A Case of Form and Function

Designing a Jail that Combines High-Tech with High Style

The area surrounding Lexington, Kentucky is famous. The rolling hills, the pristine pastures, the beautiful farmsteads make up the state’s famous horse country. A mere two hour drive from Lexington’s urban center, through the Kentucky blue grass, is the city of Louisville, home of the world renowned Kentucky Derby.


You certainly do not expect to see a brand new 1,200-bed jail here. And most people don’t see it. Unless you look very closely, the new stone horse barn sitting on 71 acres with stone walls and a fountain at the entrance appears ordinary, at least ordinary for these parts. However, it’s quite extraordinary that the new state-of-the-art, 430,000-square-foot Lexington-Fayette County Detention Center blends seamlessly with its more illustrious neighbors.

"It’s a very unique design," says Ray Sabbatine, the city’s director of detentions, "and we’ve gotten a lot of publicity because the place looks like a horse barn, but the real uniqueness is in the program design."

When talking with Sabbatine, if he uses the word "design," it most likely is in reference to the jail’s direct supervision and decentralized plan, not its aesthetics. The facility functions as a jail within a jail, and is the state’s first direct supervision detention center. The building has 20 self-sufficient housing units consisting of cells, dormitories, program space, and sub-day rooms, offering an almost infinite degree of flexibility while all areas remain visible from the officers’ central command posts.

When using the word "success," however, there is no ambiguity. The design/build contractor, Dick Corporation organized a team that, together, fast-tracked the project to completion ahead of schedule and, at $62.2 million, almost $8 million under budget. Team members include the St. Louis-based consultant Sverdrup during the pre-construction phase, the detention contractor Norment, mechanical contractor Stuart Mechanical, and electrical contractor Amteck. The architectural team included architect of record CMW Inc. of Lexington and architect Daniel Mann Johnson & Mendenhall of Arlington, Va.

Detention Center

Construction budget: $62.2 million
Project delivery: Design/build
Security level(s): Minimum, medium, and maximum
Jail beds: 1,200 (expandable to 2,000)
Administration: 30,000 square feet
Jail: 400,000 square feet
Total square feet: 430,000
Dedication ceremony: May 19, 2000

On site

The city of Lexington has a growth ring, or growth belt, outside of which it does not allow development. It is, therefore, fairly easy to reach the fringe of horse country-a mere four or five miles outside of the city. It is here, explains Susan Straub, press secretary for Lexington Mayor Pam Miller, that the detention facility is located, on historic Old Frankfort Pike, at the edge of both the city and the country.

Old Frankfort Pike is a famous road that receives federal funding for its preservation and, according to Straub "is incredibly beautiful and that’s why we went to such great lengths to build something the neighbors would be comfortable with." However, before arriving at the detention center, you pass other government buildings, public works, and police facilities, so a large prison in these parts is not as unusual as it first sounds. And by keeping neighbors in the loop from the beginning, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG), the facility’s owners, encountered no opposition from neighbors, and in fact worked with the Old Frankfort Pike Community Association to fine tune the jail’s design. One of the association’s suggestions resulted in the jail’s entry fountain-a feature originally slated to be a simple retention pond.

Gene Budler, Dick Corp. project manager, sites Ray Sabbatine’s reputation as the reason the construction of a large jail in a historic, moneyed area received no opposition. "People have a lot of confidence in Ray," says Budler, "he’s been here a long time and people are confident he will produce a quality jail. People trust Ray to do the right thing."

What Ray helped produce with the design/build team is a fan-shaped, 1,200-bed jail-expandable to 2,000 beds-completely recessed behind a 30,000-square-foot administration building whose exterior showcases many architectural features found on neighboring estates.

Lexington-Fayette Detention Center

Architect of Record: Chrisman, Miller, Woodford (CMW)
Architect: Daniel Mann Johnson & Mendenhall
Program Manager: Ken Ricci & Associates
Consultant: James N. Gray
Owner: Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG)
Owner Representative: Ray Sabbatine
Project Manager: Gene Budler
General Contractor: Dick Corporation
Detention Equipment Contractor: Norment
Security Group

Security System and Communications
Consultants: Latta Technical Services; Professional Systems Engineering
Food Service Consultant: Faasen & Associates
Video Consultant: Professional Systems Engineering
Ariel Photography Credit: Rose Street Design
Location Photography Credit: Jim Schafer

Design Requirements

When Sabbatine opened up the downtown Lexington jail in 1976, the city was still utilizing two 1800-era facilities-which he then closed. However, the new jail was almost filled to capacity soon after opening and there was little room to grow.

With this project, Sabbatine made sure the jail would-and could-operate well into the future. He requested the design of the jail be expandable, that it incorporate abundant technologies, and that its layout be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of detention needs.

The project succeeded on all of these levels.


