Rebuilding Corrections in New Orleans
By Matthew Crawford (07/28/2010)

The Orleans Parish kitchen/warehouse facility is designed to provide up to 25,000 meals a day.

NEW ORLEANS — Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the city has regained its vibrancy, but there is still much work to be done before full recovery.

Signs of the lasting effect of the hurricane and the flooding that followed are visible throughout the city. And while the rebuilding effort continues, the visible effects of the catastrophe linger as homes still sit dotted with spray-painted messages from rescue workers and empty buildings, large and small, remain vacant and damaged throughout the city.

The sheriff’s office and jails continue to operate in makeshift facilities, with inmates housed in temporary tent structures behind chain-link fences fortified with razor wire. But if all goes as planned, that will soon change.

Work began earlier this year on a $76 million kitchen/warehouse facility that will serve as the central hub and foundation for a corrections system that is being rebuilt from the ground up.

“We have really moved out of recovery and now we are ready to move into rebuilding,” says Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who was at the helm of the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office when broken levees following Katrina forced a mass relocation of inmates.

The three-story, 168,885-square-foot kitchen/warehouse facility will feature a cook-chill facility capable of preparing 25,000 meals in 12 to 14 hours and a central power plant that will provide enough electricity to operate 750,000-square-feet of office space and generate air-conditioning for 1 million square feet of interior space. Emergency generators backed by 40,000 gallons of fuel will supply power for up to five days in the event of an emergency.

The kitchen/warehouse facility is planned in conjunction with a new correctional facility that will house 1,438 beds, an intake and processing center, and administrative facilities. Both facilities are scheduled for completion in 2012.

Despite the critical need for new housing units, the kitchen/warehouse facility was planned first to ensure that support facilities and infrastructure systems are in place before inmates are relocated.

“It might have been the knee-jerk reaction to just build housing first, but we decided to go ahead with the kitchen/warehouse first because that is really the foundation of what we have to do,” Gusman says.

Design Considerations

The kitchen/warehouse facility will be located along the Interstate-10 corridor— a prominent location with traffic from visitors and arriving at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

“It is very prominent in the urban landscape of New Orleans,” says Thomas Brown, principal in charge, of project architect Sizeler Thompson Brown Architects “We wanted to make it an architectural statement, and an identifying symbol for the sheriff’s office.”

The building is utilitarian in function, but it was designed with aesthetic enhancements due to its location in the community. Charcoal precast stair towers are contrasted with orange “fins,” while translucent panels allow for natural light and architectural highlights at night.

“We wanted to get as much natural light in this building as possible,” Brown says. “Being that it is a detention facility — and it does have lots of equipment — we also didn’t want tremendous views throughout for obvious reasons.”

An approximately 50-foot screen wall is attached to removable panels for intake and exhaust louvers, providing a contrast with the design while also protecting the building from flying objects in case of a hurricane.

An administrative area that faces the surrounding neighborhood was scaled down with design features that are pedestrian friendly.

“The exterior skin is insulated metal panels and insulated glass,” Brown says. “It’s much softer, and the elements are broken down to a much more human scale.”

Correctional Complex

Prior to the hurricane, the Orleans Parish correctional system was fragmented due to piecemeal growth, according to planners. With the new system, a correctional-complex approach will be implemented to improve efficiencies and safety for the public, staff and inmates.

The key component of the plan is the ability to manage expansion with smart infrastructure systems at the central plant in the kitchen/warehouse facility.

“They can now operate the food service, central warehouse and mechanical systems for all the other structures from that framework,” says Ken Ball, a corrections specialist with the sheriff’s office.

Ball, who has decades of experience working in corrections, says it’s an opportunity that is rarely afforded to a large, urban correctional system.

“Most people never get that opportunity in a lifetime, but they paid the price for it,” he says. “After Katrina, the sheriff and his people have lived and functioned through some pretty tough times.”

The correctional complex will also minimize the transport inmates outside of the secure perimeter —a significant change from the structures in use now, cobbled together with several entry and exit points and requiring staffing expenditures.

“Operationally, it’s just a tremendous cost and it does create a potential hazard to the public,” Ball says. “[Gusman] wants to keep it all behind a wall to where they can move the inmates more freely. It would have more efficient costs, but also a cost savings.”

Project management is under the guidance of OMK, a joint venture between Ozanne Construction, Montgomery Watson Harza and Kwame Building Group Inc. Woodward Design-Build, of New Orleans, is serving as the contractor; and Grace & Herbert Architects, of Baton Rouge, as well as Billes Architecture, of New Orleans, are providing additional architectural services.

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