The Prettiest Jail Glimmers in Granite

FORT WORTH, Texas — Downtown Fort Worth is now home to the most ironic building in Tarrant County. Tabbed as “the prettiest jail in Texas with the cruelest people in it,” the new, 207,700-square-foot, five-floor jail includes 444 maximum-security cells soon to house the county’s “worst of the worst” inmates, yet the building is beautiful. It looks nothing like the high-tech lockup it is.

The Fort Worth business community was initially concerned that a jail downtown would not mix well with the high-rise residential properties and corporate headquarters already there. However, locating the jail in its particular location was essential to reduce the risks associated with transporting dangerous inmates. An underground tunnel and a sky bridge connect the new jail to the existing jail and courts in the Tarrant County Corrections Center and Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center, making the transport more secure.

Because of the controversy of constructing a new maximum security jail in a downtown location, the design of the building needed to mask its function. To achieve this, well-grounded masonry was used following the architectural tradition of civic buildings, evoking a sense of longevity and durability. The use of granite, in particular, brings this new building into the context of the downtown built environment.

Designed with energy efficient and green initiatives and to LEED standards, it is anticipated that the jail will be certified LEED Gold, becoming the municipality’s fourth LEED-certified building. Tarrant County Facilities Management Director David Phillips believes it will be the first multi-story maximum-security jail to achieve that certification. In addition to the 444 maximum-security cells, the jail will also provide new medical facilities and a full kitchen that can prepare 16,500 meals a day for inmates at the new jail and the county’s other correctional facilities. The jail cost was $83.2 million, which is less than originally expected.

Jail Design Challenges
One of the greatest tasks for architect of record Bennett Benner Pettit, design architect DMS Architectural Services, and construction manager Gilbane Building Co. was the unique design criterion of the facility, which needed to fulfill the maximum-security role while also remaining visually appealing in the downtown area.

Additional design challenges stemmed from the desire to not only meet, but exceed, the state jail requirements, particularly in mechanical and electrical systems, while still presenting a facility that does not resemble a jail from the exterior. Extensive coordination between trades was required for all elements of the project in order to accommodate the slender floor-to-floor height dictated by the masonry façade design, which used extensive cut stone materials in various finishes and profiles.

Prior to construction, the mechanical sub-contractor used Naviworks to create a 3-D model of the project, including all above-ceiling items. Although a few ceiling heights required adjustment, clashes with structural elements and other MEP items were virtually eliminated. Extensive stone detailing and conflict resolution analysis were used to coordinate the granite elements, particularly in the area of the heavy rusticated base materials.

On the heels of two other large, successfully completed projects with Cold Spring Granite, Tarrant County was able to bring the supplier in to the design phase for this project immediately. To meet the challenging design requirements, Bennett Benner Pettit, Tarrant County, and Gilbane Building Co. coordinated with Cold Spring Granite from day one with multiple meetings and conference calls to discuss design, colors and finishes.

Cold Spring Granite was preferred because of its expertise in working with unique and custom designs on substantial projects. Cold Spring Granite brought crucial coordination elements to the project through its engineering and drafting expertise, proficiency in fabricating, assistance with developing project details and finishes, as well as the coordination of color range and marking requirements.

“Because we were working to achieve LEED certification for the project, utilizing regional materials was important to the design,” said Amanda Schulte, AIA, Associate, Bennett Benner Pettit. “Beyond the standard LEED requirements, the Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court requested that we specify materials quarried and manufactured in Texas. Several granite options from throughout the United States had been considered, but none of the other options could compete with Cold Spring Granite in proximity to the project location. Utilizing the granite from Marble Falls enabled the seamless blending of the facility in the downtown context.”

Designing Art Panels
To design and develop “art panels,” Cold Spring Granite worked with Bennett Benner Pettit and DMS Architectural Services on a design that could be fabricated, and then developed the tooling to accomplish it.

“The graphic focuses of the art panels are the Texas Longhorn and the keys that outline each panel,” said Jason Frank, Project Manager, Architectural Division, Cold Spring Granite. “Once the architect developed the overall design of the panels, our CNC technician developed programming, tooling and available finishes that could be used to create the design.”

When the tooling was developed, a small sample was created that represented what the final panel design would look like. The sample was submitted to the design board and it approved Cold Spring Granite’s process.

“The specified granite from Cold Spring Granite set the stage for subsequent material selection,” said Schulte. “To coordinate with the pink tint of the granite, we selected a maroon brick and a pink-beige cast stone. The resulting building is well matched with the color schemes at other Tarrant County buildings downtown, and the wider downtown environment.”

Material Selection
The final design of the art panels used Sunset Beige granite. The project called for a variety of finishes to create a unique texture including polished, thermal, rock pitch, and sanded. A total of 17,459 square feet /12,119 cubic feet of granite was used, equaling 4,511 pieces.

Cold Spring Granite worked with the architect to create the intended design while using the maximum amount of stone. “Everyone worked together to come up with a strategy on where and how we could use all the stone from the quarry. Certain elevations of the building allowed for more movement and variegation, maintaining the most efficient use of a natural resource,” said Frank. The final result was a well thought out and beautifully designed structure.

Final Results
“From day one, the design team and contractors were concerned about schedule and completing the building on time,” said Frank. “Open communication throughout the process ensured the granite was delivered on time and met the design specs.”

This scheduling and communication between the various companies enabled all to work together and overcome the inherent location challenges, thus ensuring smooth installation of the granite.

“This project required full coordination, both in the design and construction phases,” Schulte continued. “We were fortunate to team with many experienced and well qualified companies and individuals who all helped manage the complex challenges of constructing a jail in a downtown location. At the peak of construction, there were hundreds of tradesmen on the job working together cohesively without getting in each other’s way. Strong relationships and teamwork were vital to the success of the project.”