“I was fascinated with heavy equipment and construction and seeing buildings come up out of the ground before I understood anything about it. I was the kid so taken with construction that I used to follow the asphalt paving crews,” said Mike Pagano, reflecting back on the path that led him to become a partner and then president of the biggest architectural firm in the city where he grew up.
Mike had his chance to get hands-on experience in construction in the Navy’s Construction Battalion, the “Seabees” in the late 1960’s. Mike said of that time, “Four years as a heavy equipment operator taught me that was not the end of the business that I wanted to be in. But I realized I wanted to do something associated with construction and I had an interest in design.”
A high school guidance counselor had once told Mike that he should consider architecture, because of his aptitude for math and interest and appreciation for art. When he left the military he enrolled at UMass Amherst to pursue landscape architecture. It was during his time at UMass that one of his professors made the connection to Dick Lamoureux. Mike sought Dick out for an internship and spent the intersession break in 1974 working for what was then a two-person firm. He returned that summer, and upon graduation was fortunate to be hired full-time during one of the longest and deepest recessions in a generation.
“The great advantage of finding a position with Dick Lamoureux is the firm was growing and I grew with it, said Mike. “I had opportunities that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere.”
Mike’s early projects at the firm included branch banks and office renovations. In the mid-80’s there were a series of turning points for Mike and the firm, starting with his passing of the architectural registration exam to become a licensed architect in 1984. Shortly after, Mike had a conversation with Dick about his commitment to the profession and to the firm and his desire to become a partner.
As the firm officially became Lamoureux Pagano and Associates, a major project came their way: the Carpenter’s Union Training Center.
”The Training Center was a big event for LPA. We went from doing branch banks and small renovations, to another level,” said Mike. “At that point, we pursued our first public school, Knox Trail in Spencer, with confidence that we had a significant building that we could point to in our portfolio.”
The success of Knox Trail established the firm as capable public school architects, which enabled the firm to take on more and bigger projects through the 1990’s, a time of economic growth regionally and nationally.
“From the 1990’s to 2003 or so this company could have gone to 125 people. But Dick and I agreed that we wanted to be no larger than a size that would allow us to directly be involved with projects,” said Mike. “We were also both conscious of the fact that such a high percentage of our work in the public sector could be a hazard. The government can suddenly decide to change direction with funding, which is exactly what happened.”
The firm had multiple public school projects during this growth period, including what is arguably the firm’s most high profile project, the award-winning Worcester Technical High School. Shrewsbury and the City of Worcester each hired LPA for a series of schools. But the moratorium placed on public schools by the state, coupled with a recession, forced the firm to downsize and to seek other avenues for work to sustain the company. Mike characterizes 2006 as, “as difficult a year as we’ve ever had.”
Upon Dick’s retirement at the end of that year, Mike became LPA’s second president. Shortly after, the firm’s other most high-profile and award-winning project, the Hanover Theatre, was completed and re-opened in 2008 after many years of work. Like many projects in the firm’s history, this work wound up at LPA because leadership at the firm has always put the highest value on client relationships. Acting with integrity and treating people well – these values are core to the firm and are frequently cited as the key to the firm’s success.
For the past ten years of Mike’s career, he has led the firm steadily through boom times and recessions, built on the firm’s reputation for excellence, further diversified the ever-expanding portfolio, and overseen major projects that have transformed communities. Recent successes include the restoration and expansion of the Shrewsbury Public Library; co-designing, with William Masiello Architects, the Contemplative Center for the College of the Holy Cross; and multiple elementary, middle and high schools throughout Central Massachusetts.
Though there are many accomplishments one could point to over Mike’s 43 years at the firm, from his perspective, the greatest source of satisfaction is the fact that clients feel they have been served well and come back to the firm as their building needs change.
“A teacher at the Mayo School came up to me to tell me how she is more excited about teaching in the new school. She looks forward to going to school and teaching in that building and is rejuvenated by it,” said Mike. “I had never really thought about what the building could do. I’ll never forget that. I felt really proud of all of us, for what we did, that people could feel that way about our buildings.”
No discussion of Mike’s legacy would be complete without acknowledging his many community service and philanthropic contributions over the years, and as Mike looks ahead at the next phase of his life and career, he looks forward to contributing more in this realm.
“I have tried to answer the call when I have been asked for help,” said Mike. “People have come to me along the way and said they could use my help if I was willing to get involved. Over the years I have had the opportunity to be of service to the Higgins Armory Museum, Notre Dame Academy, and the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center.”
Mike has a keen interest in education, believing that it is the key to narrowing the socio-economic gap and advancing our society. After talking with Superintendent Binienda through the firm’s work on the South High Community School, Mike made a decision to commit himself to putting technology into the hands of students who don’t have access to them.
Going forward Mike intends to find a balance between personal interests, work, and community service, undoubtedly contributing much more in the years to come. At the same time, LPA will endeavor to carry his legacy forward and further build on his many successes.