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Algonquin's $7 million public works building centralizes operational employees around an enclosed garage, where their equipment is located. Because planners and engineers don't use the equipment, their offices are farther away from the garage (far left). Source: Legat Architects. Enlarge image.

It'd be easier to lure talent if communities devoted as much attention to the look of public works facilities as they do to city halls, libraries, police stations, and fire houses.

Fortunately, though, some elected officials understand that. Over the past decade, three Chicago suburbs—Algonquin, Elmhurst, and Arlington Heights—consolidated their patched-together, multiple-building public works compounds into sleek, modern buildings that increase productivity.

Following the recommendations of architect Marc Rohde of Legat Architects in Oak Brook, Ill., the new facilities:

  • Enclose all vehicles and maintenance operations
  • Group employees and divisions that share equipment and work
  • Provide clearly defined visitor entries
  • Protect equipment and employees from security threats
  • Mimic the look of each community's other public buildings.
Protecting Your Investment

Vehicles represent a large percentage of the public's investment in infrastructure, but these three cities—like many nationwide—didn't have covered space to shield them from bad weather and vandals. Thus, enclosing vehicles and creating a modern service garage was a top priority.

Elmhurst public works director Mike Hughes pushed hard for a room to store expensive diagnostic equipment away from lubricants and oil. “If you've ever had an oil drum leak, you know how long it takes to clean up the mess,” he says.

In addition to a computer room, the new, 115,000-square-foot garage features overhead hose reels; variously sized lifts so technicians can work comfortably on the city's 400 police cars, fire trucks, and construction equipment; and two automatic exhaust-removal systems. One vents tailpipe emissions from idling vehicles, and the other comprising overhead fans and louvered vents that lifts air from the vehicle storage area.

By the time Arlington Heights approved a new facility in 1994, newer homes and apartment buildings surrounded the 39-year-old public works compound, which includes three water-storage tanks. The department stayed put, but ensured that—at 24 feet, 6 inches—the roof of the newly enclosed garage doesn't dominate the neighborhood. To further minimize its visual impact, the garage is surrounded by lower buildings.

Administration buildings also should include at least one multipurpose room that can be used for public meetings or emergencies.

In Arlington Heights' case it's the lunchroom, which doubles as a training room and also housed firefighters for about two months while their new facility was being built. The building's basement doubles as a workout room, which about one-quarter of employees use regularly.