Milton Catholic Secondary School

Implementing a Community-minded Educational Facility

Snyder Architects, based in Toronto, Ontario, are the architects for the new Milton Catholic Secondary School (MCSS) in Milton, part of the Halton Region in the Greater Toronto Area. The 25-person architectural firm designed the building and is playing an integral role overseeing the project construction.

The Halton Catholic School Board, which owns the MCSS, approved the new building to meet the increasing demands of a growing population. Construction began on the approximately 17,750-square metre building in spring 2012. When completed, the new school will accommodate 1,350 students.

The facility is designed with a three-storey academic wing and a two-storey sports and theatre complex; the two are connected by a centrally located atrium. Common areas such as the cafeteria, food school and administrative offices flank the atrium to create a “main street” – the hub of activity. There will also be a lit artificial surface sports field behind the building for athletics. Planning is under way between the Town of Milton and the School Board to provide an air-supported structure to cover the sports field for both school and community use.

The theatre area consolidates music, theatre and drama departments together for synergy. The athletic wing features four naturally lit gymnasia, changing rooms, an elevated running track and a weight room.

Avinash Garde, principal and project architect at Snyder Architects, explains that a student-centric focus was central to the design of this state-of-the-art contemporary facility. Also considered at an early stage was the lighting concept, which includes abundant daylight and solar tracking skylights to supplement the energy-efficient artificial lighting systems.

Snyder Architects issued a report in March 2013 to indicate that construction was ahead of schedule. Structural steel and masonry work is largely complete, roofing is well underway, and finishing trades have begun in parts of the building.

Unusual Project Delivery

Anil Gokarn, principal and project manager at Snyder Architects, can offer a more detailed perspective into the construction progress than the typical architect because of the cost-plus delivery method being employed on the MCSS project. Typical construction projects start with the architects in the design phase, but they then relinquish project management to owner-selected contractors in the build phase. Snyder Architects, however, has remained highly involved in the project during the construction phase.

The firm produced plans for the building, helped run the contractor and subcontractor selection process, and is overseeing execution of the design. To meet the expedited schedule, Snyder Architects even arranged the pre-grading work in advance of having a contractor, assigning a prequalified subcontractor to prepare the site with engineered fill near the building and preparing all required site services.

Gokarn clarifies that Snyder Architects is not a construction management firm; the company, however, has taken this more involved approach many times on its architectural projects.

“The firm’s founder, Doug Snyder, pioneered this process early in the firm’s history,” says Gokarn. “Our premise is that when the architect is removed from the actual work the design may not be implemented as the architect envisioned. The process is also invaluable when dealing with extremely tight schedules.

“It’s an unusual delivery method, but by inserting ourselves into this role, we’re closer to the workers on site,” continues Gokarn. “We’re able to react faster and in a better way, if problems arise.”

On the MCSS build, nearly 40 subcontractors are working on the project. This means hundreds of crew members from various subcontractors have a role in this building’s construction. Despite the number of people on the job, Gokarn conveys that things are running smoothly.

“Our most important challenge is coordinating hundreds of people … when they arrive on site each morning it is critical that they understand what they have to do,” he says. “We have to convey our vision to the construction workers. They’re experts in their own field and we rely on their expertise; our job is to clearly give them the big picture.”

Designing for Education and Supportive Environments

Snyder Architects has over 30 years experience in the Ontario region designing for education. Many featured projects on the company’s website (www.SnyderArchitects.ca) are K-12 buildings, as well as projects that enhance communities.

The firm remains so involved in projects such as the MCSS because of its founding principles of accountability and responsibility. Garde, Gokarn and the additional architects at the firm immediately step up to the plate on each project, and they worked closely with school officials to determine the needs of the MCSS from the very beginning.

“We aim to understand a client’s problem in its entirety to ensure reality gets built into the visioning,” explains Garde. “We pride ourselves on this. Then, when we deliver our buildings, as we will with the MCSS, we always finish them on time. We put a lot of effort in to make sure that happens.”

In addition, Snyder Architects designs with environmentally sound methods and materials in mind, such as the natural lighting incorporated throughout the MCSS, though funding in Ontario does not typically allow for formal LEED certification. The ability to expertly navigate the site planning-approval process with project owners and municipalities alike is thanks to comprehensively experienced staff members such as Gokarn, who has been in the construction industry for nearly 20 years, and with the firm for the majority of that time. He has been involved in assembling the specs and subcontractors for many educational facility projects, from new buildings to additions and renovations.

When it comes to building in the education sector, one major challenge Snyder Architects finds is scheduling around funding and planning approvals. However, once approval is given and the ground is broken, Gokarn looks to the crews on site to determine how the job is progressing. “When I see smiles on the guys’ faces, I know it’s going well,” he says.

Crews have been smiling a lot as work progresses smoothly on the MCSS project, as Snyder Architects’ concept-to-completion supervision allows for better work, less risk and more fun. If crews maintain the current schedule, the Milton Catholic Secondary School will be open to enrich the lives of students and their community by fall 2013, a shining example of leadership, teamwork and innovation.