Hartford elementary school first in city to go for top green rating
November 17, 2008
Since opening in 1952, the focus has been on tutoring within the walls of Mary Hooker School that today houses a pre-kindergarten through grade 8 school.
For nearly half a century, little attention has been paid to the condition of the walls, floors, or the rest of the physical and mechanical systems at the Mary M. Hooker Environmental Studies Magnet School at 200 Sherbrooke Ave. in southwest Hartford.
That’s about to change. Hartford’s school system is preparing to make up for lost time and transform the vintage school building into a modern, green facility.
BL Companies, a Meriden architectural-engineering firm, has finalized a green design for a 30,000-square-foot addition and other renovations that $42 million later, in 2010, should boost the 70,000-square-foot building’s educational space and achieve a gold-level LEED certification.
LEED is a third-party, nonprofit certification nationally accepted program that sets benchmarks for green buildings. The gold level is the highest level that can be achieved, meaning the school will get the latest energy-saving, environmentally-friendly heating and cooling systems.
“This will be a very special thing in the city,’’ said BL Companies architect Christopher Roof, lead designer for Mary Hooker.
The 21st-century upgrade also extends the pace of revitalization in the city’s southwest corner, where neighborhoods such as Charter Oak and Rice Heights once were identified more by dilapidated project housing. In the last decade, single-family dwellings and a shopping plaza, anchored by Wal-Mart, have replaced the Charter Oak and Rice Heights housing projects.
Located across the street from Mary Hooker School and also in the Behind the Rocks neighborhood, A.I Prince Technical School also is undergoing a multimillion-dollar facelift and expansion.
Mary Hooker’s redo, at a minimum, will keep pace with the school’s mission as a hands-on laboratory for environmental education, Roof said.
Some improvements are to be expected — expanded parking, a new cafeteria and a drop-off area for bus riders out front of the school.
But it is the other planned upgrades that stand out at Mary Hooker, and that provided a creative challenge for BL designers, said Peter Bachmann, director of architecture and engineering.
A butterfly vivarium — to be among only a handful in the Northeast, outside of New York — will be built, along with a 30-seat interactive science theater; a weather station; a greenhouse; an aquatics lab big enough for 50 freshwater and saltwater aquariums; and a 30-foot high, glass-shrouded lobby that will house an ecosystem display with plants and a fish pond.
BL never designed a project like this, so it turned to consultants, such as one with expertise in butterflies, to help with the vivarium and other challenging parts of the assignment, Bachmann said.
Mary Hooker Principal Raul “Richie’’ Montanez-Pitre said the school advisory team worked closely with BL to craft a design that despite some compromises will benefit students and the community. The principal said the school, once renovated, will resume its magnet status in 2010 with a projected enrollment of 660, up from 400 currently.
“Overall, the conceptual and philosophical design of the school is there,’’ Montanez-Pitre said.