Justice facility construction projects are complicated on many different levels. They are usually political minefields that must be navigated carefully to avoid public dissatisfaction, there are many stakeholders involved, and oftentimes a crisis is on hand or looming on the horizon.
The plan to build a new jail in Franklin County, Pa., was not exempt from any of the common hurdles, but a carefully planned strategy avoided any major problems while maintaining a high level of public support.
Before the new facility was completed in April 2007, the Franklin County jail was operating under extreme conditions. The facility was originally built in 1972 and was expanded with a modular unit in 1992 to safely accommodate 200 inmates. By August 2005 that facility was holding an average of 376 inmates, with the head count occasionally topping out at 400 inmates. About 20 to 30 inmates were housed at nearby counties at a significant cost to the county.
The situation was complicated by operational deficiencies, including an outdated security system and an insufficient HVAC system.
“It didn’t have HVAC in most areas so the summers were pretty rough,” says Warden John Wetzel. “We had problems with basically every system and it was a struggle to keep the building maintained.”
There were also inefficiencies in housing units that were each outfitted with their own control center and required two staff members to operate.
When the county decided to look into building a new facility, it hired Carter Goble Lee and L. Robert Kimball Associates to conduct a needs assessment with future population projects and a physical plan.
“When we study a project, we almost always do a schematic design to test the data,” says Csaba Balazs, senior vice president of the architectural division at L. Robert Kimball & Associates. “We knew how large the building would be. From there on, the site development costs are the only wild card.”
The original jail site had room to expand but its operational capacity could not keep up with the additional workload.
“It was expandable, but there would have been a combination of architectural management styles and the support core — the kitchen, laundry and other services — was just not big enough for the inmate population,” Balazs says.
The studies prompted the decision to pursue two courses of action: modify the county’s criminal-justice system by developing and opening a day reporting center, and build a new 468-bed jail.
Wetzel says the projects were a collaborative process involving several key stakeholders starting at the early planning stages. In order to gain public support, he gave tours of the jail so the public and officials could see problems first hand. He also met with several community groups.
“This whole process was a very participatory model,” Wetzel says. “We met with almost every community group that was interested in meeting with us to go over our current situation and our plan.”
The day reporting center proved to be a crucial selling point for the public and it also helped relieve some of the strain on the county’s correctional system by reducing the number of beds.
By the summer of 2004, when it was time to seek approval to build the new facility, nearly everyone was on board with the jail project.
“The community was supportive and understood that nobody likes to build a jail, but at that point it was costing us more to stay in our old jail than what it would cost to build a new jail,” Wetzel says. “When you get to that point the decision is pretty easy.”
While the decision to create a day reporting center and a new jail was relatively easy, the process of ironing out the details for the reporting center proved to be a more difficult.
In order to create the center, key judicial and law enforcement officials for the county had to devise a plan that outlined its parameters.
“It took a lot of work by the whole criminal justice system — the courts, district attorney, sheriff and county commissioners,” Wetzel says. “Everybody in the system had to roll up their sleeves and do the work.”
The team had to examine the system and come to a consensus about who would be allowed to participate at the center without impacting public safety. In addition, county commissioners needed to be convinced that the project would save the county money.
In the end, Wetzel says the center is a tremendous success and the jail population has dropped by about 10 percent since it opened in April 2006. He says it also allowed for the capacity of the jail to be reduced by 130 beds.
“It wasn’t an easy process, but it was a worthwhile process,” he says.
Design, Operations Upgrades
The county was able to save additional money by selecting a jail design that provides light through day rooms in housing units instead of cells. The design allowed for a smaller footprint and avoided budget overruns.
“It made the delivery of the environmental systems and electronics much more compact,” says Balazs. “The travel distances in the hallways between housing units is reduced, and energy costs are reduced in the long-run because there are fewer exterior walls.”
Balazs says he was initially resistant to the idea because he thought that inmates would benefit from getting daylight in their cells, but after giving it more thought he changed his mind.
“I just thought it was good to have a release by being able to see outside,” he says. “They actually have a better opportunity because they are not looking at another housing area, which is what they typically see when they look out a cell window.”
Light enters the day rooms through large windows that face adjacent exercise yards. The yards have openings on three sides that allow for views of the surrounding landscape and light and fresh air to infiltrate the area. The design works because in a direct-supervision setting inmates spend most of their time in the day room and cells utilize borrowed light from the day room windows.
“It surprised me when I first walked into the housing unit because the amount of daylight in the day room was far superior to what you typically see in jails,” Balazs says. “It doesn’t hammer home the fact that you are confined.”
The design is also beneficial because it allows for chases behind the cells for maintenance personnel.
“The maintenance staff can go in and work on plumbing and HVAC without taking tools into the housing units,” Wetzel says. “That is good for security and the maintenance guys love it. You’ve got to keep your maintenance guys happy.”
Jail officials also decided to use PDAs to control a variety of operational components at the jail including doors, intercoms and lights. The handheld devices allow officers to move around the facility without being tied to touch screens that control housing units.
“These handhelds allow our officers to not be tied to their desks,” Wetzel says. “They allow the officers to circulate freely throughout the housing unit. That is what we want with direct supervision; we want officers to have a lot of contact with the inmates and to be out moving around.”
The system differs greatly from the 1970s security system used at the previous facility, but jail personnel took extra time to learn how to use the PDAs to make sure they were ready when the facility opened.
There were a couple of bumps on the road after the jail opened, but Wetzel says the staff is adjusting to the new wireless environment.
“We are slowly coming out of that learning curve now,” Wetzel says. “All of the issues are getting worked through and staff is getting to a level of comfort with it.”
Facility Name: Franklin County Jail
Construction Budget: $24.5 million
Number of Beds: 468
Area: 135,000 square feet
Start Date: July 2005
Completion Date: April 2007
Owner/Operator: Franklin County
Owner Representative: John E. Wetzel, Warden
Project Manager: Carter Goble Lee LLC
Architect: L. Robert Kimball Associates
General Contractor: Alexander Building Construction Inc.
Security System Consultant: L. Robert Kimball & Associates
Food Service Consultant: McFarland Kissler Inc.
Correctional Furniture: NORIX Restraint Bunks
Detention Accessories: Norment
Security Systems: Stanley
Touchscreen system: Stanley
Card Access: Stanley
Personal Alarm System: Sentry Products
Security Glazing: Novingers
Security Windows: Hope’s Windows Inc.
Security Cell Doors: ACME
Security Screens: Norment
Security Locks: Airteq
Security Penal Plumbing: Willoughby
Smoke Detection System: Berkshire
Drug Detection System: G.E.
Exterior Finish: Nitterhouse
Sally Port/Doors: Airteq
Plumbing: Frey Lutz
HVAC: Frey Lutz