Breaking New Ground

The 114 acres in Jonesboro, Georgia on which the Harold R. Banke Justice Center stands is familiar stomping ground for project manager Joe Lee. And not just because he spent slightly more than two years managing construction of this $119 million, 726,855-square-foot justice complex-one of the largest in the country. It’s familiar because he remembers taking flying lessons at the old airport that once occupied this site. Little did he know back then that years later he would return to raze the airport terminal and hangers and remove the runway. Nothing remains of the airport, but if you look closely, you can still see the clearing where a runway once stretched into the trees.


Architect James Fair looks at the site and sees a shape that reminds him of a musical note. The note’s round part is where he placed the four-story courthouse while the long, narrow part of the musical icon (the path of the former runway) is where the sheriff’s headquarters/intake/release area and the five housing units now stand.

Harold R. Banke Justice Center

Dedication ceremony: November 4, 2000
Location: Jonesboro, Ga.
Construction budget: $119 million
Project delivery: CM at risk
Security level(s): Min., med., and max.
Total jail beds: 1,947
Total square feet: 726,855

No matter how you view the site, it’s hard to look at this complex and imagine that all of it-from design to grand opening in early November-happened in approximately 28 months. But, that’s what the client, Clayton County Board of Commissioners, asked for and that’s what the team signed on to produce-despite a timeframe that would make it difficult to construct any building this size, let alone a government facility. But that project team, including Joe Lee, project manager and president of Lee Design & Management Group; James Fair, senior vice president of the Atlanta architectural firm HOK (Hellmuth Obata + Kassabaum), and Turner Construction Company, also in Atlanta, succeeded admirably.

Ordering the Court

The city of Jonesboro is in Clayton County, a southern suburb of Atlanta. And like many counties, Clayton’s courthouse and jail were outdated and undersized; the courthouse was a historic, late-1800’s facility and the Lovejoy jail, built in 1986 for 500 inmates, frequently housed as many as 1000. To alleviate overcrowding, the county spent money to house inmates at other facilities. It was obvious a new facility was needed as soon as possible, so the county passed a one-cent sales tax in early 1998 to raise money for construction of the center, which has been named Harold R. Banke Justice Center in honor of a former judge. The complex has a total of 1,947 beds-1,536 in two-bed cells, 384 in 48-bed dorms, and 27 medical beds-and is designed to accommodate the county’s needs through 2015. Both the courthouse section and the housing areas are expandable. It was Joe Lee’s job to ensure the project went smoothly and quickly. And surprisingly, there were few problems along the way; the biggest issue occurred during site work when 50,000-75,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil had to be removed. Other than that, Lee said the project was successfully fast-tracked everyday. Early on, everyone promised to make real-time decisions and "nothing was held up by a lack of a decision," said Lee. The team would discuss issues and make immediate decisions, an effort he said the county supported. To save time, Lee also used modular cell units. The Tindall Corp, headquartered in Spartanburg, S.C., won the modular contract and supplied completely finished units that Lee estimates shaved about three to six months off the construction timeline.


Architect: HOK (Hellmuth Obata + Kassabaum Inc.)
Construction Manager: Turner Construction Company
Owner: Clayton County
Owner Representative: Clayton County Board of Commissioners
Project Manager: Lee Design & Management Group
General Contractor: Turner Construction Company
Detention Equipment Contractor: Norment Security Group
Security System Consultant: HOK
Food Service Consultant: Aramark

Correctional Furniture: Chief
Detention Accessories: American Jail Products; Petersen Enterprises
Security Fencing: Joyner Enterprises
Security Locks: Airteq
Security Penal Plumbing: Willoughby
Security Sprinkler and Fire Equipment: Grinnell Fire Protection
Security Lighting: Kenall
Security Glazing: Viracon
Security Windows: Hope’s
Security Cell Doors: Trussbilt
Touch Screens: Black Creek
Concrete: Precision Concrete Construction
Precast Concrete Cells: Tindall Corporation
Exterior Finish: Ga. Masonry; Circle Industries Roofing: Tip Top Roofers
Gypsum Wallboard: Circle Industries
Floor/Wall Tile: U.S. Mosaic; Doyle Dickerson Plumbing: McKenney’s Inc.
HVAC: McKenney’s Inc.

Meanwhile, James Fair worked on designing a cost-effective adult justice complex and minimum-, medium-, and maximum-security jail that supported the fast-track schedule. All areas were defined early on and an "envelope" was established to contain costs. The envelope was malleable up to a point-but if changes were requested they had to work within the established guidelines. When charges were requested, Fair said he’d happily incorporate them into the plans but then asked that something be given up to accommodate the addition-a solution that forced the team to find creative solutions. And extra large spaces like the kitchen and laundry, oversized to accommodate the building’s future expansion, were easier to change than the courthouse, which was a very deliberate design. In fact, although the entire complex is one structure, Lee deliberately planned the construction as if there were three separate buildings; the courthouse, sheriff’s headquarters, and housing units.

