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Hutch Tech: Architectural gem for engineers and architects

It was once known as Mechanics Arts High School, then Buffalo Technical High School, before it eventually merged with another school to become one: Hutchinson Central Technical High School.

Hutch Tech, for short.

For the nearly 1,200 students who attend, it’s one of Buffalo’s top-performing high schools. For the rest of us, it’s that grand, brick-and-masonry building at 256 S. Elmwood Ave. near the corner of West Chippewa Street.

In fact, when built in 1913, its Gothic Revival style was appropriate for academic buildings of the day, said Paul McDonnell, director of facilities planning, design and construction for the Buffalo Public Schools.

“I love the building,” said McDonnell, who chairs the city’s Historic Preservation Board. “City Honors, Grover Cleveland, Hutch Tech and South Park were all built within a year or two, which is incredible – four huge high schools – and reflective of the growth of Buffalo back then.”

You may not notice from the ground, but the five-story school is in the shape of an “H,” some say designed that way in honor of the Hutchinson family, which donated the land for use as a school.

The beautiful original stained-glass ceiling in the auditorium was hidden beneath an ordinary white suspended ceiling and uncovered during the 2007 reconstruction. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

“We have so many beautiful marble features throughout the building, especially in the main entrance way, and the most gorgeous wood, particularly in the doorways when you come in,” said Peter LoJacono, a veteran Hutch Tech teacher. “The auditorium is a masterpiece.”

Hutch Tech didn’t start out here.

The school traces its roots back to 1904 when Mechanics Arts High School opened on the second floor of Grammar School 11 on Elm Street, near Clinton Street, as a school for “technical education,” according to a school web site.

One of three such schools in the state at the time, the high school soon became Buffalo Technical High School and quickly outgrew the building.

A new location was opened in 1914 on Eagle and Cedar Streets, but it wasn’t until a half-century later when in 1954 it moved to its current downtown location as part of a merger with Hutchinson Central, McDonnell said.

The exterior brick walls were preserved when the gym with regulation-size basketball court was built in what used to be an exterior courtyard. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

The school, located in the city’s West Village Historic District, was reconstructed in 2007. The project included new science labs, relocating the cafeteria to the ground floor and adding a regulation-size basketball court, McDonnell said. The front of the school along Elmwood was converted into sort of an “outdoor terrace” for the students to congregate while waiting for the bus.

It showed you could take a 100-year-old building and turn it into a 21st Century learning environment, McDonnell said.

“One of my favorite things is the auditorium,” LoJacono said.

Beneath the ordinary, white suspended ceiling in the auditorium, workers found the stained glass from the original skylight.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” LoJacono said. “Why they would have covered it up, I have no idea.”

Students take an entrance exam to be admitted to Hutch Tech, which has a diverse enrollment and offers four engineering majors.

It is fitting, McDonnell said, that such a significant building is where future engineers and architects are being taught.

LoJacono said he’s biased, but he thinks Hutch Tech has the best students in Buffalo.

“I’ve been here 30 years and I feel like I’m not coming to work,” he said, “It’s my home away from home.”

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