Background Check

The 32-bed female housing unit has a direct-supervision layout. If this supervision setup appeals to the sheriff, the men’s indirect-supervision housing pods could be converted.

Architect Paul Bonsall tells me that the new Henderson County Detention Center in North Carolina has very little ornamentation. Purposely so. “It’s a background building,” he says, meaning that he doesn’t want the building to detract from the county’s courthouse, a facility built in 1994 and designed to standout. Bonsall works for Charlotte, N.C., -based FreemanWhite Inc., the same firm that designed the courthouse.

The architect’s nod to exterior decoration comes from mixing split-faced concrete masonry blocks with smooth blocks. Otherwise, the building was going to be so spare that the exterior walls of the pre-cast cells were going to be left unfinished. Eventually it was decided that, in order to avoid a checkerboard pattern (the unfinished concrete was too uneven, not too austere) the walls would be finished with a beige industrial coating.

However, as non-descript as the architects made the exterior, the interior of the $8.5 million building is one of the most state-of-the-art and versatile in North Carolina. It is the first detention center in the state to use video visitation. It also is designed to accommodate both direct- and indirect-supervision and future expansion. And, should there ever be a natural disaster in this area of the Appalachian Mountains, the detention center’s cooking facility is designated as a county disaster kitchen.

Making Decisions

Project Data

Construction Budget: $8,546,858
Number of Beds: 208
Completion Date: August 2001
Owner/Operator: Henderson County Board of Commissioners
Architect: FreemanWhite Inc.
General Contractor: Beam Construction Co.

The Henderson County Detention Center was designed to be “safe, secure, and efficient,” everything the existing Henderson County Jail, circa 1927, was not, says Bonsall. The committee studying the county’s needs-made up of representatives from the magistrate’s office, law enforcement, religious and educational sectors, as well as the county and community-originally wanted to create a new indirect-supervision facility. They also would employ a regular visitation policy; the warden, Capt. Eddie Pruett, was among those initially against video visitation. However, a meeting with a consultant changed their thinking. The consultant suggested they attend a PONI* program, provided by the National Institute of Corrections. PONI stands for Planning of New Institutions and is a week-long training program designed to assist different agencies in planning and designing correctional facilities.

Six members of the committee attended the program in Colorado, which also included facility tours. According to Bonsall, “originally they were dead set against direct supervision and video visitation, but they came back [from PONI] and were true believers.”

So, with the architecture firm FreemanWhite under contract in June 1998 and Paul Bonsall joining the project team in November 1998, a Henderson County Detention Center with video visitation and direct supervision started to take shape. Bidding took place in December 1999, and Beam Construction Company of Cherryville, N.C. won the general contractor bid.

Building Layout

Henderson County tried direct supervision but was not ready to fully commit to the layout. Men’s housing pods are setup for indirect supervision and are monitored from this control room. The 32-bed dorm is on the right and the 48-bed medium-security area is on the left.

The detention center has 208 beds, with the 32-bed female dorm having a direct-supervision design and the 32-bed male dorm retaining a traditional indirect-supervision layout. While committee members might have come back from Colorado “true believers,” they are not yet among the truly converted. The county is using the female dorm as a test site to determine the success of direct supervision. If it works well for them, the male dorm can be adapted for direct supervision.

The two dorms account for 64 beds, while the other 144 beds are located throughout the facility. A “special housing” unit has eight beds, a medium-security cell block has 24 double-bunked cells, a men’s minimum security unit has 40 beds, and the pre-classification unit, which also is the maximum-security unit, has 48 beds. Not yet online are 16 beds in two work release dorms located outside of the secure perimeter. In this case, Bonsall points out, the secure perimeter is the building’s exterior walls. “There’s a nuisance fence around the building to keep the public from going up to the building, but it’s not a secure fence,” says Bonsall. “It doesn’t even have razor wire and at some parts it’s only six-feet high.”

The detention center is connected to the courthouse via a secure corridor. To minimize disruption to the courthouse proceedings, Marshall Bailes, project manager for Beam Construction, said they waited until Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to open the corridor to the courthouse, taking advantage of the building being virtually empty on that national holiday.

Video Visitation

Six video visitation booths are located off the main lobby. The systems, from VuGate Inc., require less square footage than traditional visitation areas and allow inmates to have longer and better structured visits This facility is the first detention center in North Carolina to use the technology.

Unlike the county’s one experimental direct-supervision dorm, the video visitation system was fully integrated. Often, a decision to use only video visitation can polarize a community. “As with any jail project, there will be controversy,” says Bonsall, “but video visitation was not an issue.” By getting community members involved early in the planning stages, the team was able to develop a consensus within the community and incorporate the system, becoming the first detention facility in North Carolina to do so. Interestingly, the two biggest concerns involved the design of the booking area the bidding process.

