|The exterior façade borrows colors and other cues from its historic courthouse neighbor while maintaining a style all its own.|
Officials in many communities can relate to the situation in Leavenworth, Kansas, where the county had long since outgrown its original, historic courthouse. Its other criminal justice facilities were in need of costly repairs or complete overhauls and the jail had to be brought up to constitutional standards. Officials also wanted to stop working out of four different buildings, instead hoping to consolidate all public services and servants into one facility.
After a long short list of potential architects was whittled down, Kansas City, Missouri, Shaughnessy Fickel and Scott Architects Inc. was chosen to create the Leavenworth County Justice Center. Their task was to design a civic building capable of housing multiple government user groups, a facility that allowed public access to various agencies and courts, a secure detention center for inmates awaiting trial, and space to expand. It took a great deal of research, planning, and creative thinking to bring the 165,000-square-foot building in at about $120 per square-foot. J.E. Dunn Construction Company completed the $20.7 million facility in 2000.
As you can imagine with a building occupied by the Leavenworth police department, the sheriff’s department, municipal and district courts, various court services and agencies, and up to 155 inmates and requisite staff, there were a lot of different requests made of the architects.
Architect: Shaughnessy Fickel and Scott Architects Inc.
What, in theory, seemed like a daunting challenge actually wasn’t, according to architect Mike Fickel. The concept was clear-create a building that put all justice-related functions into one building. And, the strategy also seemed straightforward-ask people what they wanted. “The commissioners and the building committee thought it was very important that we meet with representatives from each of the user groups who would occupy the building.” Those initial, individual meetings helped flush out ideas and determine “must-have” items for each group. Then, the design team hosted group meetings so all users could understand how each fit into the overall process. “They may have started out thinking independently about their own needs and expectations, but when we met with them as a group, they saw how they all fit together into the facility,” Fickel explains.
|The 155-bed detention center offers seven classification levels. Unfinished space on the building’s lower level can accommodate an additional 96 beds.|
The challenge of including everyone within one building started to give way to solutions, with the project falling into a working plan rather early. “By the time we completed the programming process, we really had a set direction because of the logical way things needed to fit together,” explains Fickel.
Determining how those things came together included categorizing users into four groups and figuring out how much space each needed, while also maintaining a similar level of spending on each. Law enforcement was assigned almost 63,000 square feet of space, while 32,300 square feet is dedicated to court functions. County offices have about 27,800 square feet while detention accounts for a little more than 40,500 square feet.
And, while the building was coming together nicely, there was still the issue of getting it built. The architects were charged not only with design duties, but also with the task of providing public information assistance to Leavenworth County voters who, they hoped, would pass a bond allowing construction to move ahead.
Public information assistance
An eight-month planning effort preceded the referendum. During that time the architects were not only determining what items the various user groups needed in a new justice complex, they also were helping to determine where the building would be sited and helping to prepare the public for a vote on the bond.
|Public spaces within the justice center are kept to a minimum but designed to be inviting. The marble and glass courtroom corridor runs the length of the fourth floor.|
To ensure the project’s success, the design team felt it was important to start the public information effort at the outset of the planning process. “We encourage the public to know what the process is going to be so they can make the difficult decisions that need to be made,” Fickel explains. “Our job is not to sell the public on the project, but to make sure they know everything they need to know to make an informed decision.”
The bond ultimately would be one of the most successful and biggest capital bond issues the county ever passed. “It passed by a pretty comfortable margin,” says Fickel.
As for final site selection, it was determined that a lot on the edge of downtown Leavenworth, and adjacent to the historic courthouse, would be used. A juvenile center was located there and left standing but several houses also occupying the site were razed. The location-so close to the old courthouse-heavily influenced the new justice center’s architecture.
The justice center
The four-story facility was designed to complement its historic courthouse neighbor, not upstage it. Material and colors used on the new building match those on the old one and the overall look of the state-of-the-art building is understated. “It’s not contemporary architecture,” explains Mike Christianer, an architect who worked with Fickel on the project, “it’s good civic architecture.” The county was supportive of the design team’s effort to create a new look instead of replicating what stood next door.
|This courtroom is one of five in the building. The justice center is designed in such a way that office space can be converted into three additional courtrooms as the county’s needs change.|
Utilizing as much of the building’s square footage as possible allowed the architects to package so much into a relatively tight footprint built on an even tighter budget. Therefore, public spaces were kept to a minimum, although a clearly identified main entrance was created for the citizens of Leavenworth County. Once inside the main lobby, which, because of a sloping site, opens into the building’s second floor, the layout immediately directs people into spaces occupied by one of the building’s four user groups.
