Aging Justice Facilities: Is Renovation a Viable Option?
The jail and prison construction program that began in the 1980s resulted in hundreds of new justice facilities across the country. Now, as those facilities are approaching 30+ years of age, communities and state agencies are faced with decisions regarding renovation, replacement or expansion of these facilities so they can continue to carry out their mission into the future.
Once the client has determined that the current facility is no longer adequately serving the mission for which it was constructed, the most critical task is to assess what to do. Each facility has its own unique circumstances that need to be taken in to consideration. When considering renovation, three key elements will help determine the best solution:
It is essential to complete a thorough assessment and analysis of the project from a fiscal, operational and design perspective to determine the feasibility of a renovation. Typically, jails are very rigid structures with fixed walls, doors and systems, making these facilities difficult to renovate and/or reconfigure. Often, the complexity of the reconfiguration required from a structural and functional perspective can deem a renovation fiscally and practically prohibitive. Failure to complete a thorough reconfiguration assessment may result in a 30-year-old operational design with nothing more than a new coat of paint and new plumbing fixtures. The ability to meet modern building codes is another parameter to assess. Thirty years ago, accessibility, smoke management and correctional standards were significantly different from today’s standards.
Is the jail currently in the most appropriate and economically sound location? Originally, many jails were built to connect physically to the courthouse to provide ease of transport, but with growth in the use of video for arraignment and court appearances, a physical connection may no longer be a necessity. From a development perspective, it may also be important to consider whether an alternative use of the property could provide higher value. If the current facility is in a prime downtown location, it may be more economically appropriate to move elsewhere and provide the site for commercial development.
While undertaking the analysis, it is also a good time to perform a needs forecast looking at growth patterns in the community to determine if the number of beds is on the rise, declining, or remaining stagnant. This may provide insight into the feasibility of a renovation project. A renovation or replacement project provides the opportunity to right-size a facility for its next period of service.
Due to unique circumstances, a renovation can sometimes be the only choice. That is the case for Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas which required a complete renovation of the 12-story North Tower. In this case, abandoning the North Tower was not a viable option, as it contains functions such as booking and food service shared with a connected South Tower. This resulted in a complete 4-year renovation of the entire building, including replacement of all the mechanical, electrical and security infrastructure.
Determining the best use and approach to renovating an aging justice facility requires consideration of all three of these elements to respect both the cost and the safety of the community while providing much needed modern updates.