Worcester, Mass., is the birthplace of vocational education, beginning with the pioneering efforts of Milton P. Higgins, who opened the Worcester Trade School in 1908. The school's original facility served this central Massachusetts community for nearly 100 years until its state-of-the-art replacement opened in 2006 as the 1,500-student Worcester Technical High School.
Getting the new 400,000-sf school opened, however, once again required pioneering efforts that earned this project and its Building Team a Special Recognition Award for overcoming significant challenges, including an environmentally sensitive site, tight funding, and labor union issues.
The school's 21-acre site in the city's Green Hill Park included wetlands with vernal pools, a 16-acre landfill, and a two-year legal dispute with neighbors over environmental and parkland issues. A formal partnering charter ultimately allayed neighborhood and environmental concerns. The school was repositioned on the site, and improvements were made to the wetlands and vernal pools, which now serve as leaning labs for the school's Environmental Technology program. The landfill was capped and converted for use as the school's athletic fields.
Funding was one of the project's biggest obstacles. To offset the school's approximately $90 million total cost (construction costs: $68 million; equipment: $22 million), the school's advisory board created “entrustment” programs, which involved partnerships with businesses, manufacturers, and major suppliers—notably Dell Computers, Cisco Systems, Toyota, and Redken 5th Avenue—to provide equipment and industry expertise in return for the school's exclusive use of their products.
Labor union issues were resolved through a deal brokered by the city's mayor and Consigli Construction (general contractor in a joint venture with O'Connor Constructors) that allowed non-union trades to bid the project. Originally, only union trades were allowed to bid, but that prevented the school's alumni who weren't union members or employees of union signatory firms from submitting bids. Trades winning their bids served as mentors to the school's current students, who gained valuable hands-on experience by helping complete their new school two months early and on budget.