The first floor functions mainly as the detention portion. It is here that the vehicle sallyport is located; inmate intake, transfer, and release take place; and future inmate housing is built in. The unfinished extra space allows the building’s inmate capacity to expand by 96 beds without requiring an addition to the building. The county currently is starting the process to expand into this space.
The second floor houses the city’s police and sheriff’s departments. Project Manager Marsha Hoffman mentions how important the security aspect was to the sheriff, who was particularly interested in specific types of locks as well as entire control systems. The architects invited six different manufacturers to come in and setup demonstrations for the sheriff, the commissioners, and others. Four companies took them up on their offer. “It was a great opportunity to answer a lot of questions early on,” says Hoffman. The meetings allowed the team to hand-select and incorporate the systems of their choice.
|The building’s shorter wing houses the two-story detention center. The three, large rectangular “windows” open and close the recreation/exercise space to the outdoors.|
Also on this level is the first floor of the two-story, 155-bed detention center, which includes seven security classification levels. Daylight comes from skylights above each dayroom and is filtered into the cells through three-foot-square security glass on each cell door. Outside recreation takes place in a triangle-shaped area located between two cellblocks. The space is open-or closed-to the outside with three, large garage-door style gates.
Visitation rooms are located near the detention center with a secure hallway connecting the two. Correctional officers stationed in central control have constant visual contact with inmates who are moving from the detention center to the visitation area. The setup enables an inmate to make the walk unescorted and cuts down on the number of staff required to run the facility.
On the third floor, space is used by the county attorney and for various county services and agencies. One of the center’s five courtrooms-a shared city/county courtroom-is located on this floor, which also can accommodate three future courtrooms. The building’s structural skeleton, public elevators, and secure elevators used to move inmates into and out of the court allows spaces currently used for offices to be reconfigured for court use. The detention center’s mezzanine level occupies a portion of-but is not connected to-the third floor.
It’s the fourth floor of which the design team is especially proud. Four courtrooms and a public concourse with a glass wall and views of the old courthouse building make up the justice center’s top floor. “The corridor space outside the courtrooms offers no sense at all what type of building you’re in,” says Hoffman. Another special design feature is a pseudo-fifth floor; a private fourth-floor corridor, used by judges and other court staff, runs behind the high-ceilinged courtrooms and has a normal-height ceiling, with wasted space between its ceiling and the roof. The architects utilized that dead space, converting it into a secure hallway used for transferring inmates to the courts. This fifth-floor hallway stacked on top of the fourth floor hallway is further examined in our “Detail of the Month” section.
Construction and completion
When asked about the construction process, everyone involved in the project talks about a smooth, 20-month process. The only difficulty involved a lack of qualified masons at the time the building was under construction. “We tried to select other materials to avoid a hold-up,” says Dan West, vice president of J.E. Dunn Construction. The alternative materials turned out to be precast components-and this switch was one of the project’s few change orders. “The owners had everyone geared toward minimal changes in order to save money,” says West. “Everyone was very diligent about keeping changes to a minimum,” explaining how the building was completed within the confines of a tight budget.
Food Service: Sysco
The precast pieces were used in the detention area, but the cells themselves were not precast units. According to West, the sheriff was willing to make a move toward full-precast cells, but design and pricing forced a compromise. Project Manager Marsha Hoffman is quick to point out however, that, while some compromise was necessary, “in the final analysis, the building is able to meet all the needs we had programmed.” She says that if the budget had been greater, the building would have had greater square footage not necessarily more features. She’d also have added even more built-in expansion space.
All for one
For every community that can relate to Leavenworth County’s previous problems involving outdated justice facilities and tight budgets, let its new Justice Center serve as a model. Says Mike Christianer, “incorporating so many different user groups in one building is something you see more and more; they work efficiently together.” And pooling resources allows a great project to be completed on a moderate budget “It paid off for [Leavenworth County] and they were able to do something that wouldn’t have been as successful as if it were done independently,” concludes Mike Fickel.