BELLE CHASSE, La. — Five years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast — inundating much of New Orleans as it overwhelmed protective levees surrounding the below-sea-level city, and completely destroying Plaquemines Parish’s 800-plus bed jail. — the Plaquemines sheriff’s office is readying itself to break ground on a $111 million replacement jail complex.
“We had an 871-bed facility prior to Katrina and lost the whole facility during Katrina,” says Chief Tony Smith, who oversees the Corrections Division of the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“We have been farming out most of [our inmates] throughout the lower portion of the state from Baton Rouge — we’re in Orleans Parish now and they’re helping us out holding our inmates, but we’re transporting back and forth, which is a big inconvenience,” Smith Says.
The new 205,000-square-foot Plaquemines Parish Detention Center, which lies to the south of New Orleans on the Mississippi delta, will deliver 871 beds in precast concrete cell modules and conventional-construction dormitory housing that combine direct and indirect supervision management.
“It’s been a very complicated process from start to finish — the justification [of the design solution] takes a lot of research and time — but we just can’t take any chances because you saw what Katrina did to us, especially with a building that’s on the ground,” Smith says. In the 10 years preceding Katrina, the sheriff’s office has implemented a complete evacuation of the jail complex on at least four occasions.
With an estimated construction time of 40 months, the replacement jail complex, which is being funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the federal government’s reconstruction and assistance package for the region, is scheduled for completion in 2014. Construction documents are currently in final code review.
“When we came on board, basically, it was a case of, ‘Here’s where we’re going with this,’ so we came on and really started putting pencil to paper, looking at size, cost and scheduling, and how to drive the project forward — that’s really what we do,” says Adam Henger, vice president for federal programs at L.R. Kimball. Based in Ebensburg, Pa., Kimball is providing architectural design and engineering services on the design-build project.
“There are a lot of geotechnical issues associated with the elevated structure, but we’re hoping to have the construction documents ready by the fall so that we can commence work as soon as possible,” Henger says.
Having no option but to house inmates with neighboring jurisdictions, Plaquemines Parish Sheriff I.F. Hingle was eager to have a replacement jail up and running as soon as possible and project stakeholders agreed on a dual-track approach that called for the stopgap construction of a temporary facility while a permanent facility was under development.
However, the complexity of the funding application, review and approval process for federal funding hindered progress on the replacement jail project and created significant delays in moving forward with construction of the temporary facility — FEMA initially approved construction of both temporary and permanent facilities.
Kimball joined the project team in December 2007 and, working closely with parish, state and federal officials, used its project expertise in the corrections sector and experience with federal authorities to develop an alternative solution.
“In the early phases, we were trying to figure out the best approach to get the project framed up and moving forward through the various stages of FEMA funding,” Henger says. “Since then we’ve been working on the design and putting together all the pieces of information and documentation required for the revised project worksheet, which we hope will be the last iteration.”
Henger used his experience with federal programs to steer the project through the complicated funding application and approval process — although the federal government, through FEMA, is covering all the costs of the replacement jail project, the state has set up a fund to disperse the regional reconstruction funding.
“At the time, there were two facilities being looked at — the temporary and the permanent — and the key was to be able to define the dollar values that were there for funding and trying to figure out what the budget needed to be to complete the project,” Henger says.
The heavy volume of similar applications for FEMA funding from other local jurisdictions also impacted the pace of progress on the Plaquemines project and the sheriff’s office hired a local consulting ﬁrm to serve as program manager and navigate the FEMA funding process.
“I felt it was crucial not only to bring on board a local construction management ﬁrm that understood the challenges facing Plaquemines Parish, but also to include an architecture and engineering ﬁrm with extensive correctional facility experience as a central part of the team,” says Hingle.
Once the scheduling process and timeline for the temporary and permanent facilities became clear to the project team, a decision was made to abandon plans for the temporary facility and focus on the fast track delivery of a permanent jail that would meet the long-term needs of the parish and mitigate against future extreme weather events while reducing the total funds needed to complete the replacement project.
“After we started seeing the costs of what needed to happen to the project site and the construction on that site, there were elements that were not as practical as originally envisioned,” says David Rispoli, P.E., vice president architectural and engineering services and operations manager at Kimball. “In considering the practicality of building a temporary facility using permanent construction methods, logic prevailed.”
Rewriting the project worksheet for the expedited construction of a permanent facility, Kimball’s design team gained approval from FEMA to build one facility instead of two buildings on a sequenced delivery timeline.
“We ended up with a plan that saved us money and time while helping ensure we could avoid or minimize future weather-related damage,” Hingle says.
Throughout the stringent applications and approval process, the project team had to ensure the proper justifications were in place for the additional costs associated with the various technical design and weather mitigation and proofing measures that were incorporated into the new structure to comply with current building codes and life safety requirements.
