Final Frontier

Founded in 1914 as a construction camp for railroad work in the Alaskan territory, the city of Anchorage has developed into the 49th state’s most populous city. The 2000 census lists the city’s population as 260,283, while Alaska’s entire population is listed as 626,932. Almost 42 percent of the state’s residents live within the 1,697 square miles that make up Anchorage. For comparison, the state’s second largest city and its capital, Juneau, has a population of 30,711, according to the 2000 census. That’s only five percent of the state’s citizens.

The fact that so many Alaskans are concentrated within one area could seem unusual, but for Alaska, the largest state in the Union and unofficially dubbed The Last Frontier, the terrain, climate, and other factors-such as employment, education, health care, and corrections-dictate that populations cluster.

For architects at ECI/Hyer Inc., designing the new Anchorage Jail to serve an area housing almost half the state’s residents presented an interesting challenge. The facility basically needed to be all things to all people, and as such, many user groups have a stake in the facility. The $56 million jail is owned by the Municipality of Anchorage; operated and maintained by the Alaska Department of Corrections; and used by local police and state troopers, the Federal Marshals Service, and several government agencies, including Health and Human Services.

Site Situations

The new 181,000-square-foot jail replaces an old facility built more than 40 years ago when Anchorage had fewer than 100,000 people. "It was grossly under serving the city’s population," says Steve Fishback, architect at ECI/Hyer. "The building was worn out and over capacity." There was some investigation into the possibility of modifying the old jail, but it was determined a new facility was necessary. "There was no easy way to remodel," says Fishback, who cited the jail’s location as one of the problems, saying "The site had major constraints." As it turned out, the site selected for construction of the new jail was almost as problematic.

The seven-acre site-which eventually grew to around 10 acres once the state deeded away its 300-foot right-away running in front of the facility-is located halfway between downtown Anchorage and the city’s industrial district. On one side, the site adjoins a property occupied by the exiting Cook Inlet Pre-Trial Facility. On the other side, the jail basically starts where the runway ends for neighboring Merrill Field, a general aviation airport. While Fishback says the jail’s location, a scant 3/4 mile from the "touchdown zone," did not prove much of a difficulty, some adjustments were made. The jail’s south side was notched to accommodate the landing field’s barrier-free zone, sound attenuation materials were added inside the facility-although quieter propeller planes, not jet planes, use Merrill Field-and the structure had to adhere to height restrictions. The official line is that Anchorage Jail is a two-story facility.

As the design and construction team found out, however, the site would surprise them with additional challenges. Valued at $3 million, the land was donated to the Municipality of Anchorage, but Fishback says use of the land wasn’t a given, although land acquisition would cost them nothing. There was a site selection process to determine if a better site-even one they would have to purchase-should be used. After completing a fairly thorough evaluation process, which included test drilling, it was determined the donated land was suitable for the project and its proximity to court services even made it a good choice. Strangely, the 15 test drills failed to spot 80 barrels of petroleum buried beneath the construction site, adding almost $1 million in unexpected costs as the remediation of tainted soil became part of the project.

Construction Challenges

Construction of the jail-site challenges aside-wasn’t what Fishback calls "rosy smooth." However, according to the architect, "It all worked out. We had a good team of people and we managed the needs of all groups."

Initially, there was some concern the project might not even be approved, following as it did, on the heels of a proposed prison that failed to generate any public support. Voters rejected that project because it was a private facility proposed for construction in a residential area. Fishback says extra community action was taken to rally support for the Anchorage Jail, which proved successful with voters.

Following an initial programming effort in early 1998 and through the final design phase ending in early 2000, the project was put to bid and immediately experienced what Fishback calls a "major bump." Bids came in 12 percent over budget. "We conducted dramatic value engineering to eliminate costs," says Fishback, and the project was brought into line. RISE Alaska was the project’s program manager while Neeser Construction Inc. won the contractor bid.

With a project team in place, the two-year construction period began with an April 2000 groundbreaking that signaled the beginning of a condensed, construction window. Alaska’s climate dictates the April-September construction window because that’s the period during which concrete can cure. Normal summer temperatures hover around the mid-70s, but normal winter temperatures average -10 to 10 degrees F. The conditions minimized on-site trades and led to the use of both concrete block and precast components formed offsite. The jail’s foundation and base utilize precast pieces, cells are constructed of concrete block, and walls are concrete. The exterior is clad in heavy, ribbed aluminum siding.

From a design standpoint, the much-larger jail coordinates with the neighboring pre-trial facility, but Fishback says he did not want the two structures to read as the same building. "The owners suggested each building retain their autonomy. They have different missions and should look different," Fishback explains.

Ease of Operation

Anchorage Jail is the state’s first facility to fully incorporate direct supervision. The concept was first recommended by architects at HDR Architecture, the jail project’s associate design firm, but officials were hesitant to agree to the suggestion. However, after touring direct supervision facilities throughout the Northwest and hearing about other departments’ experiences with the arrangement, officials unanimously agreed to it.

