volunteer committee, as well as officials such as Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Solan, Town Manager Sean Kimball, District Chief Operating Officer Vincent Masciana, and Town Attorney Jeff Donofrio, who are also participating. Gusenburg says the entire Committee has embraced the challenge.

“We’re confident the effort will pay off in the selection of an excellent design team for our two schools,” he stated.


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