Images by Mark Ballogg Photography
In a post-Sept. 11 climate of heightened homeland security, an increase in illegal alien border crossing and smuggling activity during the last decade sparked a renewed emphasis within the federal government on safeguarding the nation’s frontiers against the threat posed by terrorist and criminal elements.
Under the mandate of Congress, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security launched a program to expand border control capabilities, particularly along the southern frontier of the United States. A subsequent presidential directive to intensify border patrol enforcement operations ordered Customs and Border Protection to hire 6,000 new border patrol officers, increasing staffing strength to approximately 20,000 agents.
Part of the large-scale DHS program to increase the number and operational capacity of border patrol stations, the new $13 million border patrol station in Eagle Pass, Texas, is one of the largest immigration processing facilities in the United States.
Eagle Pass Border Patrol Station was designed by architectural, engineering, design and planning firm HDR Inc. to deliver 21st century standards of operational safety and security in detainee processing and detention. The 39-acre campus was master-planned to accommodate future growth in staffing and detainee-processing levels.
“The number of border crossings had greatly increased in this sector during recent years, so the border patrol wanted to expand operational strength to gain more control over aliens entering the country and criminal elements operating in region,” says lead designer Curt Parde, LEED AP, vice president at HDR.
Facility Name: Eagle Pass Border Patrol Station
Courtesy of HDR Architecture Inc.
The new station (Eagle Pass South) will augment the operational strength of the existing Eagle Pass North station, which was built in 1985. Border protection officers stationed at Eagle Pass North and South monitor almost 1,300 square miles of rough, brushy, arid terrain along the Rio Grande River.
The South campus’ 50,000-square-foot main facility has a processing and detention capacity of up to 380 detainees and could eventually accommodate about 350 agents — the existing North station has a force strength of 200 agents.
“We can see 30 to 40 illegals per day, depending on the region and the enforcement techniques being deployed,” says Agent John Luedecke, construction manager for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Basically, from a staffing and processing standpoint, we had run out of room.”
Ordering The Plan
Faced by constantly changing crossings points and activity levels, the border patrol sought to establish a more effective moveable enforcement net through enhanced surveillance capacity and flexible operational capabilities.
The campus master plan developed by HDR — in conjunction with DHS, Customs and Border Protection, and the Army Corps of Engineers — allows for the phased addition of buildings, expansion of facilities and implementation of site improvements as needs arise and construction funding becomes available in the future.
“As a regional center of operations, the border patrol wanted a facility that could perform as needed in supporting a number of different functions and demands without similarly increasing their budget,” Parde says.
Phase one of the master plan included the main building, detainee intake, processing and detention space, visitor areas and the public lobby. Campus and operational support facilities, including kennels and a vehicle fueling station, were also constructed during the first phase.
Subsequent phases of the master plan include a dedicated training building, a firing range, equestrian stables, a helipad, a vehicle maintenance and support building, a covered combination car wash and fuel island, above-ground fuel storage tanks and pumps, a parking garage, an impound lot for seized vehicles, and enhanced storm-water retention measures.
Eagle Pass combines secure detention and operations areas with an open-access public space.
“With so many activities planned for the long-term, from a design standpoint we tried to anticipate where and how to situate buildings and components so that operational capacity and functions can be expanded and added in a piecemeal manner, but as part of an overarching master plan development,” says Halden Talley, project manager for HDR. “It’s like trying to put together pieces of a complex puzzle: It only works when done in the correct sequence.”
Strength, Presence, Control
Eagle Pass South embodies a modern architectural character of clean lines. Adorned by curvilinear roofing elements, a pair of two-story components defines the predominantly single-story main building.
“It was a priority for the border patrol that the facility have a modern appearance rather than recreate a southwestern mission-style architecture,” Parde says. “They wanted a station that would make a statement of border patrol strength, presence and control.”
The first of the two-story components draws attention and directs visitor circulation to the facility’s public entrance. The dominant palette of light and muted colors is compatible with the surrounding landscape.
Stucco and light-colored local limestone were selected as cladding finishes to limit heat gain in the building mass and to reduce climate-control loads in interior spaces.
Expansive glazing maximizes daylighting and views outside to evoke a sense of openness and connectedness with the surrounding landscape. A series of brise-soleil elements minimize direct sunlight and unwanted heat transfer to interior spaces during the hottest times of the day.
|Eagle Pass can accommodate up to 380 detainees with holding cells monitored from a secure control room.
“The border patrol also wanted the public portion of the facility to be inviting to visitors, with a lobby that would be open and welcoming,” Parde says.
In landscaping the site, the team incorporated native grasses and vegetation suited to the arid climate, while storm-water retention ponds also serve as an architectural feature.
The second two-story component, which is situated within the more secure staff portion of the facility, functions as the nerve center of the campus with direct access to both the public and detention processing areas. A mezzanine configuration houses centralized facility plant equipment on the upper level and staff amenities, including locker rooms, on the lower level.
The design team also integrated significant glazing on the staff side to maximize natural daylighting in spaces where agents must spend considerable amounts of time.
Low-E glazing was incorporated to reduce UV-light and heat transmission to building interiors, while blackout screens are used to cut interior cooling loads. Energy-efficient climate and lighting controls with occupancy sensors were incorporated to further reduce energy consumption.
Degrees of Separation
In order to enhance security and operational efficiency, HDR designed the complex with zoned areas of entry and circulation, ranging from public to secure, based on the desired level of access and movement.
Interior spaces incorporate extensive glazing elements to maximize natural daylighting for staff and visitors.
“Distinct circulation pathways to separate detainee processing and detention traffic, visitor and staff traffic was of primary importance,” Parde says. “Circulation also presented one of the major challenges in terms of laying out the facility during the master planning and design phase.”