Rendering a Design Decision

"I wanted a definite front door," says Fair, who, in designing the courthouse, borrowed heavily from the classic architecture of Robert Mills, a 19th-century architect who designed many southern courthouses as well as the Washington Monument in our nation’s capital. The entrance, with its considerable glazing, is sheltered by a large portico with Doric columns-features that Fair thinks are appropriate symbols of a courthouse. The courthouse section of the building is 400 foot long and has 15 courtrooms, three mediation rooms, and office space for judges, prosecutors, the district attorney, and other county staff. However, should more courtroom space be required, offices can be converted into courtrooms. The east-facing building also is designed to accommodate expansion to its north and south sides. The Sheriff’s area and housing units are west of-or behind-the building. In fact, thanks to a site that slopes slightly to the rear, the large courthouse section virtually blocks from view the other two sections, as does a trick design that angles the sections away from the street-toward the clearing left by the former runway.

It is also on the courthouse that a large portion of the budget was spent, making it look dignified, as Fair describes it. The nicest materials were used in and on this part of the building, with a brick faade and nicely finished courtrooms and hallways. Fair refers to materials use throughout the entire complex as a "spectrum of quality." Think of it as a sliding scale; the nicest materials were used at the front of the building and then progressively became more utilitarian working toward the rear of the building and the housing units. "We struck a balance and spent money on what’s appropriate," Fair says. "We designed something to be proud of but not to be embarrassed by because it’s too nice, too rich." Or in the case of the housing pod, too severe.

Those octagonal housing pods are each two floors and contain six, 16-cell units, each with its own day room; each pod has 192 cells with approximately three quarters of those cells double bunked. The facility also has recreation space. The pods were divided into smaller spaces to make it easier for staff to manage inmates. And because of the design and state-of-the-art electronics, no inmate is ever out of sight.

Maintaining Safety and Security

Clayton County isn’t immune to the staffing problems endemic to the corrections industry. Facilities throughout the nation are understaffed because of a tight job market that makes it difficult to recruit officers. The project team, therefore, made sure the building’s design, construction, and features allowed a reduced number of staff to efficiently operate the facility.

One of the most efficient aspects of the design is the direct connection between the sheriff’s headquarters intake/release area, the jail, and the courthouse. Only a small number of justice facilities in the world have such a setup-allowing inmates to appear in court without ever leaving the building. A smaller staff can better manage inmate ebb and flow within a building than when transporting them offsite. And the layout and circulation takes inmates through a linear series of stops, making the arrangement secure and preventing unintentional cross traffic of inmates, civilians, judges, lawyers, and other people. The location of the intake/release area and housing units at the rear of the complex also is integral to the design because it further separates the public and private zones while keeping everything within one building. As Lee puts it, "once inmates are brought to this facility, they don’t see the outside again until they’re released." The security systems installed within the complex are of a higher level than would normally be specified in a county jail because they help the facility run in a safe, efficient manner. Subcontractor Norment Security designed an ergonomic system with touch screens. "There’s no sea of buttons and switches," says Fair, making the system easy to operate and maintain.

An Argument for Efficiency

The word "efficient" appears quite frequently in reference to this facility. And for good reason-not only are security features designed for optimal-and efficient-use, the building’s other systems are extremely energy efficient. In fact, a deal with Southern Company Energy Solutions, the parent company of Georgia Power, helps the complex achieve savings of 30 percent on its annual energy costs.

The deal provides for a 10-year guaranteed energy cost of $1.06 per square foot; costs at the old Lovejoy jail were $1.56 per square foot and, without this deal, utilities at the Banke complex would most likely be as high as $1.66 per square foot. Average savings total $400,000 per year. Southern Company maintains the rate by operating the complex’s central energy plant.

The fixed figure allowed the team to install expensive, upgraded equipment because they knew they would recoup the high up-front equipment costs with savings generated from the reduced energy rate. It also allowed Fair to design an energy-efficient building that still met construction cost targets without sacrificing materials, such as a complete insulation program. He also specified non-operable windows in the courthouse-a decision that helps create a tight building envelope while also improving security.

The Verdict

When referring to the many advantages this one large building offers, Lee quipped that the complex offers "one stop shopping for the county’s adult correction needs." And while his comment was made in sport, it also is truthful. The level of convenience, security, and efficiency it offers Clayton County-and the condensed construction timeframe the project team worked within-is nothing to make light of.

And most importantly, the people who paid for and will use the facility-the citizens of Clayton County-are very pleased with the complex, according to Fair.

As for the former courthouse-the building, circa 1888, is receiving a historical renovation and the former jail also is being remodeled. Their uses are yet to be determined. As for the former airport, well, people like Lee will just have to rely on memories of the place, as there are no plans to replace it.