By Jim Schneider
WHAT: Lancaster Public Safety Building
OWNER: City of Lancaster, Texas
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Phillips/May Corp., Dallas
DESIGN: Perkins + Will (Dallas and L.A. offices)
DEALER/INSTALLER: National Panel Systems Inc., Wexford, Pa.
COST: $11 million
FUNDING: City bonds
COMPLETED: Summer 2009
THE DALLAS METROPLEX is one of the nation's fastest growing population centers; and as the city grows, so too do the surrounding towns and communities. The suburb of Lancaster, for one, has more than tripled in population since 1970 to an 36,600 residents this year.
That growth increased the need for infrastructure, services, and accommodations such as a new headquarters for public safety employees. The police and fire stations, police and fire administrative headquarters, an emergency operations center, and 911 call center were housed in an old, problematic building. But while the need for a new facility was obvious, the form it would take was not.
Though one of the first communities in Dallas County to incorporate, until fairly recently Lancaster was a sleepy little town in the country. “But in the past 10 or 20 years, Dallas has grown right up to it,” says Kent Pontious, AIA, associate with the Dallas office of Perkins + Will and project manager o on the Lancaster Public Safety Building.
“The city is in transition, moving from a fairly conservative, older population to a much more dynamic, younger population. That movement filters into the political system and the people involved in this project,” explains Nick Seierup, FAIA, design director of the Los Angeles office of Perkins + Will. “They embraced a fresh new look to a building that would be representing their city.”
“Because this is one of the first city-owned facilities people see as they enter the city along the main thoroughfare from the north, our council wanted the building to have a ‘wow' factor,” explains Assistant City Manager Opal Mauldin Robertson. “This was our opportunity to transition to the new.”
City officials had no preconceived concept, so the design team had the opportunity to set the tone.
“Given that the building is the home of the police and fire departments, there needed to be a level of security,” says Seierup. “There needed to be a clearly defined public side and a clearly defined secure side. So we relocated the site and went through a series of exercises exploring different ways to house both the fire department and the police department so each would have its own identity, but can develop synergies by being in contact with each other.”
In working out ways to accomplish this goal, the design began to take a distinctive shape. The police department resides in one leg, the fire department in the other, and the joint between them houses the administrative and shared spaces. From this basic shape, the notion of a flying roof that covers the joint and projects out toward the highway started to develop.
“Several kinds of metal are used on the building, and the block work was intended to hearken to some of the other structures, such as the library and community center, which are nearby and use similarly colored blocks,” Seierup continues. “The metal elements were used to separate the new structure and let the building stand out with its own identity. The flat metal defines the entry to the building and symbolically joins the police and fire departments. And the corrugated metal is used to set off certain parts of the building from the block work that is connected back to the other buildings.”
“The one challenge was that the cantilevered section is metal clad and projects more than 40 feet,” Pontious says. “There was going to be some deflection and vibration occurring. We used a dry-joinery panel system, which is basically an aluminum composite panel without the silicon joints, because that would accommodate the deflection more.”
“It is a very unique design with unique features,” says Charlie Goulding, president of Wexford, Pa.-based National Panel Systems Inc. “Many elements, including the flying beam that extends out, are very conducive to metal. Metal allowed the architects to have more freedom than other materials.”
The city also found the material to be suitable in terms of long service life and low maintenance, adds Mauldin Robertson.
The cantilever provides the most visually notable feature of the building. Making it look good, as well as function practically, took plenty of planning and effort on the part of the design and construction team.
“The structural engineer had to think outside the box and chose to use a post-tensioned, castellated beam, which is basically two W-shape beams connected by steel plates, top and bottom,” Pontious says. The post-tensioned tendons then were run through the ends to help with deflection. The whole assembly was erected in place on temporary shoring while all connections and welding were done. Then, when the shoring was removed and the cantilever deflected slightly, the contractor used the post-tensioning cables to bring it back level.
The main cantilever is supported by another cantilever that extends to form the area where the police and fire chiefs' offices are. The overall length of that main member is approximately 110 feet.
In any location, this feature would catch the eye. But there's a deeper meaning to this particular design element: Texas has a rich legacy of what's become known as the Texas front porch.
“This all-encompassing, projecting element under which one can sit provides some sense of enclosure and protection, but allows you to engage with life outside the building,” Seierup says. “In an abstract way, it unifies the police and fire departments while serving as a forward-looking manifestation of that traditional Texas front porch.”
On a project intended to be visually arresting, everything had to fit together perfectly. Integrating metal with other material at soffits, above and below windows, and wide beam fascias requires expertise. “Things being out of line or not matching up would not stand on this project,” says Goulding.
As well as being pleasing to the eye, the building is designed to be pleasing to the environment. Although the city opted not to pursue LEED certification, due to financial constraints, the facility was designed with many of those principles in mind.
“The building was sited at the optimum solar angle to make extensive use of natural light ,” Pontious explains. “Glazing allows light to come deep into the building. We used a white cool roof; and many of the materials themselves, including the metal, contain extensive recycled content. We used low-flow fixtures for water savings and specified low-VOC materials.”
The combination of an eco-friendly interior and a visually striking exterior is a hit.
“The community loves it, which was gratifying, considering the mix between the young and the more conservative crowds,” Pontious says. “Everyone bought into the design—especially the cantilever. Lancaster is very proud of it.”
—Schneider is editor of METALMAG, a sister publication of PUBLIC WORKS.
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