Incorporating video visitation, a setup from VuGate Inc., involved designing six public-use video stations off the lobby. The monitors used by inmates are mobile units and are simply wheeled into the dayroom and plugged in. “We opted for mobile units because [correctional officers] can easily consolidate visitation; for example, minimum-security visitation can all be done in one day.” Bonsall explains. The next day the units can be wheeled into the female unit and, again, all visitations can be handled in one sitting. The level of organization accommodates longer visitation opportunities and fewer fights. Additionally, there is less vandalism because the units are moved out of the cell areas when not in use. Stationary visitation screens can suffer damage to casework and the security glass protecting them.

Trouble Shooting

Subject to almost constant activity, the booking area required some of the most painstaking planning. Architects even created a mockup so the layout could be “tested.”

The design for the booking area was more involved-and one of the most critical-because the area would see almost constant activity. To make sure the design worked, while still in the schematic stage the architects went to a local armory and taped out on the floor the booking area’s floorplan. Those who would be using the area walked around the masking tape walls to get a feel for the space. By and large the design proved to be a success and necessary changes were made before construction began.

Construction was another area of concern because of the state’s bidding process. While bidding and subsequent work on this project turned out to be a smooth process, the state’s requirement for single-prime and multi-prime bidding can prove difficult. Single-prime bidding involves a general contractor making a bid using his/her standard subcontractors. Multi-prime bidding involves all subcontractors bidding separately with the job going to the lowest bidders. The general contractor does not have control over who is selected and the worst case scenario is “every man for himself,” says Marshall Bailes of Beam Construction. The different subs can wind up not communicating or working together and the project can be a mess. While the Henderson County Detention Center was a multi-prime package, none of those issues occurred on site.

Project Data

Food Service: Dietary Equipment Co. Inc. Refrigeration: Victory
Ovens: Vulcan
Correctional Furniture: Southern Steel
Detention Accessories: Chief
Security Systems: South West Communications
PLC: Omron
CCTV: Vicon
UPS: Best
Video Visitation Systems: VuGate
Intercom: Rauland
Security Glazing: Insulgard
Security Windows: Southern Steel
Security Cell Doors: Southern Steel
Security Screens: Kane Screens
Security Fencing: Fence Builders Inc.
Security Locks: Southern Steel
Security Penal Plumbing: Willoughby
Plumbing: Bolton Corp.
Security Sprinkler Equipment: Bolton Corp.; Diboco
Security Fire Equipment: Larsen
Smoke Detection System: Hayes & Lumsford Precast Concrete Cells: Tindall
Exterior Finish: Metromont
Roofing: Firestone
Gypsum Wallboard: Acoustics Inc.
Security Ceiling Systems: Acoustics Inc. HVAC: Price & Price Mechanical
Security Cell Lighting: Kenall

The one problem that did arise is one common to many projects: the detention center was over budget by nearly $1 million. The architects and the general contractor combed the plans and found things they could take out, saving nearly $600,000. The county came up with the additional $400,000. When asked how the $600,000 was saved, Marshall Bailes chalked it up to value engineering. “We didn’t want the project to get canned,” says Bailes, “and have it go out to bid again a few months down the line.” If it were re-bid, there was no guarantee Beam Construction Co. would once again win the project, so Bailes made sure he found items to substitute or remove altogether. One item he removed was a canopy over the front entrance-one of the few exterior decorations the architects allowed. That change actually worked in the architect’s favor, contributing to the building’s no-frills aesthetic.

Also helping to ease matters was the use of precast cells, units produced by Tindall. “It helped working with a known quantity,” says Bonsall, referring to the fact that he knew the cells would be produced in a high-quality, uniform fashion and would be on site when expected. The Tindall products helped reduce construction time by about two months, which transferred to significant savings for the project. Marshall Bailes also found the precast units easy to work with-it was the company’s first time using such products. To ensure a smooth installation, Bailes had several meetings with Tindall representatives and visited a few construction sites where the units were used. Working everything out ahead of time made it easier to accommodate the plumbing and electrical contractors. “Seeing [precast cells] in the field before we started to work with them really enlightened us,” remarks Bailes.

Accommodating Growth

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners took ownership of the building on September 9, 2001, about one month earlier than expected. Inmates were moved in soon after, although as of press time the building was not at full occupancy. The building was designed to accommodate the county’s growth for the next 20 to 50 years, with cells large enough to eventually accommodate two beds each. Extra-large dayrooms, laundry room, and kitchen facilities also accommodate extra inmates. And that kitchen-in times of emergency, such as a severe blizzard-can be used to produce up to 1,500 meals per day for both the inmates and the community.

*For more information on the PONI program, call (800) 848-6325.