Whether we call them vocational training or CTE facilities, they're on the rise. 

Four things to know
before design.

When more than 600 students head back to the classroom on September 3 at Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Lexington, Massachusetts, they’re in for an exciting experience. They’ll walk through the doors of a new, 257,000-square-foot school designed for learning in two career academies — one emphasizing engineering construction and trades, the other focused on life sciences and services — while integrating academic curriculum and other shared programs.

Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Lexington, Massachusetts

The current term is “Career Technical Education” or CTE. You might know it as vocational training, but whatever you call it, it’s on the rise. Not only are traditional high schools offering more technical and vocational classes, we’re also seeing more high schools like Minuteman, purpose-built for exposing kids to and teaching skills for a variety of career paths that could either begin right after high school, or be continued through post-secondary certificate or degreed programs.

The cost of a university education, the reality of interests, learning styles and aptitudes that diverge from the college-prep path and a changing U.S. labor market are among the chief reasons behind surging interest in CTE over the last decade, both for parents and policymakers. According to a report published earlier this year by Advance CTE, 42 states and Washington, D.C., passed a total of 146 policy actions related to CTE and career readiness in 2018; 30 of those states addressed CTE funding — the top priority for legislation over the last six years according to the report. Minuteman was built to accommodate 628 students and serves 10 communities north and west of Boston. It already has a waiting list.

With more CTE facilities on the horizon, what do architects, school leaders and other stakeholders need to know about the engineering side of these projects?

They are complicated by the sheer number of
programs they offer

CTE schools are defined by their variety of unique spaces, rather than a few typical spaces. For example, Minuteman’s educational lineup includes 16 programs of study under five career pathways. These range from trades, transportation, engineering and production to digital arts and design; from health, hospitality and human services to agriculture, environmental and life sciences. Integrated with these technical programs are the academic disciplines, including math and science and humanities, as well as art, music and physical education. Spaces include science and computer labs, music rooms, a Broadway-style teaching theater, library and cafeteria as well as automotive, wood and metal shops, advanced manufacturing equipment, greenhouses, cosmetology and culinary arts spaces.

They require between 2-3X the number of
systems to operate

With so the many programs housed under one roof come many more types of engineering systems than you’ll find in a traditional high school. For example, Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School required 17 separate HVAC systems, including specialized exhaust/recirculating air systems for welding, painting, cosmetology and carpentry; dust removal systems for wood and metal; science labs, culinary arts and cafeteria. There are also six different kinds of fan equipment and nine types of smaller, zone-based, terminal equipment.

They are energy intensive, at a time when
reduced carbon footprint is paramount

BVH works to both reduce energy demand and maximize efficiency through system design, while working with the building architect to ensure coherence with design strategies aimed at the same goals. Minuteman is designed to meet LEED Gold standards and includes 400 KW of photovoltaic system to reduce the incoming electrical usage.

Collaboration and flexibility are essential

Determining what and where systems are needed, optimizing functionality through adjacencies or other key factors and ensuring that they’re accessible for maintenance, and responding to program or technology changes means close, creative, painstaking work with the building owner, designer, contractor and other subconsultants. BVH draws not only on our experience with other secondary school projects, but also from work with university engineering, medical and research programs, commercial advanced manufacturing facilities and building commissioning to provide broad-based expertise and judgment to the team.

One of favorite aspects of these projects is that they’re teaching students what we do. To the extent possible, we love to be able to use the systems we design as part of their education. We like to imagine that future BVH engineers might have found their calling thanks to their hands-on experience at a school like Minuteman.

2018 CTE Policy Review
Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School

About the Authors

Gregory H. Van Deusen, P.E., is a senior vice president at BVH, and oversees the quality of BVH’s design services, client relations and project management. With 40 years of experience, he specializes in school and university buildings, corporate offices, and healthcare facilities.

Larry Jones is a project manager with more than 40 years of engineering and project management experience at BVH. He has been involved in the design of a wide range of award-winning projects throughout New England from public schools and municipal buildings to advanced manufacturing and high-rise office buildings.