In all, the direct supervision facility has 400 inmate beds and is capable of expanding to 600 beds. The jail has six pods, each with 64 beds, and there is a small maximum-security unit and a segregation unit. Additionally, an inebriate transfer station can detain approximately 100 people. Although the setup is flexible, the way the facility operates is with five pods dedicated for male prisoners and one pod dedicated for women prisoners. Programming happens outside of, but adjacent to, detention pods, eliminating the need for "pat-downs" as inmates move from one area to another. Outside recreation generally is inside; each pod has its own recreation area with a louvered wall that can be opened to the outside. However, Fishback says the areas are basically gyms with skylights because the same weather conditions that affect construction also affect inmates’ access to the outdoors. There’s no need for outside access when temperatures are below freezing for half the year.

The facility has special accommodations for visitation. While some inmates are allowed contact visits in a downstairs visitation area and others are only allowed video visitation-such as inmates held in maximum-security or health care units-the majority of visitation occurs via a free side circulation hallway. "It’s a great idea," explains Fishback, who says the concept was recommended by HDR. The hallway is set up to allow visitors and inmates to go unescorted into visitation areas without leaving their respective "free" zone or custody zone. A visitor checks in at the main desk and requests a visit with an inmate. If the visit is possible, they use the public hallway to walk to the detention pod and then access a special visitation alcove. Inside the detention pod, the inmate who’s receiving a visitor also walks to the visitation alcove-never out of view of an officer-and meets his/her visitor sitting on the other side of security glass. The arrangement limits the number of officers needed to monitor and escort inmates within the facility and limits the number of transports in and out of pods, which contributes to a higher level of security. "The inmates are not moved from their pods very often," says Fishback.

Also included in the jail is a magistrates court that eliminates the need to transfer inmates for arraignment; all trials still are held at the main courthouse. The courtroom was requested by commissioners working for the Department of Corrections, although initially judges and lawyers were not sold on the concept. Now seen as a very useful feature, the court allows lawyers to visit with clients at any given time. "Visits can almost be impromptu," Fishback explains.

An inebriate transfer station also occupies a small portion of the Anchorage Jail. Part of the city’s Health and Human Services, the station is used by local law enforcement as a "drunk tank." The rudimentary structure has block walls and vinyl floors and little else in the way of fixtures and fittings. Designed as a non-criminal, protective custody unit, it is completely independent from the jail from a security standpoint. Most of the men and women dropped off at the inebriate station were intoxicated in public and brought there as a matter of public safety or for their own safety. They are free to leave when they feel they can leave.

Long-Term Planning

Fully aware that Anchorage continues to grow and will most likely claim an even great percentage of the state’s population, Fishback says the jail was designed for the long-term. Aside from the ability to expand by 200 beds-which may happen soon-the facility incorporates features that support and promote regular, ongoing maintenance. "The primary thing is serviceability. It’s very user-friendly for maintenance," Fishback says of the jail. All utilities are placed in utility corridors, equipment that will need servicing is placed in non-secure areas, and interstitial floors allow pathways and access to equipment and components. Additionally, security equipment tends to focus on touchscreens, touch bolts, and other components that virtually eliminate the use of switches. Switches have drastically lower lifecycles in Anchorage because nearby glaciers produce an inordinate amount of fine, powdery airborne dust that gets into everything. For all involved in the project, it’s important that 40 years from now this Anchorage jail isn’t as worn out as the one it replaces.

Project Data

Architect: ECI/Hyer Inc.
Owner: Municipality of Anchorage/Department of Corrections
Project Manager: RISE Alaska LLC
General Contractor: Neeser Construction
Detention Equipment Contractor: CML Specialties
Security System Consultant: HDR Architecture
Food Service Consultant: Manahan & Cleveland
Project Cost: $56 million
Dedication Ceremony: March 29, 2002


Project Data

Food Service: Refrigeration and Food Equipment Inc.
Ventilators: Gaylord Kitchen Hood
Steam Kettles: Groen
Cabinet Steamers: Legion Industries
Refrigerator/Freezer: Koolco
Ovens: Market Forge
Custom Stainless Equipment: Universal Stainless
Correctional Furniture: Peterson Enterprises
Restraint Bunks: Peterson Enterprises
Detention Accessories: CML; Peterson Enterprises
Security Systems: ESI Companies Inc.
PLC: Secure Plex
CCTV: Silent Witness
UPS: Best Power
Touchscreen System: ESI Companies Inc.
Television Systems: Silent Witness
Intercom: Stealth Technologies Inc.
Video Visitation: VUGate Corporation
Card Access: ProxPro Card Reader
Security Glazing: Arctic Glazing
Security Windows: Globe-Amerada
Security Cell Doors: Trussbilt
Security Screens: Kane Screens
Security Locks: Southern Steel
Security Penal Plumbing: Acorn
Security Sprinkler Equipment:
Stat Sprinkler Heads
Security Fire Equipment: Seimens
Smoke Detection System: Simplex
Weapons Detection System:
Garrett Metal Detectors
Drug Detection System: ION Track Instruments
Concrete: AS&G
Exterior Finish: Custom Panel Industries
Roofing: Carlisle Membrane; Custom Panel Industries
Gypsum Wallboard: US Gypsum Company
Floor/Wall Tile: Daltile
Sallyport Doors: Trussbilt
HVAC: H&K Mechanical
Security Cell Lighting: Cooper Lighting