Government Facility Case Study: All In One

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the February 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

government facility new construction security environmentPlanning a new facility often becomes a necessity when an organization is saddled with an existing building no longer equipped to serve its occupants. In this scenario, renovation can be an option, but evaluating costs and other factors may eventually result in the decision to close the existing facility and build a replacement.

This was the decision Blue Earth County, MN officials arrived at in 2004 after several years of evaluating the pros and cons of improving its existing jail or constructing a new one. In 1995, an annual inspection by the state’s Department of Corrections had reported the jail was “drastically lacking in space for all auxiliary functions,” and in 2001, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) recommended a Justice Planning Committee convene to determine what should be done to address the inadequacies.

Blue Earth County Justice Center facility management constructionLocated in downtown Mankato, MN, the jail (which shared a building with the city’s police department) could house up to 70 inmates, but the need to accommodate more had developed since it was built in 1972. After several evaluations, the Justice Center Committee (comprised of a variety of stakeholders including citizens and county criminal justice personnel) recommended constructing a new jail as part of a building program that would also incorporate county courtrooms, the Probation department, the County Attorney, and Sheriff’s Office into one streamlined facility.

The Committee’s plan consolidated four buildings into one 172,000 square foot facility. Initial planning looked at building the new Justice Center onto the county’s existing courthouse in downtown Mankato, but ultimately, in 2006, the County Board decided to purchase a 40 acre site on the east edge of the city. (The historic courthouse, a 120 year old landmark, now houses several county departments, as well as the Board of Commissioners. The Mankato Police Department continues operations in the building it shared with the previous jail.)

Tim Edwards, director of physical plant for all Blue Earth County facilities, was involved in the project from the start, and explains, “Multiple siting options were considered, including the historic courthouse, the law enforcement center, or a completely new site. Ultimately, the current site was selected to allow adequate space for future expansion, increased response times for law enforcement, and to suit our plans for a facility with geothermal wells on the property.”

A Chat With Tim Edwards, Physical Plant Director, Blue Earth County, MN

government facility new construction security environment

How long have you worked for Blue Earth County, and how long have you been in the facility management profession? I have been with Blue Earth County since 1991, working in the physical plant department. I have worked in some aspect of facilities management for the past 28 years.

What are your current responsibilities? In my position, I supervise and manage [the county’s] facility staff. I develop and implement long-term preparation for County buildings, which involves property management and construction management. For property management, I manage and monitor County owned properties, including rental and tax delinquent property, our radio tower site, and others. With construction management, I meet with architects and engineers and plan and draft plans for remodels or additions to our facilities. I also administer the card key access system and key control for County facilities, coordinate our Health and Safety committee, and monitor and coordinate mail services using public or private services to get the best pricing on outgoing mail.

What are some of the changes you’ve seen in facility management during your tenure in the profession? Have these made your job more challenging? Easier? I would have to say the changes that have come with controlling HVAC systems through building automation systems have made things easier. Previously, you would need to go from one side of the building to another to verify the equipment was running. Now, it is as easy as looking it up on the computer to verify equipment is running.

The goals of the construction project, which began in May 2007 and completed in May 2009, were a secure, compliant county jail, increased operational efficiencies, and reduced environmental impact, with LEED certification as a target.

Stepping Up Security

In designing the Blue Earth County Justice Center, the team focused on security. Drawing on reports from several correctional facility experts, including a pre-architectural program developed by a jail facility firm, state of the art technologies were incorporated to enhance security and functionality. High-tech surveillance (there are 116 cameras at the site) and separation of inmates from each other (and the public) were two areas of importance.

The jail contains five “pods,” with a total of 150 beds. Previously, inmates were all housed together, regardless of the severity of their crimes, and the pod layout in the new facility enables correctional officers to separate offenders by the level of their offenses.

Minimizing inmates’ interactions with the public was another prime focus when planning the Justice Center, and this was achieved in a few ways. Previously, inmates would be transported in vehicles from the jail to the courthouse, and upon arrival, they would walk through public hallways to and from courtrooms. This interaction with the public posed security risks that the county had seen in the form of several escapes. Contraband had also been smuggled while inmates used the public restrooms.

The new facility eliminates those issues. Inmates no longer are transported from one facility to another, since the jail is located in the same building as the courtrooms, and elevators dedicated to inmate transport ensure they do not travel through public hallways.

Commenting on these security improvements, Edwards says, “A big impact has been seen at the new facility with the secure jail elevators. These are used to transfer inmates from the jail facility to the courtrooms; they travel from the jail up to secure holding cells located in between two courtrooms. The bailiff then brings them into the courtroom without ever interacting with the public or the victims.”

