“It’s traumatic to bring a jail of this size into a historic downtown area that is the heart of the community,” says James Kessler, director of justice programs at HOK and design principal on the new $50 million addition to Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center — a project that has taken nearly 20 years to come to fruition.
The 200-cell expansion of the municipal/county jail in Manassas, Va., 35 miles southwest of Washington, was first considered in the late 1980s after a federal judge capped the inmate population to relieve chronic overcrowding. The county-operated regional jail also serves the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, and towns of Occoquan and Quantico.
Wrangling, Reservations and Reality
Growing inmate populations and ageing facilities heightened the pressing need for more jail space in Prince William County, but progress was hamstrung for many years in a court-bound web of inter-jurisdictional wrangling.
Support for jurisdictional centralization and its operational and economic efficiencies singled out the Manassas justice complex as the most logical host for a new regional jail. Prince William County has an additional 75-bed space allocation at a separate regional jail established in conjunction with several other county and city jurisdictions.
“Perhaps the greatest challenges on this project were healing the rift between the county and city and reassuring the residents we’d be sensitive to their needs, giving them a visually appealing building that would benefit the community,” says County Architect, Lou Ann Dorrier, Prince William County project representative.
Residents expressed deep-seated concern that a big-box jail — large, modern, impersonal and harshly institutional — would overwhelm the downtown, its historic buildings and the very fabric of the community.
“Manassas is a city steeped in history,” Kessler says. “As an important railroad junction, it was the site of two major Civil War battles and the old downtown is a designated historic landmark.”
Instead of the soul destroying, jack-booted new neighbor imagined and feared by many in the community, the new facility is modern in function and operation, but equally responsive to the community’s civic needs and historic character.
|Windows throughout the facility provide natural light for staff and inmates.|
The 150,000-square-foot jail addition delivers an expanded justice complex with contiguous court, detention, administrative and support components to enhance operational efficiency, security, circulation and functionality.
A colonnade connects the new jail to the recently expanded L-shaped judicial center, which houses district, circuit, juvenile and domestic relations courts and the offices of the prosecutor, sheriff and clerk.
The magistrate’s offices, records department and inmate booking and processing, are co-located on the jail’s main level for operational functionality and safety. A newly constructed sally port provides a secure bridge connecting the jail addition to the previously stand-alone 175-bed main jail.
The booking area and information system allows municipal and county jurisdictions to pool critical information resources for the first time and coordinate and expand common operations through a shared IT framework in a centralized physical location. The facility also provides space for Immigrations and Custom Enforcement agents.
Inmate housing units are located on the first and second floors of the three-story facility, which can house almost 400 inmates. The mezzanine configuration of the upper stories yields two 50-cell pods per floor, with facility support services and a medical triage center are situated on the ground floor.
The facility’s podular design supports direct supervision, a significant innovation in inmate management for the county, compared to the linear housing unit design of the mail jail.
General population male inmates are housed in two of the four housing pods that can function as medium or maximum security. A third pod houses new inmates awaiting classification and the final pod houses only female inmates.
|Designers worked to hide security components in the public lobby.|
Housing units incorporate interior exercise yards and dayroom space, and multipurpose programming and interview rooms. Inmates also have access to exterior exercise yards situated on the lower floor.
Large windows in the mezzanine housing pods, dayrooms and indoor exercise yards deliver natural daylight in common areas where inmates spend extended periods of time.
The necessary orientation and proximity of the jail’s administrative component, which backs up against the court building, required the design team to integrated clearstory elements that provide natural lighting, instead of traditional windows.
The selective use of glass walls facilitates the diffusion of daylight from central common spaces throughout office interiors and further enhances the sense of openness and space.
Glazing is also strategically incorporated to deliver extensive natural daylighting into public spaces, and to enhance transparency and provide unobstructed views outside of the building.
Despite the presence metal detectors, X-ray scanners and other conventional security screening measures, the spacious, open design of the public lobby reinforces the non-institutional theme established through external architectural elements and open public entrance.
Old World Charm
The jail’s internal functionality and configuration, master planned in two mirror phases, resolves into a modestly layered rectangular footprint that that is understated in scale, elegant in aspect, and civic in stature.
|The jail uses a podular, direct supervision layout with central day room space.|
The building envelope is softened through with brickwork, earthy matte finishes and warm tones to present a public façade of civic importance informed by turn-of-the-century architecture consistent with the historic downtown.
From a distance, the intricate framing accents and brick patterning around each tandem of smaller windows in the double-stacked mezzanine cells fool the eye to render the appearance of a single window that expresses a more traditional two-story design.
The design team continued the brickwork accents into public spaces to extend the non-correctional orientation and create connectivity between interior and exterior spaces.
“What strikes me most about the facility are the proportions of the building, the beautiful, warm brickwork and the open, light-filled calm of the lobby,” Kessler says.
Wood Beyond the Trees
The design team’s greatest challenge was achieving the degree of historic sensitivity and civic presence required to locate the facility in the heart of a quiet community.
“The primary question was one of how to expand the existing court and detention facility and integrate the new elements in a way that balanced the civic space needs of the community and the safety, security and operational demands of the city and county,” Kessler says.
|The facility provides interior and exterior recreation areas.|
“The jail is a really dynamic building that will set the tone for the justice complex and our future development plan,” Dorrier says.
The project will create a tree-lined, grassy mall that extends for several blocks from the courthouse entrance to envelope and extol two of the city’s outstanding historic buildings — the old courthouse and nearby Bennett building.
The design team reoriented the public face of the justice complex by closing off one of the entry points, to the rear, to direct public access to the front of the courthouse overlooking the future mall.
The redevelopment plan requires the leveling of several nondescript 1940s-era government and rundown public office buildings and the removal of an expanse of parking lots occupying a linear tract of land that stretches out in front of the new courthouse.
The site is master planned for the future development of public office and administrative buildings along the outer portions of the mall. The master plan also includes the addition of a second $80 million, 200-cell mirror facility.
A $10 million renovation of the main jail, scheduled for the end of January, will revamp housing in the linear-designed facility and replace some existing beds through a dormitory-style build out. The project will also upgrade mechanical, engineering and plumbing systems, integrate security systems into the new central control room and create a new medical unit with special-needs and isolation rooms.
After 20 years of wrangling, reservations and endless problem-solving, Dorrier is not alone in her excitement at seeing the first act of this Virginia jail saga reach its concrete and heralded conclusion.
“This is the largest project in the county’s history and after all the fits and starts, we couldn’t have asked for a better facility,” she says.
Facility Name: Prince William County - Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center
Security Systems: Trentech
Courtesy of Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum