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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.
Security-Conscious Design

More communities are encouraging residents to meet the employees who provide critical services, but—unlike other public buildings—most public works facilities weren't designed for public access. On the other hand, libraries and city halls don't often house water-treatment plants, a vast collection of vehicles, or store expensive material like pipes. Since Sept. 11, 2001, communities are much more sensitive to the need to protect infrastructure.

The trick is to design a facility that's welcoming but protects employees, equipment, and processes should someone attempt to sabotage operations.

Before moving into a new administration building four years ago, Algonquin public works director Bob Mitchard worked out of a single-family home, one of several the village bought as offices. Residents visiting the compound couldn't find the “front door.”

The new building, which overlooks the scenic Fox River, incorporates many of Rohde's solutions for integrating service with security: Fencing and gates surround the entire yard, the visitor's entry is away from parking so a staging area can be created during emergencies, and key cards are necessary to access certain areas.

What To Expect

Don't assume elected officials will scrimp on a new facility. And to ensure they don't, give them several design options.

“We wanted to keep the price down, so we presented a very austere design,” says Algonquin's Mitchard. “But the board said, ‘No – we want a design that looks like our other major buildings,' and approved a more expensive design.”

He also suggests making sure the windows can open. “Our city hall was redesigned four years ago with windows that don't open, and the people there are just miserable,” he says.

Don't scrimp on a space needs analysis, either. “We tried doing it ourselves and finally gave up,” says Elmhurst's Hughes. The final design was twice the square footage and cost than the department estimated. If the department had gone with its estimate, says Hughes, “we would've moved in and needed more room from day one.”

Elmhurst built its new facility using design-bid-build, but Rohde says more public agencies are using design-build. Algonquin and Arlington Heights used construction-manager-at-risk. Project time-lines were:

  • Space needs analysis: two to three months
  • Design: six to eight months
  • Bidding: one to two months
  • Construction: 18 months

The total approximate cost for each project was $180 to $190/square foot.