April 10, 2017
Focus: Small Business

New Britain architectural firm expanding presence to Boston

PHOTOs | Contributed
PHOTOs | Contributed
Kaestle Boos was the primary architect in the Westwood High School (left) Sharon Middle School (right) school renovations, both in Massachusetts.
Brian Solywoda, principal, Kaestle Boos Associates

Brian Solywoda, principal of Kaestle Boos Associates, a New Britain-based architectural firm, sees some positive signs for his industry in Connecticut.

"Things are turning around slowly," he says. But he also acknowledges the state's budget issues and the challenges they pose for new construction. "There remains a lot of concern [from school districts] about how much money they'll have from the state," he says.

That uncertainty is a concern for Solywoda too because K-12 education is a core specialty focus for his firm. So Kaestle Boos, which also has an office in Foxborough, Mass., has expanded its presence to Boston, where the education market, Solywoda says, is booming.

While the 50-year-old firm has a history of design projects in and around Massachusett's capital city, Solywoda — who travels between all three of the firm's locations — sees the benefits of a Boston-based office. "I think there's a perception [among clients] that if you have a physical presence you're better able to serve them," he says.

Diane Harp Jones, executive director of the American Institute of Architect's Connecticut chapter, agrees. "Many architectural firms in Connecticut do business across state lines, but having a physical [office] location provides an excellent marketing tool for firms," she says. Jones noted that Connecticut's architectural industry — driven by the state's 450, mostly small, architectural firms — has a seen steady uptick in business. "Firms are busy, but not back to the levels of the pre-2008 Great Recession," she says. "But growth in architectural projects is a leading indicator of construction jobs."

In particular, Jones noted, health care and education have been on the forefront of the architectural industry's recovery. "However, it's been predominantly private industry [in Connecticut] as opposed to state investment in its own infrastructure," she says.

But the K-12 market remains a lucrative one. Nationwide, an estimated $1.26 trillion was spent on K-12 public school capital projects from 1994-2013, according to the National Council on School Facilities.

With states like Massachusetts, which provided nearly 67 percent of funding for its schools' capital construction from 1994-2013, focused on creating or converting existing schools to meet the spacing and educational needs of 21st-century learning, there is a large market opportunity for firms like Kaestle Boos.

"The educational landscape and how kids are taught is changing," Solywoda says. "And to meet the needs of these 21st-century learners, the physical space and design of today's schools need to align." He noted that more open, collaborative work spaces, where projects can be shared across various academic disciplines, are becoming the norm.

To meet that demand, many current schools will require additions or alterations to existing school facilities. Kaestle Boos often works with nationally recognized education planners on its projects, which has helped fuel demand for its services in the Boson area, where the firm has completed more than 30 projects over the past decade, says Suzy Schuck, Kaestle Boos' marketing manager. "Schools are great projects to work on because they're such an important part of the fabric of a community and can been a tool for change," says Schuck.

While change — including the addition of four new staff for the Boston office — has been good for Kaestle Boos, one thing the firm is committed to maintaining is its Connecticut roots. "Connecticut will always be home," Solywoda says, noting that many of the firm's administrative and marketing functions are still housed in the Nutmeg State but shared across state lines.

Solywoda knows those state lines well, commuting two or three times a week to the Boston office. And while the firm has a handful of school-related projects under development in Connecticut — including the new Rocky Hill Intermediate School — Solywoda sees a greater opportunity at the moment in Massachusetts.

Even seeing signs of a turnaround in Connecticut, Solywoda understands the value of having locations in different states and a big-city presence. "It always helps to diversify," he says.

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