Expect the Unexpected
By Jay W. Schneider (12/09/2005)

Architects broke down the juvenile detention center's massing so it would resemble a school or a rehabilitation center. The hip roofs add interior volume and allow windows and electrical fixtures to be placed out of reach.

At the October 31, 2002, dedication of West Valley Juvenile Detention and Assessment Center in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., all the right politicians and county officials showed up; there was plenty of hot coffee, bagels, and rolls; and architect Patrick Sullivan was on hand to celebrate completion of the $21.7 million project, which started in 1995. Completed in three phases, this last phase represents total build-out, with Sullivan remarking how rare it is to see the master plan accomplished. "I can't tell you too many times in my career where that's happened," he said.

Not that it seemed this 182-bed facility was in danger of being delayed or scaled-back. Quite the opposite, actually. The 77,000-square-foot facility required three grants to finance each phase of construction, and each cycle in which the project competed for grants, it won. "What was significant was that the grants kept coming," said Sullivan when asked if anything unexpected occurred during design or construction. "The ability to build the whole facility was what was unexpected."

The Facility

Project Team

Architect: Patrick Sullivan Associates

Owner: County of San Bernardino

Owner Representative: Raymond Wingerd

Project Manager: Kenny Frere

General Contractor: Skidmore Contracting Corporation

Detention Equipment Contractor: Norment Security Group

Security System Consultant: AVS Engineers Inc.

Structural Consultant: Johnson & Nielsen Associates

Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: TMAD Engineers Inc.

The whole facility consists of two buildings and includes three housing units; two units with with four groups of 10 rooms that can be double-bunked and one 22-bed unit. There are two classrooms per housing unit-the ratio of kids to classrooms is 15 per classroom-and a large, centrally-located multipurpose room. The multipurpose room can be used for calisthenics, different group activities, large-group instruction, and indoor recreation-in Southern California's San Bernardino County, indoor recreation is scheduled when it's too hot to be outside.

San Bernardino County officials wanted the spaces within the high-security juvenile detention center to be as flexible as possible. The county's central juvenile facility, a former orphanage, dates back to 1946 and never could handle different classification levels, something the county needed from the new project. Kids serving sentences at the facility-usually 30- or 90-day terms-can earn the privilege of moving off their unit into one with a lower classification level. At the same time, because of the building's role as a transport point, kids sentenced as adults and staying at the facility en route to state prison are kept in a high-security unit. The outdoor exercise yards even reflect the different classification levels. Some units open to walled-in exercise courtyards, while other units open to lawns and basketball courts. The buildings even are separate, connected by a covered walkway. "There's really no reason for the different groups to interact," says Sullivan.

The open lawn and basketball court connect to the rear building, which is a lower-security unit that affords juveniles more privileges. Walled courtyards are used by those in higher-security units.

The idea of flexibility also extends to how the staff secures the facility. "The county wanted the staff to be aware of what was going on throughout the building," Sullivan explains. "The security stations are not enclosed, the security stations are meant to be counters for the staff; it's meant to be direct supervision." Security controls are located in a room connected to the multipurpose room.

Occupied and Evaluated

Because the facility was built in phases, a smaller, 22-bed portion built during the first phase has been in operation since mid-1998, allowing the team to conduct a post-occupancy evaluation before completing phase three plans, which added 160 beds and 65,000 square feet. The post occupancy evaluation is a good indication of how well a building is operating relative to its intended purpose-the designers were able to note what worked and what could be improved.

Architect Sullivan said the first things that were modified were the control stations. They were made to feel more like staff stations and less like security stations. Another change was made to the size of the juvenile's bedrooms. It turned out that 70-square-foot rooms were too small to easily accommodate double occupancy, so they were enlarged to 100 square feet.

The 22-bed unit on the right is the first structure completed. The unit on the left and the unit at the back were added during later construction phases and brought the total bed count to 182.

The biggest item the evaluation uncovered was the facility's popularity among staff members. When West Valley was first built, its remote location, at least relative to the existing central juvenile hall, turned off potential staff who didn't want to travel so far. The mood changed. "It turned out that after it was built, staff became very comfortable and it became the venue of choice to work. It turned out that everybody applied to work here," Sullivan says. "The important part is that the environment is not just conducive to kids, but to the staff and that's why we think it's a safer facility and has been so accepted." Sullivan speaks of a very low number of incidences and knows of no major disturbances at the facility.

Safer Environment

When talking of a correction center as a comfortable environment, there's always some concern that inmates-juveniles or otherwise-are being coddled. Sullivan assures that's not the case, noting that "It's a much stronger building than we used to do because we tend to build for more serious offenders," referencing a trend showing an increased seriousness in juvenile crime. "About 60 to 70 percent of the kids brought here are on felony charges. That's different from 20 years ago when most juvenile offenses were burglary or stealing a car or even truancy," Sullivan says. The "comfort" features he added contribute to a better living environment, which translates into better behavior among residents and therefore a safer facility overall. Although the facility wasn't first planned or funded as a prototype back in 1995, it has since become one.

