Designing public-safety facilities for security, readiness, and community engagement
Cindy McCleary, Public & Institutional market sector leader, shares tips for creating a shared city hall, fire, and police station that improves operations, readiness, and community engagement.
Excerpted from Public Management magazine:
How Not to Fall Down the Stairs
When the city of Forest Lake, Minnesota (population 19,000), started to plan the replacement of its aging police headquarters in 2005, it was so outdated that the daily act of booking a suspect put an officer’s life at risk. Between the too-small sally port or entryway and the tight booking room, an arresting officer would guide the handcuffed suspect up a narrow flight of stairs, just hoping the suspect wouldn’t trip or try anything.
“I’ve fallen down those stairs several times,” Forest Lake Police Chief Rick Peterson said. “I’ve had a few arrestees who decided they wanted to fight, and think, ‘What a great opportunity to take an officer down with me.’”
He’d keep his gun out of reach by sending the suspect up first, “But no matter what kind of escort, there was just no safe way to do it,” Peterson said. “You were always on guard, extremely diligent in watching the individual to make sure he or she didn’t lean into you. It was easy for them to launch you backwards.”
As an architect, I see this type of situation often, where local government workers make do with facilities that haven’t been designed to meet their needs or put up with facilities that pose significant impacts and risks to their operations.
Those days are over for Forest Lake. Its new City Center—a joint city hall, police, and fire headquarters—opened in December 2014 and replaces separate facilities built and renovated multiple times during the last 60-plus years. City Center was designed in close collaboration with city staff and political representatives, using an integrated-design process.
Integrated design may sound like a fancy buzzword, but it describes an important approach to the development of a building. With this approach, the architecture and engineering team integrates the owner, user, and public into the design process from the beginning. Enlisting their input early and consistently helps to produce an integrated-system solution that optimizes function, security, space, and building performance.
In other words, its design asks the architect to think like a cop, firefighter, administrator, resident, and taxpayer to understand their individual challenges and the costs and risks of their business, and then to create solutions that fit together like a puzzle.
Forest Lake City Center offers a number of great examples, ranging from how to maximize initial and operational costs in a new project to granular issues like how to provide the safest, most efficient environment for emergency services staff, city staff, and visitors.