Character Counts

Character plays an important role in society. When people lack character, they are often not held in the same esteem as people who do have it. When a building lacks character, it is often considered drab and uncomfortable, which in the long run could make it unsuccessful in fulfilling its purpose.

A new juvenile correctional facility in Fresno, Calif., was not only designed with character — a colorful façade, daylighting and other aesthetic enhancements — it was designed to improve the character of the youths that walk its halls.

As part of the Fresno County Juvenile Justice Campus, the facility is the first component of the master plan that outlines youth services on the site through 2040. Future projects on the 200-acre site include a juvenile courthouse, group homes and a boot camp.

“Presuming in the final hour it is fully built out, it will have the broadest spectrum of juvenile services in a single facility in the state,” says Jim Mueller, executive director of KMD Justice and project director for the facility.

Detention and Confinement

The juvenile center is split into two distinct parts, a 240-bed detention area for juveniles who are awaiting sentencing and a 240-bed commitment area for juveniles who have already made their way through the court system and have been sentenced.

Wards in the detention area are housed in self-contained pods with two floors of single cells, classroom and interview areas, fixed centralized tables and a small, outdoor recreation area.

The setting provides a more controlled atmosphere than the commitment area because the wards in the detention area are often unfamiliar with the system and unsure of their futures, according to officials.

“The kids are a lot more apprehensive; they don’t know what is going to happen to them,” says Rick Chavez, director of the commitment area of the facility.


Facility name: Fresno County Juvenile Justice Campus
Location: Fresno, Calif.
Type: Full-service, campus-style complex with detention, commitment, education, recreation, administration and support components
Construction budget: $112.7 million
Number of beds: 240 detention and 240 commitment; master planned for 1400 Beds
Area: 341,596 square feet
Construction start date: August 2003
Completion date: March 2006, opened July 2006

The commitment area is structurally similar to the detention area, but it differs significantly operationally. Housing pods are equipped with both single- and double-occupancy cells, and the furniture in common areas is moveable to allow flexibility with program requirements.

A school building with classrooms, vocational training areas and administrative offices creates separation from housing and educational areas, providing a standalone facility similar to real-life educational configurations. A circular courtyard with a large lawn is ringed by the buildings and provides an outdoor common area that links housing areas to the school building.

“Instead of walking down the corridor to the housing unit to go to a self-contained school within the building, these kids go outside and walk to school,” Mueller says. “They emulate the normal process.”

To create a campus-style layout more conducive to rehabilitation designers utilized colorful paint and green space in outdoor areas.

A smaller courtyard in the education area features a “character counts” pavilion composed of concrete columns that circle a plaque and the American flag. Inspirational words, such as “caring,” “respect” and “responsibility” are mounted on a ring that lines the top of the columns.

In addition to the operational benefits, the campus layout — paired with exterior areas that are covered with colorful paint — strays from the conventional image of a large correctional facility.

“The school’s scale is broken down so it is not massive and an intimidating part of a single, monolithic structure,” Mueller says. “When you drive by the facility, with the exception of the occasional view of some fencing, you would think it is a small community college by its look and scale.”

About 35 county education department employees provide programming at the school building and other educational areas. Vocational areas include shop and computer technology courses.

“There was the realization that these are not college-bound kids,” says Claude Dechow, project manager for the county. “These are kids that are probably more vocational education-oriented and the school has the facilities to incorporate those kind of activities.”

Wards on the commitment side are woken up at 6 a.m. and have about 45 minutes of

The Fresno County Juvenile Justice campus is located on a 200-acre site. Future projects envisioned in a master plan include group homes, a boot camp, and additional housing and court facilities.

recreational time before school starts at 7:55 a.m. The school day lasts seven hours before they are released for other activities. The school day, which is an increase over educational time at the previous facility, posed an ironic problem — the wards’ days are so full of activities it’s hard to fit them all into day.

“We found that once we went to a longer school day, we are sort of hard pressed to get everything in now,” Chavez says.

Additional Facilities

As with any public building of its magnitude, several support buildings help keep the juvenile center running smoothly. A core administrative building in the detention section provides intake and booking areas, medical facilities and the main control room, which is supplemented with additional control rooms that oversee specific areas of the facility.

A large sally port is a significant improvement over the previous facility, which was located in a more urban area and didn’t have enough space for all of the patrol cars that dropped off arrestees.