“FEMA has a very structured process in terms what’s required to get the contract in place relative to reimbursement and just making sure the funding and justification and paperwork were in place, means there’s more that had to be done than had the county gone out and gotten their own bond money,” Henger says
The original plan called for the permanent and temporary facilities to be built at the same time with the sheriff’s office moving into the temporary facility first then into the completed permanent jail 18 months later.
“We had talked about a 450-bed temporary facility, but when we got confirmation on the elevation it created another problem in that the temporary facility would been completed not much more than 18 months before a permanent facility could’ve been completed,” Smith says.
“To spend in the neighborhood of $41 million on a temporary facility that had only 450 beds and then turn around build a permanent [facility] just didn’t make any sense,” Smith says. “The Sheriff didn’t feel that was the right way to go because we’re talking about public money here and we don’t want to waste any.”
The revised project plans specified construction of the permanent structure on a raised platform above the ﬂood plain to mitigate against future flooding events. Design and construction strategies, such as windowed exterior-wall and windowless interior jail cells would provide daylighting while minimizing the overall footprint of the building and maximizing usage of the available square footage.
“The facility has changed dramatically from what we had before,” Smith says. “Anytime you elevate a facility like this we’re going to have to change everything from lamps to day yards.
“The previous facility was considerably smaller, naturally, given the codes and standards they had back then compared to now, and the elevation has driven it into a different design. But hopefully we can get this thing out to bid before the end of the year and start construction.”
The nearly 900 beds will be divided among 16 male housing units and three female housing units. Housing units incorporate a mezzanine level and feature indoor/outdoor recreation areas.
Administrative offices, kitchen and laundry facilities, and various inmate support services, including medical, programming and educational space, are located in the center of the facility.
The facility will also include remote visitation areas and as with the previous facility, the new jail will also feature a large gymnasium.
“This project had a high degree of difficulty, primarily because of the thoroughness of the process and the design solution was a challenge, with the elements, the environment and the elevated conditions,” Rispoli says.
While the existing facility consisted of multiple buildings spread out across the site in a campus configuration, the design team compressed all the jail components into one building envelope for the replacement facility, which created a number of challenges, most notably in terms of minimizing circulation and inmate movement.
“A lot of the discussions with FEMA concentrated on how they understood the campus approach being consolidated into a single building,” Rispoli says. Rispoli has been with Kimball for more than 18 years and served as project manager on the Plaquemines Parish project.
“We spent significant time justifying the elevated facility with FEMA because it created a number of challenges and security issues associated with an elevated correctional facility that we needed to deal with: Perimeter fencing, vertical circulation issues with inmate control and the site itself,” Rispoli says.
Driven by the imperative to minimize the square footage of the facility, the design team integrated windows into the cells located around the outer perimeter of the building for direct daylighting.
Dayrooms will feature significant glazing elements integrated into the outer wall.
However, cells located on the inner side are windowless with indirect daylight supplied via the indoor/outdoor recreation areas.
“It was more about educating them about what the facility needed to be, because we’re in a 150-mph wind zone and that creates a challenge for any building, permanent or temporary,” Rispoli says.
In designing the replacement facility, the project team specified precast concrete construction for the majority of the elevated platform and the building envelope. Visitors will enter the facility’s public area, located on the elevated platform, through a bank of elevators located at ground level.
Vehicle access ramps, incorporated for inmate transport and service deliveries, feature a basic bridge-type construction, which transitions to double-T construction for the areas of the platform that will support the building.
“Anything that was on the roof [of the previous facility] that wasn’t anchored correctly came off during the hurricane and a lot of the openings in the roof were breached and created uplift issues, so [with the new facility] we tried to keep the majority of the equipment off the roof,” Rispoli says. In addition, the design team elevated building systems and other infrastructure, such as water storage tanks, emergency generators, electric transformers, 19 feet above the flood plain.
Prior to Katrina, Plaquemines jail complex had a natural gas service. However, the utility company intimated it did not intend to replace the lines and restoration of the gas service to the facility site was not deemed a reimbursable expense by FEMA.
Contemplating a facility powered entirely by electricity, the project team introduced plans for a geothermal ground-source heat pump system to alleviate some of the energy demand. The renewable system consists of 200 wells drilled to a depth of 300 feet.
The facility will also incorporate heat recovery equipment to recycle heat from laundry and kitchen areas to further reduce energy consumption.
“Although it is not a LEED project, we have taken a sustainable design approach on the project and based on the reality of the project site, we’ve tried to take advantage of any opportunities,” Rispoli says.
An architectural rendering of what will one day be the 205,000-square-foot Plaquemines Parish Detention Center in Belle Chasse, La. The original 871-bed facility was wiped out in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.