Renovation Project Provides Home for New Magnet School

Bristol AIMS / Photo by Samara Media

Bristol, CT – QA+M Architecture served as project architect on the Bristol Arts and Innovation Magnet School (Bristol AIMS), a community-selected, grades 6-12 school for visual and performing arts aimed at preparing students for careers in related areas, including at ESPN, located in Bristol.

The City of Bristol chose the former 1923 Memorial Boulevard School, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as the home of the new Bristol AIMS school. The original school included an indoor swimming pool, a gymnasium, and outdoor athletic fields. The school also housed a professional-grade theater with stage, fly space, and over 900 seats.

Photo by Red Skies Photography

During design, extensive forensic and hazmat investigations helped to undercover existing conditions early on in construction that required mortar injection and hand patching of existing concrete beams. Performing these investigations made it possible to identify the cost impact and avoid a major financial pitfall. Great care was taken in restoring and refurbishing building details, including cast stone and brick masonry, glazed brick wainscots, and windows that required historically appropriate replacements. A key element was reconfiguring the main entrance and creating a new arts plaza at grade level allowing everyone to enter the building at one central location. Environmentally friendly products were utilized on the project such as recyclable flooring materials throughout the academic wing, as well as features like water bottle filling stations.

Photo by Red Skies Photography

The restored 113,000sf building includes contemporary art studios, two sound studios, and a restored 840-seat theater and black box “studio theater,” both with entirely new lighting, rigging, audio, and acoustical systems. A new formal lobby with a ticket booth and concessions area was added as a community resource for professional shows. The “Rockwell Theater,” named for Bristol philanthropist Albert Rockwell, is designed to train students for performance and technical production at a professional level and provide the city with one of the larger performing arts seating venues in Connecticut.

The project has won several awards including the 2023 Connecticut Preservation Award, Merit Award; the 2023 CREW CT Award, Best in Class: Education; the 2023 CBC Project Team Award, Merit Award; and the 2023 AIA Elizabeth Mills Brown Award, Historic Restoration.