Detention Facility Durability

It is a common occurrence for me to hear reports of correctional facilities not living up to standard durability requirements. As I travel around the country I often see reports on the local news about a jail or prison that becomes “worn out” after only a few years of use because the products and equipment used in the facility cannot withstand that degree of wear and tear. And owners and taxpayers who pick up the expense for these facilities certainly don’t appreciate this costly news. As someone involved in the equipment and maintenance industry, it disappoints me to hear these reports.

The same complaints are lobbied at schools and other institutions, as well, where product and equipment failures necessitate an overhaul of the facility after five years or ten years-certainly five years, or even 10 years, is not what I consider a bargain especially when millions of dollars are invested in the building.

However, on a trip to Washington, D.C., I was speaking with someone at the Federal Marshal’s office and was told they estimate the life of some of their U.S. Federal Courthouses to be 80 years. One of the reasons for their expected longevity is the use of structural glazed facing tile (SGFT).

Structural glazed facing tiles are both a finished product and a structural product. To view them as structural pieces, consider them to be similar in concept to a brick. The tile requires no additional facing material because the tile surface is the permanent finished surface. These products are increasing finding homes in detention facilities because they address security, economic, and maintenance issues topping the list of correctional facilities requirements.

Addressing Safety Concerns

Structural glazed facing tiles address two security concerns: personal safety and property safety. A glazed ceramic surface is fused to the clay tiles using tunnel kilns with temperature in excess of 2000 degrees F. They carry safety ratings of 0 for smoke density, 0 for fuel contribution, and 0 for flame spread and they don’t emit toxic or noxious fumes. Because the finished surface is baked on, tiles can’t be chipped or cracked so inmates can’t use broken pieces as tools or weapons.

Use of SGFT requires no special skills and can be installed by a masonry contractor; raking back the mortar joints 1/4″ to 3/8″ and pointing with sanitary grout or epoxy creates an impervious wall system. No other special sealers or fillers are necessary. The ceramic finish complies with all health and safety regulations for sanitary surfaces-even in food processing areas and health clinics. Daily cleaning with harsh chemicals and power scrubbers does not damage the finish. Sanitary cove base is available with all of the fittings for applicable areas.

Strength in Numbers

The material is available in a nominal two inch thickness for retrofit use, four inches for non-load-bearing walls, and six and eight inches for load bearing applications. All units, with the exception of the two inch size, can be reinforced at eight inches on center, both vertically and horizontally for seismic and security purposes.

The two-inch tiles have a reinforcing design, but manufacturers recommend the use of four-inch-thick by eight-inch-square modular units that are glazed front and back. These tiles can be used to build partition walls between cells and for all other non-load-bearing interior walls.

During construction of a prison in Texas, SGFT were used to build thin, strong walls between cells. Before construction, a sample wall was built and subjected to tests to determine its overall strength and resistance to static and impact (dynamic) loads. The testing proved that contractors could build walls thinner than originally planned, still achieving maximum strength while also reclaiming usable interior space.

Construction costs also can be reduced because walls no longer need reinforcing which saves time, materials, and labor costs. Reinforcement is not required because the tiles have ladder-type reinforcing in the mortar joints. And using a material that requires no finishing also reduces costs.

Maintenance and Applications

SGFT are low-maintenance products. The ceramic finish is resistant to impacts, harsh chemicals, graffiti, and vandalism. Tiles are manufactured to prevent peeling, flaking, and chipping and never need refinishing.

The tiles can be used in a variety of applications, including holding cells, kitchens, and shower/toilet rooms; once installed, they should only require routine cleaning. One juvenile detention center used the tiles to build bed platforms, and after construction, a prison official mentioned he wished the ceiling could be made of the material.

Since additions and expansions are a common part of the correctional construction industry, SGFT comes in sizes and colors to match existing materials. Exterior products are also available.

Kathy Gonser is technical services director for Elgin-Butler Brick Company in North Canton, Ohio. She is active with the New Ceramic Glazed Masonry Institute and educates the architectural, engineering, and construction industries about SGFT. She can be reached at (330) 966-6610.

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