Background and Context
In 2001, the University of Hartford began the process of studying the feasibility of developing a STEM-based high school on the University’s campus. Believing the United States to be increasingly at-risk due to the lack of high quality and innovative science-oriented programs, the University opened talks with the City of Hartford and about collaboration on a new high school program that would serve Hartford and area children in an exploratory Science-Technology-Engineering and Mathematics curriculum.
Following outreach to potential stakeholders and project partners, including the City of Hartford, Hartford Public Schools, the Capitol Education Resource Council (development partner and operator of the local magnet school system) and the State of Connecticut Department of Education, the University undertook research and writing of grant proposals. A $400,000 planning grant was awarded by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation for development of an Educational Specification for the University High School of Science and Engineering (UHSSE).
The University engaged the services of JCJ Architecture to assist in formulating the Ed Spec. Based on the concept of “Crossing Boundaries” - an educational model that blurs boundaries between the high school and university – the new school was to be located on the campus of the University of Hartford – physically and functionally embedding these students in both the high school and the university community – as the first step in setting the bar for this ambitions educational program.
The school’s population comes from Hartford and 24 surrounding towns. This program brings together students from one of the nation’s most economically and socially polarized cities with those from some of Connecticut’s most affluent and homogenous communities. Educational, organizational and physical structures were created to crossing the social and educational divide and to facilitate access of students and their families to resources, curriculum and faculty of the both UHSSE and the University of Hartford. The school’s location – at the eastern most edge of the University campus – makes a statement about the school becoming an anchor for the City of Hartford and a new portal for the University of Hartford – knitting together these two communities more firmly and absolutely.
The selected site was severely constrained by a river, wetlands, and the need for vehicle access from two directions. JCJ and the University worked with State and Federal agencies to assure that the site would be physically safe while providing learning opportunities to the students and preserving the connection with the campus. Site issues included required buffers from watercourses, required setbacks, re-adjustment of FEMA floodplain maps, relocation of overhead utilities underground, and the development of a new main access road, Mark Twain Drive. The building and site design respond to the constraints and opportunities of this particular site. A small footprint was created to facilitate rapid construction and takes full advantage of the narrow site with limited buildable land.
The design of the University High School of Science and Engineering evolved out of the belief that a school with this theme should express the elegance, simplicity and beauty of scientific and engineering principles.
The building is designed to support an early-college model of science and engineering education through the use of exposed systems, connections to the natural environment, the inclusion of educational features focused on sustainability and common spaces to encourage dialogue among students and between students and faculty. The building design and site design respond to and take advantage of this particular site. The small footprint further facilitates rapid construction and takes full advantage of the narrow site with limited buildable land.
The school is organized by grade into small learning communities of 100 students, each grouped around common laboratories, project rooms, and faculty advisories. Students entering the school cross the boundary between their neighborhood and the community of the school. From the main entrance students traverse the commons area, a large space broken up by textures, colors, and materials to provide the feeling of a street front composed of smaller stores. This space serves as the main dining and gathering space of the school. At the center of each floor is an internet café – an informal space for students and faculty to meet, work and socialize. The café’s overlook the school commons – a dynamic multi-use space that serves as the hub of daily activity and may have at any given time students dining at one end while the robotics team runs their latest creation through its paces at the other end.
In order to create an environment that would fulfill the projects goals and encourage and facilitate the experiential learning, the entire building was designed to be an active learning and teaching space. Technology is integrated throughout the building, allowing a teacher to conduct a class anywhere and students to access to digital resources throughout the building. The STEM aspects of the facility include fully equipped science and engineering teaching labs, a full robotics lab, and curriculum driven classrooms. Key to the program was the development of the Discovery Center/Commons - a 4,500 square foot area enriched with state of the art telecommunication and electronic media equipment. Designed for multiple uses - from traditional school assemblies to exhibitions and inter-district personnel meetings to seminars, the Discovery Center/Commons runs along the western spine of the building and is the school’s largest and most dramatic space. Classrooms are arrayed along the eastern side of the building and are organized to have 9th and 10th grades clusters on the second floor and 11th and 12th grades on the third.
Today, the University High School of Science and Engineering brings its unique blend of hands on learning and collaboration. Named Secondary School of Merit Award by Magnet Schools of America. Over 80% of the Class of 2015 earned college credit while enrolled at USSHE.
Since opening in 2004, 100% of UHSSE graduates have been accepted into two- and four-year colleges.
Special Services: Assistance with Educational Specifications, Site Feasibility and Selection, Regulatory Approvals
Client: City of Hartford in partnership with the University of Hartford