“We are not tying up our law enforcement folks to get them in the facility,” Chavez says.

The medical area is also significantly larger than the previous facility, with four procedural rooms, a nurse’s area with charting stations, dental facilities and offices. The master plan outlines room for more expansion in the future.

The entrance to the visitation area features seating and garden areas.

A large central plant is located adjacent to the detention area and houses power generation, HVAC and laundry systems. The building was built modularly to accommodate future expansion as needs increase. A 1.3 million-gallon thermal energy storage tank provides energy for the facility.

“It’s been a lifesaver for us in terms of energy use and being able to shift energy load at nonpeak times,” Dechow says.

The system, which was a relatively new concept when the county was planning the facility, creates a quieter environment than conventional energy sources.

“The maintenance people think it’s the eeriest thing that they have ever had because normally you can hardly talk because it’s so loud,” Dechow says. “If you walk into the facility here, all you hear are water pumps in the middle of the day.”

The final component of phase one of the master plan is a juvenile courthouse that is scheduled to begin construction this spring. The courthouse will be one of the first buildings that visitors see as they enter the site.

“It will be the jewel of the site,” Dechow says.

In addition to aesthetically appealing aspects of the courthouse, it will simplify the transportation procedure for getting youths to court. Once the courthouse is completed, youths will walk to the facility via an indoor corridor that attaches it to the detention facility. The number of staff required to oversee the transport will drop from 16 to three employees, and Chavez says eventually the process might only require two employees.

Working out the Kinks

Project Team

Owner/operator: Fresno County, Calif.s
Architect: Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz Justice
Construction manager: Kitchell Capital Expenditure Managers
General contractor bid package one (Site Infrastructure): Harris Construction Company, Inc.
General contractor bid package two (Intake/Release; Detention and Commitment Housing Buildings): Clark Construction Group — California, LLC
General contractor bid package three (Wastewater Treatment Plant): Kaweah Construction Company

While the building remains in its infancy, minor structural and operational kinks have been revealed and addressed, but employees say overall the difference between the juvenile justice center and the previous old, cramped facility is tremendous.

“I think kids react positively when it’s less congested,” says Ollie Dimery-Ratliff, director of the detention facility. “I think it eases a lot of tension for the kids and staff alike.”

Dimery-Ratliff says the site of the facility — a rural area away from downtown Fesno — also adds to the environment at the facility.

“Being in a rural area has a calming affect I think, and it kind of settles them down a bit,” Dimery-Ratliff says.

Chavez says the facility is an environment that is more conducive to rehabilitating youths and reinforces the proper approach to situations they’ll encounter in public places.


Walk-in coolers/freezers: Thermalite
Refrigeration: Traulsen
Correctional furniture: Norix Group Inc.
Detention accessories: Norix Group Inc.
Detention Equipment Contractor: Norment Security Group
Security systems integrator: Trentech
PLC: Omron
CCTV: Pelco
UPS: Caterpillar
Touchscreen/operator control panels: Norment Industries
Intercom: Trentech
Card access: Hirsch Electronics
Personal alarm system: Actall Security Products
Security glazing: Glass Shop
Security windows: Glass Shop
Detention Hollow Metal Frames & Doors: American Steel Products
Security cell doors: Norment Industries
Security screens: Norment Industries
Security fencing: Ace Fencing
Detention Hardware: Airtec Systems
Security locks: Airtec Systems
Security penal plumbing: Acorn Engineering Company
Security sprinkler equipment: Cosco Fire Protection
Security fire equipment: Notifier
Smoke detection system: Notifier
Weapons detection system: Garrett PD-6500i
Concrete: Builders Concrete
Shotcrete cells: McClone Construction
Exterior finish: DryVit
Roofing: Malarkey Roofing
Gypsum wallboard: United States Gypsum
Floor/wall tile: DalTile Walls/Daltile & Crossville Floor Tiles
Security ceiling system: Amico
Plumbing: Acorn Engineering Company
HVAC: Heating/Trane Chillers/McQuay Air Handlers
Security cell llight fixtures: Metalux

“We try to put them into situations they are going to find themselves in when they are released back into the community,” Chavez says. “They are going to school together, they are eating together and they are not segregated. So far, it has worked out well.”