Another security addition included placing lockers outside each courtroom. Those who enter must store their purses and other bags there, since these items are not permitted inside the courts.Blue Earth County Justice Center facility management construction

Increased Workplace Efficiency

Bringing multiple operations (jail, courtrooms, Probation, County Attorney, and Sheriff’s Office) under one roof required cooperation and planning that was at times challenging. But it also resulted in scenarios that now save both time and money for employees and citizens. Correctional Transport officers no longer need to drive inmates to and from the courthouse, and attorneys also benefit because their offices are now in the same building as the courtrooms. Working in close proximity, often just down the hallway from one another, has improved communication in all departments.

Behind the scenes, operational efficiencies included the installation of a 2000 kilowatt emergency standby power system capable of supporting the entire facility in case of an outage. In addition to the safety factor, this backup power strategy also enables the county to save money on energy costs by participating in a load shedding program with its utility.

Explains Edwards, “We receive a reduced rate on our bill from our electric supplier, Xcel Energy, for being in the load shedding program. Under this program, if there are any issues, Xcel can call us to transfer power to our generator. And we included a transfer switch, so you don’t notice a glitch in the power when transferring over to the generator.”

Sustainable Operations

In 2004, when planning for the new Blue Earth County Justice Center began to take shape, officials decided to pursue LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Aiming for LEED from the start of the project went a long way toward the facility earning its LEED for New Construction (NC) 2.2 Silver certification recently.

Blue Earth County Justice Center LEED constructionOne energy strategy was a geothermal system for heating and cooling, which eliminated the need for air conditioners and boilers. The system runs on electricity (most generated from fossil fuels), but the county states the facility operates between 25% to 31.5% more efficiently than if it were built to industry standards.

From his perspective, Edwards and his team have not found the geothermal system too much of a challenge, commenting, “We received some training on the equipment from the contractor, and there was some staff knowledge as well. There are no special procedures needed—just regular preventive maintenance.”

Operating the building as intended by its green design strategies is a focus of Edwards’ team, and as part of that he says, “We track all gas and electric consumption associated with this building; we track all of our buildings using a benchmarking program to verify they are running as efficiently as possible. We do not currently track water usage but have been looking into possibly adding this into our tracking system.”

Bringing together multiple county functions under one roof successfully required compromise and planning early on. But the project team took the opportunity to implement design and operational improvements that are benefitting employees and the public at large throughout Blue Earth County.

This article was based on project literature and an interview with Edwards.

Project Information:

Name Of Facility: Blue Earth County Justice Center. Type of Project: New Construction. Function of Facility: Government. Location: Mankato, MN. Construction Timetable: May 2007 to May 2009. Square Footage: 172,000. Budget: $42.9 million (includes cost of the building and equipment, furniture, etc.). Funds saved over the past decade paid for approximately 60% of the cost. Cost Per Square Foot: Varied due to costs associated with office space, courtrooms, and jail space. Facility Owner: Blue Earth County, MN. In-House Facility Manager: Tim Edwards, physical plant director. Architect/Structural Engineer/Interior Designer/Lighting Designer: Paulsen Architects. General Contractor/Construction Manager: Construction Analysis and Management, Inc. Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: Engineering Design Initiative. Civil Engineer: Bolton And Menk, Inc. Landscape Architect: Damon Farber Associates. Other Consultants: EcoDEEP (LEED architect); Erickson Ellison & Associates (electronic security); Liebert & Associates (jail facility expert).

Product Information:

Furnishings: Staples (various chairs, tables, other); Existing (for many departmental furnishings). Flooring: Daltile (tile); Tarkett; Terrazzo & Marble Supply Co.; Wilsonart (access flooring). Carpet: Shaw Contract Group. Ceilings: Armstrong (metal wood look); Chicago (ACT). Paint: Sherwin-Williams. Acoustic Wall Panels: Novawall (fabric Arc-Com). Movable Walls: Staples. Office Equipment: Many items moved from previous facility. Building Management System: Andover Controls. Security System: Accurate Controls. Fire System: SimplexGrinnell. Lighting: Lithonia. Lighting Controls: Synergy. HVAC Equipment: Innovent (energy recovery units); Florida Heat Pump (heat pumps). Emergency Standby Power System: MTU Onsite Energy. IT Infrastructure: Systemax. Roofing: Carlisle SynTec. Exit Signs: Lithonia. Windows/Curtainwalls/Skylights: Kalwall; Tubelite. Elevators: Minnesota Elevator.