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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, May 2011
WEB Exclusive story

Run to Daylight

The Southeast’s first sustainable county detention center comes to Douglasville.

Is it a new corporate campus? No, it’s the new county jail coming to Douglasville, Ga., just west of Atlanta. HOK’s design for the county, which is seeking the first LEED certification for a county corrections facility in the Southeast, is anticipated to save the county $260,000 a year in energy costs.
Images courtesy of HOK


s a jail with no fence sustainable? It certainly aims to be in downtown Douglasville, Ga., just west of Atlanta along the I-20 corridor.

That's where construction continues on the Southeast's first county detention center that's anticipated to achieve LEED certification. Designed by HOK, the Douglas County Adult Detention and Law Enforcement Center broke ground last October and began major construction earlier this spring on a 36-acre (15-hectare) site that used to be home to a trailer park. The 500,000-sq.-ft. (46,450-sq.-m.) facility will accommodate up to 1,500 beds. HOK predicts the sustainable design will save the county $260,000 per year in energy costs.

According to HOK, safety and sustainability can be complementary, and a creative design can help eliminate the stigma normally associated with correctional facilities. For example, by designing maximum-security measures within the structure, HOK is delivering a detention facility with no fences surrounding it, in a structure that blends into the county's master plan for "governmental center cityscape."

Asked if inmates will be going outside at all, a spokesperson for HOK says, "All of the security perimeters will be within the building. The inmates will not be allowed outside. There will be a fully-secured recreation yard inside the building. There will, however, be trustees who will be allowed outside to do work on the roads and within the community."

Successful (site) rehabilitation is another way to score points with the U.S. Green Building Council: "Instead of targeting more expensive undeveloped land away from the city, the county saved money developing a site in the city limits, providing easier accessibility to visitors, employees and the justice community," says HOK.

In addition, designers also introduced generous portions of daylight through a glass wall dominating the large dayroom. "By orienting the building on the East/West axis, light is 'borrowed' to the cell through glazing in the dayrooms and outdoor recreation yards," explains HOK. "The majority of the windows are on the north and south facades with additional awnings for shade on the south facing windows."

The building was also built with a utility chase, a four-foot air space behind the cells, which controls air flow and increases insulation to the cells.

The Campus Approach

Interviewed by email, HOK Vice President and Justice Designer Gary Retel says the 25-office HOK Justice Group has designed over 100,000 beds and nearly 40 million sq. ft. (3.7 million sq. m.) of detention facility projects in the last 30 years, including the first LEED-Gold certified justice facility — the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Facility in California.

Retel says HOK has contracted directly with the county for the project, and worked closely with the county sheriff's department on the design. Asked about extra costs brought on by the sustainability goal, he says, "Total project cost is approximately $101 million. Total LEED cost is less than $250,000, half of which is administration/USGBC fees. It was the intent of the designers to reduce building load. The code compliant design exceeds ASHRAE minimum by close to 18 percent, resulting in over $200,000 in annual energy cost savings to the county."

To critics who might question daylighting and other features for the incarcerated, especially in terms of the extra up-front investment typically required for such features, Retel says the construction cost is a small part of the total building life cycle cost.

"The largest expense to the county is the staff required to operate the facility," he explains. "The second largest expense is the utilities required to support the facility. It is important to create a healthy and safe environment in which staff can conduct their business. Natural daylight is a key ingredient. Electricity used for lighting typically is the largest utility cost in detention centers. Whenever we can introduce natural daylight to improve staff environment and reduce the power demand to save money for taxpayers year after year, we have a winning proposition."

Sustainability has worked its way into the operations of other detention facilities around the nation. In Allegheny County, Pa., recycling and other programs implemented over the past couple of years were projected to save the county $175,000 a year. Butner Federal Prison, just outside Durham, N.C., is famous not only for becoming the country's first LEED-certified prison, but for being the facility where financial outlaw Bernie Madoff is serving out his sentence. In the state of Washington, the green commitment goes beyond facilities, extending to green job training for inmates. And there is research indicating a positive correlation between environmental sustainability and prisoner rehabilitation.

Douglas County has won its share of projects in the past few years, including a US$90-million, 350-employee distribution center from Colgate-Palmolive, a $57-million, 141-job manufacturing plant from Medline Industries and an $8-million, 125-job distribution center from Tyco Safety Products.

Retel says the jail's immediate neighborhood is slated for more development as well.

"The site contains a new 911 facility and is master planned for up to 600,000 sq. ft. [55,740 sq. m.] of additional county offices along with associated parking," he says. "The facility is also within a half-mile radius of residential and business [development] that includes senior housing, daycare, state government offices, churches, restaurants and grocery stores.

"The county's decision to use this site with its close and safe connection to the community," he says, "is one of the key aspects of this project being considered for LEED certification."

The Site Selection Energy Report features exclusive and in-depth reporting and analysis on the most important energy projects and energy policy issues impacting the world of manufacturing and industrial real estate. Topics covered include oil and gas projects, investments into alternative energy installations and R&D, tax credits and financing, electric utility issues and much more.

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