When Dick Corporation was awarded the project, the site had already been locked in so the first task for the design/build team was to create plans for the jail. About two months into the work, 30 percent of the design was finished, and it was at this 30 percent mark that Budler established a guaranteed maximum final price and began construction; the rest of the design was fast-tracked concurrent with construction. Budler says that with more and more facilities coming online quicker, working on designs while construction has started will become more common. However, Budler admits, "it is still a little bit rarer with a facility that requires this much architectural consideration."

The radial design they created consists of a jail with two rows or rings and a total of 20 housing units, each housing between 40 and 64 inmates, as well as a 30,000-square-foot administration building anchoring the facility to its site. The jail can be expanded with the addition of a third ring of housing units built behind the two existing rings. The existing infrastructure easily accommodates the expansion because all utilities, pipelines, and communication channels needed for an addition already are built and other facilities such as the kitchen and laundry are large enough to accommodate 800 additional inmates.

Thanks to creative site planning, the current radial design is-and any future expansion will be-completely hidden. The only structure visible when arriving at the facility is the horse barn-style administration building and two long, decorative stone walls extending from both sides of the building. Hiding a 400,000-square-foot building sounds like something only David Copperfield can manage, but the design/build team accomplished this architectural trickery by building the administration building on top of a hill and then removing the back of the hill, building the jail 20 feet lower than entrance level-the finished jail floor is not below grade-so the enormous structure is concealed behind the stone walls.


As is common with modern jail and prison facilities, both the grounds and the facility are under constant surveillance through tilt/zoom cameras. These cameras allow operators to focus in very closely on specific items or activities. However, slightly less common is the facility’s fiber-optic link to Lexington courthouses and the downtown jail. The high-quality imagery allows for video arraignment to occur within each of the 20 housing units so inmates don’t need to leave the facility-or even their unit-to make a court appearance and judges don’t need to trek out to the jail. "Judges love it," enthuses Sabbatine. The facility also has video visitation. Visitors don’t need to come out to the jail because they can videoconference from the police station or courthouse. For those who do wish to make personal visits, the jail has limited visitation space; whereas an average jail might have 48 visitor’s stations, Lexington-Fayette only has two or three.

The jail also utilizes a central broadcast system for relaying messages, programs, and recreation directly into the housing units. Because of the flexibility of the housing unit designs, each space can receive several different broadcasts simultaneously. For example, the main program space can broadcast a football game while a church service can be showing in the unit’s sub-day room. Similarly, the same program also can be shown in two different rooms so, should a group of inmates require separation from the rest of the group, they still can participate in programming while separated within the sub-day room.

As future technologies are developed, the building is ready to handle upgrades, integration, and installation.


As far as Sabbatine is concerned, it is the jail’s flexible design that makes this building a resounding success. "It is probably the most uniquely designed facility in the country to date," says Sabbatine. The design is based on three themes: objective classification, direct supervision, and decentralization. What that means is that each of the 20 housing units functions as a jail within a jail and are virtually self-sufficient. The direct supervision design requires fewer staff-one officer per housing unit-and leads to a safer jail environment because the officer has a 360-degree view of the unit. For those still not convinced of the benefits of direct supervision, Sabbatine draws this analogy: "How effective would a school teacher be if they tried to teach their class from the hallway?" That, he explains, is how remote supervision is practiced and the way most jails throughout the country operate.

"With officers in the hallway and inmates in their cells, the jail is forced to be very reactive," says Sabbatine, "which means we go in after a fight has started. With direct supervision, there is a proactive management style where staff can prevent disturbances and know the inmates well enough to know whom to separate." He says he requested the direct supervision design because it reduces the number of incidences compared to those in remote supervision facilities.

And how flexible are the housing units? Each housing unit consists of either 40 or 64 inmates detained in a mix of individual cells or eight-bed dormitories built around a day room-the program space. The spaces are then broken down even further with cells or dormitories opening into a sub-day room for different levels of isolation. This layout allows for the separation of inmates within the housing unit, still have access to program space via the sub-day room, and yet remain within view of the officer at all times.

The breakdown of spaces is especially helpful when dealing with female inmates who make up a small portion of the population but still require the same level of separation as male inmates. And security levels can be adjusted just as easily; units can be changed into minimum, medium, or maximum-security classifications depending on need. Currently, two of the twenty pods have been turned into medical units; one for general medical care, the other for mental healthcare.

To further emphasize the self-sufficiency of the housing units, all recreational activities are conducted within the program space, underneath giant skylights that flood the area with natural light. All meals are eaten within the units as well. Although food is prepared in a central kitchen, there is no cafeteria. There also is no library because books are delivered to inmates.

"In designing the jail this way, we’ve cut down on a lot of problems that occur at other facilities," says Budler. "With everyone separated into individual units, there’s less of a problem with gangs, violence, and other issues that arise when inmates mingle with one another."

