by Eugene Torone
Autistic spectrum adults from throughout the country are experiencing new and exciting changes at Chapel Haven, where a blend of unique educational and residential programs has thrived since 1972 in New Haven, Conn.
With two projects completed and a new building about to break ground, staff and residents will start the school year in state-of-the-art spaces for teaching lifelong independent living skills, tools that will enable residents to remain in the community for a lifetime.
A mainstay of the community for 46 years, Chapel Haven has grown into a neighborhood campus comprised of various older residential structures that did not represent the organization’s comprehensive mission. The challenge faced by Chapel Haven leadership was daunting: the need to produce a quality campus reflective of their world-renowned programming, create opportunities to train and employ residents, expand program offerings, create an unprecedented assisted living facility, and integrate this expansion into the urban community, all within an aggressive time frame.
The unified team of The S/L/A/M Collaborative and S/L/A/M Construction Services was hired in February 2017 to meet this challenge. SLAM’s unique integrated approach paralleled planning, programming, zoning approvals, design, and construction to meet a grant deadline with a shovel in the ground by June 2017 and a completed first building by July 10, 2018. The design-build approach was a perfect solution to Chapel Haven’s need to expand the school’s campus and highlight the exceptional programming.
The first phase of the aggressive campus development comprised a renovation and addition to the admission/welcome center and the construction of the first of four planned buildings, beginning with a four-story, 32,500sf educational/residential facility known as the REACH Building. The first floor offers classrooms for engagement learning, gathering spaces for social and meaningful interactions, and quiet private spaces within a safe communal environment. The three upper floors are dormitory-style suites of two- and three-bedroom units with shared kitchens and common space, reflective of real-life living situations that nurture the transition to living independently.
The SLAM team consulted with Chapel Haven adults, parents, staff, autistic spectrum consultants, and similar organizations to incorporate this knowledge into specific elements that have strengthened the resulting design, including an outdoor living room space, rounded interior walls, color selection, wayfinding details, staff integration, a training apartment for day students, and state-of-the-art classrooms. The outdoor living room, which features a fountain, allows residents and students to socialize or have a moment of private reflection.
The dedicated SLAM construction team not only met the aggressive schedule challenge, they also embodied the Chapel Haven spirit, incorporating the residents into the daily construction process. Many of the contractors are on a first-name basis with the residents, empowering inclusion and making the construction site an exciting educational experience.
What makes Chapel Haven such a special place is the residents and the extension of the transitional program into the surrounding community. For these individuals, the 2.8-acre block within the Westville neighborhood is their home during the two-thirds-year program and after. Eighty-five percent of graduates (currently over 250) choose to reside in surrounding area apartment complexes. The passion of the extended Chapel Haven family, including leadership, parents, alumni, the neighborhood, and city, is what has ignited the support for this expansion and, in particular, the need to create an age-in-place facility for Chapel Haven graduates.
The SLAM team is now gearing up for the next project of the campus expansion, the universally designed SAIL (Schleifer Adult Independent Living) Building, set to break ground in late September. This four-story, 48,500sf residential community and assisted-living facility is designed for the Chapel Haven community to return and age in place. The program includes first-floor community-based spaces such as a fitness room, a wellness café, administrative offices, and lounges. Upper floors include one- and two-bedroom apartment units with centrally located communal kitchens, gathering spaces, and terraces.
Eugene Torone, DBIA, is the president of S/L/A/M Construction Services.