The facility is designed with three distinct circulation pathways for public, staff administrative and support operations and detention. Graduated levels of security, including video surveillance and card access controls, dictate the flow of exterior and interior circulation for each distinct component.
“The facility is basically divided into a highly secure detention area and a more accessible public side that incorporates minimal security features, such as blast- and ballistic-resistant glazing,” Luedecke says. “A moderately secure central administrative and staff area links the detention and public components of the facility.”
Low-security public areas are situated to the front of the complex, closest to the street frontage, while high-security areas are located to the rear and sides of the main building.
It was important for the border patrol that the front entrance, lobby and visitor areas offer free access to the public, with well-defined wayfinding and a very approachable and non-intimidating character, Talley says.
“It’s the only place people can enter the facility freely and, once inside, movement from the public area to other more secure facility components is restricted,” Talley says.
The processing and detention area is designed to deliver modern correctional standards of safety and security.
A central semi-public zone houses administrative and staff operations space and acts as a medium-security buffer between the two areas. The central zone, which includes the operations room and dispatch, the squad room, staff offices, training and classroom space, a gymnasium, the armory, drug evidence rooms, and the drug testing facilities, offers staff direct access to the low-security public and high-security nonpublic zones.
A secure sallyport, which can accommodate two full-size buses, marks the entryway to the high-security detention portion of the facility. The caged unloading zone, which features hydraulic doors operated from a secure control room, creates a secure area for the intake of detainees.
“The federal government specifies stringent requirements for facility components from glazing to detention hardware, so the processing and detention component of the facility is extremely secure,” Parde says.
Prior to processing, detainees are searched and scanned for weapons and contraband in a secondary secure area inside the facility. Activity and movement inside the processing area and holding cells are monitored from the secure control room.
“With the increase in violent offenders, we needed to enhance safety and security, one of the primary goals of the project was to move a 21st century high-security model,” Luedecke says. “In designing the detention component of the station, we looked at how prisons and jails are set up and operated.”
In addition to interior spaces and circulation, security was an important consideration in the design of exterior facility components and the campus site as a whole.
Stations at Carrizo Springs to the east, Del Rio to the west, and Uvalde to the north, bound Eagle Pass’ area of operational responsibility, which includes more than 56 miles of river border and a permanent traffic checkpoint along the main regional artery of Highway 57.
The secure sallyport features hydraulic gates and can accommodate two full-size motor coaches.
The established infrastructure on both sides of the border and Eagle Pass’ proximity to the 200,000-resident city of Piedras Negras and to San Antonio — a smuggling hub — make Eagle Pass the sector’s most active area.
“Staff on the ground brought a considerable degree of local knowledge and operations-specific expertise to the project and contributed a great deal to the design of security components,” Talley says.
The 39-acre campus is enclosed by a perimeter security barrier, which features spans of 10-foot masonry wall and chain-link fencing. The masonry wall components engage the facility at each end of the main building.
A CCTV surveillance system, which monitors access and movement throughout the various interior components of the facility, also monitors the campus perimeter and various strategic points across the site.
In operationally sensitive areas of the facility, the design team raised windows above eye level and incorporated special glazing to improve security and limit any potential observation of operations.
“The border patrol emphasized the importance of limiting visibility into the station so that valuable knowledge about staffing levels and current operations strength in the field is not readily observable,” Talley says.
The design team incorporated blast- and ballistic-resistant glazing and cladding materials into the façade to protect the facility against assault, and the main-entrance forecourt is ringed by impact-resistant bollards that protect the building envelope and its occupants against an explosives-laden vehicular attack.
Several elements incorporated into the Eagle Pass site during development serve an important, albeit secondary, function as passive security measures, Parde says.
Video Surveillance: ISI Detention
Courtesy of HDR Architecture Inc.
A graded, winding approach leads from the perimeter to the main building and front entrance, which is elevated above the natural ground level of the site.
“The curved driveways leading from the site entrance and perimeter also ensure vehicles maintain a slow approach speed,” Luedecke says.
The project team over-excavated the foundation — due to the presence of soil elements that could potentially undermine structural integrity — and built it up with a 3-foot grade beam that raises the building’s floor line several feet. The elevated floor line also serves to control run-off.
A series of water retention ponds were incorporated during site development to manage and maintain predevelopment water flow and retention levels.
“The site was completely undeveloped prior to this project, so the primary function of the ponds relates to water management, but a lot of elements on this project play hand in hand and serve multiple functions,” Parde says.
Several of the ponds slope away from the raised floor line of the main building to create a significant grade difference along the approach to the front entrance and public lobby.
These passive elements function like a waterless moat to provide an added layer of protection that enhances facility security against the potential threat of a vehicular attack.
“The ponds provide a barricade of sorts, like a natural berm or ditch, which limits the ability to drive a truck right up to the front door and crash it into the building or blow it up,” Luedecke says.
Although the Eagle Pass project incorporates green elements — the design team applied the LEED checklist to facility design and site development — environmental sustainability was not an overarching consideration.
The campus features an energy-efficient central HVAC and plant configuration that is designed to generate operational efficiency and offer ease of maintenance. The centralized system also offers the ability to expand with future campus demands.
The HVAC system incorporates air-handling units that pick up water from a central chiller and is up to 50 percent more efficient than conventional refrigerant-style HVAC units, Luedecke says.
Although a single chiller unit is sufficient to meet facility requirements, the design team built 100 percent redundancy into the HVAC system by incorporating a second chiller.
The twin units can be alternated back and forth at full capacity or run simultaneously, with each unit operating at variable levels of reduced capacity to equal full system capacity.
“When we began this project in 2004, sustainability as a concept and practical consideration in the planning, design, engineering, construction and operation of these kinds of facility was not nearly as important in the mindset as it is now,” Parde says.