Another crucial design consideration is the ease of maintenance. A maintenance hall encircles the housing units so maintenance personnel can walk around the entire structure. And instead of typical triangular chases, all chases were relocated to the back of the cells for easier access.


Food Service: C&T Design
Chopper Pumps: Somat
Ventilators: Grease Master
Steam Kettles: Vulcan Hart
Cabinet Steamers: Vulcan Hart
Walk-In Coolers/Freezers: Thermo-Kool
Refrigeration: Cold Zone
Convection Ovens: Blodgett
Rotary Ovens: Barter
Custom Stainless Equipment: Nutrionics
Pneumatic Tube System: Pevco
Correctional Furniture: Peterson Enterprises
Detention Accessories: Peterson Enterprises
Security Systems: Norment Security Group
CCTV: Vicon
Security Cameras: Vicon
Security Glazing: Norment Security Group
Security Windows: Trussbilt
Security Cell Doors: Trussbilt
Security Screens: Peterson Enterprises
Security Locks: Airtech
Security Penal Plumbing: Acorn
Smoke Detection System: Siemans
Weapons Detection System: Metor
Precast Concrete Cells: Rotondo-Weirich Exterior Finish: Columbia Precast
Roofing: Carlisle
Floor/Wall Tile: Daltile
HVAC: York
Security Cell Lighting: Holcore

Project Management

Tackling such an unusual building required a unique perspective on the project. And Budler’s is a design/build perspective. As he puts it, "a design/build process is the only way we managed to pull off a project this demanding and with these special architectural considerations, management desires, and intense technology. It is the only way it could have been done within the timeframe and within the budget."

Further complicating matters was the fast-track nature of approvals and the fact that the Lexington-Fayette Detention Center is the first direct supervision facility in Kentucky and therefore guidelines and precedence were found to be lacking.

However, Budler talks about a construction process that ran smoothly, crediting a strong team that kept the project moving. "Overall, the teamwork was unbelievable," says Budler. "There were a lot of unforeseen circumstances and some last minute changes, but the way we pulled together as a team was incredible. We realized we were all in this together, we promised to deliver this facility at a certain time and price, and when we came across unforeseen conditions we worked together until we fleshed out a solution," he says. "But, that’s not to say we didn’t yell at each other. There were tense moments, but we managed to get through it and had a great relationship all the way to the end," Budler explains.

One of the methods used to quiet the yelling was the use of the Internet. The team created a Web site where they posted all of their RFIs and all of their design documents, allowing team members who were spread out geographically to look at the material at the same time-in real time-and, together, make on-the-spot changes.

In order to ensure everyone could access the documents, they made the online process very straightforward: contracts mandated that all team members use the same version of AutoCAD to keep people from working in an incompatible language or posting something that wasn’t compatible. When asked if a Web site is something Budler will integrate into future projects, he emphatically answers, "Absolutely!"

Under Construction

Construction also was a team effort. "We made a commitment to the [Lexington] city council to award to local contractors as much work as possible," says Budler. "We managed to award all of the packages except steel and erection, which we self-performed. We normally do all of the earthwork, concrete, masonry, and structural steel, but we made a commitment to create as many local jobs as possible," he says.

The use of precast cells and dormitories helped speed the construction process along. "It was a huge scheduling advantage," explains Budler. "While they were chugging away casting individual units, we were still completing the rest of the design." And when the cells arrived on site-they were cast about a mile from the jail-they were stacked up around the perimeter and used as bearing walls, while the building envelope and the roof were built around them.

It’s a Wrap

The jail’s grand opening celebration was held on May 19, 2000. The completed jail was turned over to LFUCG on June 1, 2000 and the first inmates were to move into the facility as we went to print-full occupation was expected by October 20th. Inmates were to have moved in sooner, but a boom economy made it difficult for Sabbatine to attract and retain qualified help-a situation echoed in most parts of the country. He hopes to have a final staff totaling approximately 150 people-better benefits and slightly higher salaries than those initially offered are expected to help fill vacancies.

And now Ray Sabbatine leaves on a high note as he retires after the first of the year. Construction of this jail is one of the highlights of his career, but not because the building itself was erected, but because the jail so effectively exemplifies the four goals Sabbatine has sought to achieve during his career. Those goals-to protect public safety, protect institutional safety, provide a level of constitutional care, and provide programs and opportunities that reduce the likelihood of reincarceration-are an integral part of the Lexington-Fayette Detention Center. The first two goals are accomplished with the jail facility separating inmates from the public while direct supervision and flexible separation spaces allows for better supervision and a safer work environment. Wrapping housing units around services provides for the constitutional level of care, and a variety of program spaces allow for different inmates to take advantage of activities and programs that hopefully will support rehabilitation. Sabbatine can’t just ride off into the sunset now that the equestrian-inspired jail is complete because this building is a constant reminder of his work. His presence will be felt here for a long time.