A Different Kind of Jail
By Lisa Kopochinski (07/12/2011)

TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. — Overcrowded conditions and the impossibility of updating the current jail has led to a new $10 million facility for the Alexander County, N.C. County Commissioners.

Construction began in April on the tight downtown site in Taylorsville, N.C., where the new Alexander County Law Enforcement and Detention Project will be a 164-bed facility with 128 maximum-security beds using double occupancy cells.

“The old existing jail [two miles away] is located in the bottom of the courthouse, which was constructed around 1970,” says Alexander County Manager Rick French. “It has 26 beds, is overcrowded and unsafe to jail staff. As well, no female inmates are housed in this facility. They are transported to the Caldwell County detention facility in Lenoir, N.C. some 30 miles away.”

The project will also include a magistrate’s courtroom and video-visitation area, and the new law enforcement center will house the sheriff’s office, training, patrol, evidence storage, DARE office and locker rooms. A vehicular sally port will be large enough to house four vehicles and a bus.

The architect on this project is Hemphill-Randel Associates of Raleigh, N.C. Lead architect Jack Hemphill says the design is the result of a request from county commissioners to create a jail where guards can watch inmates 100 percent of the time, including both day time and lock down time in the cells.

“The solution is a design that is in contrast with most conventional jails being built in the United States today,” Hemphill says.

Organized around a central spine, the main inmate corridor will run the length of the jail. All the day rooms will be entered through sally ports directly off this central corridor and cells will be separated from the day rooms by a continuous bar front on both the main and mezzanine level. The main control room will run the entire length of the building above the central corridor. 

“The guards can observe—through secure windows along each side of the long main control room—every part of every day room and into each cell on both levels, without ever leaving the control room,” explains Hemphill.

The day rooms will be equipped with skylights, tables, toilets, showers, video-visitation consoles, skylights, and extra exercise space so inmates never have to leave this area, except for court appearances, medical or attorney visits.  

“This keeps the traffic of inmates moving through the jail to a minimum, makes it easier to manage them, and makes the jail more secure,” says Hemphill.

Central control on the mezzanine level allows full observation of all four male day rooms. The control room for the female dormitory and booking area is also located on the mezzanine so that female officers can monitor both male and female areas during lockdown hours, thus allowing for maximum use of the detention staff. The project has been master planned to double its main detention areas so that phase two could expand to 338 beds without interfering with the ongoing operations of the jail.

Segregated Traffic

From a design standpoint, the site has been organized to segregate traffic into specific types. The general public will be directed to a main public entrance where their needs can be addressed in a lobby area and, if necessary, escorted to interrogation, the sheriff’s office, training or other areas. Inmate visitors, or those to see the magistrate, will be diverted to a separate public entrance, and all official or emergency vehicle traffic will go to the vehicular sally port so occupants will remain in a secure environment and out of sight. Additionally, a separate drive has been created for the future kitchen.

The largest challenge, French says, will not only be to relocate the staff of the sheriff’s department and inmates to the new enforcement and detention center in 18 months, but to renovate the existing courthouse.

“Before this renovation can commence, all courthouse staff, which includes the Clerk of Court, magistrate office and 911, will have to be relocated in another facility. Superior and District Court may have to be rescheduled or held in a temporary facility, and relocating 911 will be complex and difficult for operations.”

General contractor Bordeaux Construction of Durham, N.C. was just recently selected for the project after submitting a bid for approximately $8.9 million.

The completion date of the jail and law enforcement center is estimated to be mid July 2012. Inmates will then be moved from the old jail in the courthouse to the new buildings. At that point, the renovation of the old courthouse can begin, which is slated to take approximately six months.

Major architectural highlights of the project include the fact that there is little actual visibility into the building from the outside.

“The jail is windowless and all inmate activity will be contained within the jail building, so that at no time will there ever be an opportunity for an inmate to be seen or come into contact with anyone outside of the facility,” stresses Hemphill.

Sustainable and Economical

The main elements in the project’s economical design includes an efficient floor plan that keeps the overall square feet per inmate to a minimum; the simplicity of the structural systems; and the use of building materials that takes advantage of local suppliers and local labor.

“Seventy-five percent of the products and materials specified are obtained from North Carolina, thereby saving energy in fuel consumption,” says Hemphill.

Construction will consist of load-bearing masonry walls and hollowcore precast concrete roof structures. Masonry manufacturers are required to use recycled contents such as fly ash, slag and crushed masonry. Cells will be constructed with reinforced concrete block, and exterior walls will be 15 inches thick, all of which helps to reduce heat loss and moisture gain.

The roof will be made of hurricane proof unballasted white TPO roofing material that is designed to reflect heat away from the building, therefore reducing the heating load in summer.

Other sustainable features include skylights in the day rooms and dorm rooms to let in natural light and thereby reduce the demand for artificial light during daylight hours. This allows the jail to have its windowless exterior. All cells containing internal windows look into the day rooms, also reducing heat loss and fuel consumption.

Energy efficient fluorescent fixtures will be used and electrical power transformers must be energy-efficient transformers. The mechanical system will also maximize efficiency by providing individual package units at each dayroom cluster. 

“And, in lieu of providing lay-in type ceilings in the day rooms for noise control, we will provide sustainable Tectum acoustical panels around the top portions of the walls surrounding the day rooms,” adds Hemphill. “Tectum panels are made from excelsior that comes only from companies that are part of the sustainable forestry industries program. The source of magnesium oxide used in the binder of Tectum panels is from seawater and the silicate is sand, thereby using all natural products.”

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