Natural light filters into a multipurpose space, which is used for a number of different activities. Carpeting and wallboard help control noise levels, making the environment better for inmates and staff.

Abundant natural light is one of the facility's standout features. High, hip-roofed ceilings and large clerestory windows bring in light from above without compromising security-the juveniles can't reach the windows. The high ceilings also position security devices, sprinklers, and light fixtures out of reach so Sullivan didn't have to specify-and the county didn't have to pay for-traditional and expensive tamper-resistant units. Sullivan notes that the items are not cheap, but the savings were noticeable. Tamper-resistant products were installed in the sleeping areas because their design does not incorporate cathedral ceilings.

Carpeting and acoustic panels also were used to finish the concrete-block buildings. "Carpeting prevents a lot of sounds from starting and the wallboard keeps noise levels, from talking and TV, it keeps the noise level down." Sullivan specified softer colors of cream and green with accents of deeper green and blue. "Nothing that gets you too excited. Nothing major, but the colors set it apart so it's not a vanilla box. We don't have one shade of institutional green," says Sullivan.

Sleeping rooms are a little harder and more functional, but the windows are large and the beds are staggered and not traditional bunk units. "There's glass looking to the outside and it's in the upper part of the room so you're aware of daylight, weather, and distant views," Sullivan explains, although he says the views don't include many trees because the facility's 12-acre site is in an industrial area that has a functional landscape.

Academic Facility

The facility's hip roofs are a dominant exterior feature, giving the juvenile center the appearance of a school building. "That was the concept, to break down the scale," says Sullivan. "It is concrete block, but at the same time it looks more like a school or rehabilitation center. The concept is based on rehabilitation and behavior modification, so we wanted it to read as an academic center, if you will, and give it a sense of normalization." And, indeed this detention center is a school, a San Bernardino County school.

Project Suppliers

Access Control: Andover; Checkpoint

Card Access: Door King

CCTV: Pelco; Phillips; Tyco

Concrete: W.R. Grace & Co.

Correctional Furniture: Dietler Enterprises

Custom Stainless Equipment: Just Manufacturing Co.

Exterior Finish: Orco Masonry Block Co.

Gypsum Wallboard: U.S. Gypsum

HVAC: Trane

Intercom: Atlas-Soundolier; Dukane; Rauland-Borg

Microwave Ovens: Panasonic

PLC: Allen Bradley Ravland; Simplex

Plumbing: American Standard; Acorn

Refrigeration: General Electric; Delfield

Restraint Bunks: Dietler Enterprises

Roofing: GAF

Security Ceiling System: Armstrong World Industries

Security Cell Doors: American Steel Products

Security Cell Lighting: Kenall

Security Fencing: Tymetal Corp.

Security Fire Equipment: Tyco

Security Glazing: Guardian; Globe Amerada

Security Locks: Southern Steel

Security Penal Plumbing: Acorn

Security Sprinkler Equipment: Star Sprinkler Equipment

Security Window Frames: American Steel Products

Smoke Detection System: Simplex

Tile, Floor: Armstrong

Tile, Wall: Mapel; Daltile

UPS: Best Energy Systems

Weapons Detection System: Control Screening

Sullivan explains that academic endeavors are the facility's primary programs. Directed study, assessment, and school classes are all very important to this facility, which is why there was an effort to create so many classrooms and to keep the class sizes around 15 students. Originally, class size was assessed at 20 students, but during the project's planning process, the state changed its standards and more classrooms were added. Classes are taught by county teachers-in California, the county staffs a school-who are challenged to maintain continuity for these offender-students. "The county considers this building a school and it's their mission that kids don't miss a day of school," Sullivan says. "The kids, by coming to juvenile hall, still don't get out of school."

To aid in the rehabilitation process, Sullivan notes an increase in focused programs and mental health personnel. Treatment classes are scheduled along side math and English. "More and more we're finding drug problems and kids classified as special education. They need extensive counseling or treatment, which is held at the facility," he says.

Family contact and visitation are other means of maintaining continuity in a juvenile offender's life. Sullivan says he spent a lot of time planning and designing for visitation, which can be accommodated three ways. Juveniles can meet with family one-on-one or in large group rooms, and there's an arrangement for high-security residents. The facility can handle about 50 visitors at one time, with Sullivan estimating that two or three family members come for each visit.

Opening Day

While the facility's October 31 dedication meant the facility opened on Halloween, Sullivan explains that what he finds really scary is what the state is doing for its kids. "California is so far behind on facilities for juveniles that it's just sort of embarrassing," he says. The up side, he explains, is that since 1996, funding filtered down from the federal government to various counties throughout the state has added a tremendous amount of new beds, estimated by Sullivan to number around 3,000. "But, the point is, we need to do a better job with our kids," he says. "A much better job."

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