Over the past decade, three Chicago suburbs—Algonquin, Elmhurst, and Arlington Heights—consolidated their multiple-building, patched-together compounds into sleek, modern buildings that increase productivity.

Following the recommendations of architect Marc Rohde (www.legat.com), 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, and
  • Mimic the look of each suburb's other public buildings.

At one point, Algonquin, Ill., bought single-family homes for its public works director and staff to use as offices, and stored vehicles in an old pole barn. The village sold the property to build a facility (using construction-manager-at-risk) that centralizes operational employees around an enclosed garage, separating them from planners and engineers.

When designing a new building, advises public works director Bob Mitchard, "make sure the windows 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 also advises offering several design options. "We wanted to keep the price down, so we presented a very austere design," he says. "But the board said, 'No—we want a design that looks like our other major buildings,' and approved a more-expensive design."

Elmhurst's five-building public works department was nestled into 11 acres near a major thoroughfare. After setting up a tax-increment financing district, the city swapped the site with a local developer who built a shopping center there. The department's new building (design-bid-build) is 115,000 square feet, and the department has right of first refusal on three adjacent acres that it uses to store salt in the winter.

Director Mike Hughes pushed hard for a room that would segregate lubricants, oil, and other fluids from diagnostic equipment. "If you've ever had a drum of oil leak, you know how long it takes to clean up the mess," he says. He installed overhead hose reels and various lift sizes so technicians work comfortably. (Architect Rohde says garage ceilings should offer at least 22-foot clearance.)

Don't scrimp on a space needs analysis, either. "We tried doing it ourselves and finally gave up," Hughes says. "By the time the professionals got done with it, the facility was half the square footage and half the cost of what we'd come up with."

By the time Arlington Heights approved a new facility in 1994 (construction-manager-at-risk), homes and apartment buildings surrounded the compound, which had been there since 1955 and includes three water-storage tanks (Click here for picture). The department stayed put but ensured that—at 24 feet, 6 inches—the roof of the newly enclosed garage doesn't dominate the neighborhood.

And, because the department's SCADA system is at the site, bullet-resistant glass surrounds the water manager's office to protect the expensive equipment.

Session: "From Woe to Whoa! Seven facility improvements to enhance your value to the community"

Mon., Sept. 10, 2007, 3-3:50 p.m.

Marc Rohde, Director of Municipal Architecture
Legat Architects
Oak Brook, Ill.

Mike Hughes
Public Works Director
Elmhurst, Ill.

Robert Mitchard
Public Works Director
Algonquin, Ill.

Mike Reynolds
Maintenance Superintendent
Arlington Heights, Ill.