Gilbane – Engineering & Science University Magnet Middle and High School

GilbaneGilbane is in the final stages of a two-decade-long program to renovate and upgrade all of the city of New Haven’s public schools in Connecticut.

By Tim O’Connor

The best day on any project is the last day, but for Carolina Cudemus it’s especially sentimental. Since 2000, Cudemus, a Project executive for Gilbane, has overseen modernization of facilities for New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut. “One of the most satisfying days is when all of the staff and students go to their school [for the first time],” she says. “Just to see the faces of the people walking in and seeing where they are going to be working and going to school gives all of us a sense of satisfaction and purpose for the work we do.”

In the past 16 years, Cudemus has gotten to relive that moment more than 40 times. She’ll have another opportunity at the beginning of 2017 with the completion of the school district’s newest facility, the Engineering and Science University Magnet Middle School on the campus of the University of New Haven. Work on the five-story, 600-student building began in late 2014 and will finish in late January.Gilbane info box

The school shares its site with the University of New Haven and will take advantage of that proximity. High school students will be able to take classes alongside their engineering and science college peers. The look of the building relates into its science-focused curriculum. Svigals and Partners, incorporated sculptures of scientists into the masonry walls of the mostly glass building. The sculptures depict Connecticut scientists as well as living and non-living scientists. The building was designed by Svigals+Partners and Fusco Corp. is acting as the construction manager.

As of late September, about 200 workers were on the site. Finishes and plank mill work was underway and crews were installing specialty flooring and data infrastructure. “The widening of Route 1, a state road, and completion of the site and landscaping adds to the tremendous energy at the site currently, we are in the finishing stages,” Cudemus says. 

The use of building information modeling and Revit during design helped to ease that coordination. “As program managers, we manage both the architect and the construction manager,and our Client has a great sense of trust in what we do,” Cudemus says.

Education Legacy

The Engineering & Science University Magnet School is one of the final projects Gilbane will undertake as part of the district’s capital construction program.

The relationship between Gilbane and New Haven Public Schools began in 1998 when the school system selected the builder to helm its two-decade, $1.66 billion construction program. Since then, the company has overseen the construction or renovation of 46 schools throughout the city. The program was aimed at upgrading existing facilities and adding new schools to neighborhoods in the community.

“The intent is to renovate all of the existing schools,” Cudemus says. “New Haven is an urban city and most of them needed infrastructure and technology upgrades in order to provide education for the 21st Century.”

New Haven Public Schools went through a master-planning process at the beginning of the construction program to determine its future enrollment and facility needs. Plans are updated annually based on revised enrollment projections.

Cudemus came to the program in 2000. As deputy director, she’s overseen its implementation for most of the life of the program, watching as the technology inside the schools and building methods have changed during the past 16 years. Cudemus is a Gilbane employee, but her desk is located within the New Haven Public School’s Board of Education offices, allowing her to work directly with the client on a daily basis.

Most school districts don’t have the capability to conduct their own feasibility studies or employ their own architects, engineers and builders. When a long-term building project arises, it makes sense to contract with a company that specializes in those services. “Program management is something a lot of municipalities are using to manage large projects that span several years,” Cudemus says.

The New Haven Schools Capital Construction Program is the largest such ongoing school building program in Connecticut and the largest per capita in the United States, according to Gilbane. The size and scope of the master plan has attracted visitors from several states and as far away as South Korea who are hoping to learn about the partnership between Gilbane and New Haven Public Schools.

The length of the program enabled Gilbane to create strategies in a way that wouldn’t be possible for one-off projects. For example, all the flooring for all of  the school buildings is standardized. That means the equipment used to clean the floors is the same in every facility, empowering New Haven to wield its purchasing power to drive down costs.

Energy is another area where Gilbane’s involvement allowed for a longer view. The company worked with the school district to create building standards that lined up with LEED Silver certification, and to encourage the implementation of energy technologies such as solar panels and fuel cells or the use of LED lighting as well as chilled beams for heating and cooling. “We have gone above and beyond providing renewable energy alternative resources and savings for our client,” Cudemus says.

Gilbane has taken care to exceed expectations at every step of the two-decade program. When the Engineering & Science school opens in the new year, students will move out of a “swing space” – one of several temporary instructional facilities Gilbane helped New Have Public Schools set up to manage the disruption. “It’s almost like playing checkers because you move a school out and move another in,” Cudemus says.

The swing spaces act as transitional schools until the new building is complete or the old one is renovated. Although they are not permanent locations, the swing spaces are outfitted with the same technologies and infrastructure found in regular schools. “Because we knew we were going to do this for many years there was an investment in doing the fit-out properly,” Cudemus says.

The program is an investment not only in New Haven students, but in the city’s economy. On every project, Gilbane works with the New Haven Commission on Equal Opportunity to attract and train local people to work on the school buildings. The school construction program has created jobs for minorities and New Haven residents.

Lasting Impact

Even though she’s been working on New Haven Public School projects since the new millennium began, Cudemus says the process begins anew with each building. Every project has a different architect and construction manager team, and must work through site issues unique to that community.

With regards to the Engineering Science University School, its location on a college campus will expose students to more resources, but for the construction team it creates challenges for site security when college  is in session. “You still have to go through the same logistics preconstruction set-up you would do on any project, ensuring the safety of the students, staff, as well as minimal disturbance to the college operations and the adjacent residences,” Cudemus adds.

With work in the final months at the Engineering and Science University school, Gilbane has begun turning its attention to the next and final project, the construction of the New Strong 21st Century Communications Magnet school, which will be located on the Southern Connecticut State University campus.

What has been most surprising and inspiring to Cudemus is the investment by the community that occurs around the projects. Whenever work on a new school building begins it seems the neighborhood spruces up. Businesses fix up their storefronts while residents upgrade their home’s curb appeal. By the time the school opens, the entire neighborhood appears transformed and revitalized. “You see the difference in the community you are working on,” she says.

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