A well-designed yard enhances workflow, decreases response time during emergencies, increases the overall safety of everyone on or near the site, and will improve your department’s relationship with neighboring homes and businesses.

Although the particulars differ depending on each department’s unique operational needs, all yards have three basic elements: work zones, storage areas, and vehicle circulation. Their relationship to the main building, the rest of the site, surrounding property, and each other is critical. And efficient circulation to and from them should be your primary design concern.

Work zones: creating swing space

Work zones are areas of short-term operations that vary from day to day or season to season. The space in front of a salt/sand building, for example, must be clear of obstructions for quick and easy access during the winter but can be used during the summer.

Design such spaces to serve multiple purposes.

Areas that are accessed daily, such as fueling stations, typically don’t serve multiple purposes and have their own design criteria, depending on whether they’re for day-to-day or emergency operations. Department requirements will further dictate ideal adjacencies between site elements and inform potential locations. For example, if a fuel station serves all municipal vehicles, place pumps close to the entrance so fire and police vehicles can exit quickly.

Another way to maximize space is to treat a building’s exterior as an extension of the yard.

For example, placing a concrete apron equipped with air, electrical, and water connections outside maintenance bays creates space where employees can perform minor repairs and maintenance when weather permits. Similarly, running a 2-1/2-inch water pipe to the outside of a building creates a place where employees can pre-wash vehicles or refill street sweepers.

Tweaks like these greatly expand a yard’s operational capacity.

The five work zones

Fuel island: Ideally, plan for both daily and nighttime use. Because an overlit canopy can spill unwanted (and often harsh) light onto surrounding property, consider overplanting directly adjacent areas and/or screening the area with a combination of canopy trees, evergreens, low bushes, or fence. Detail canopies with extended fascias.

Neighborhood/public zone: Home and business owners may not want a public works yard abutting their property because they assume items will be haphazardly stacked, piled, and stored. Your task is to put your best foot forward. Consider the view into and noise radiating from work areas and plan accordingly. Whenever possible, improve the building’s look and contain work on-site.

Outside work zones: Consider deploying a courtyard concept in which the main building or other large element contains noise and restricts the public’s view. Budget for trees, bushes, and other plantings to screen certain areas and help clean the air around the zone.

Parking: Multiple parking areas to separate visitors from employees and employees from work areas are ideal.

Salt/sand building: Make sure dump trucks and snow plows can queue and unload without disrupting other site operations during a storm. Another option is to use a less intrusive audible alarm such as a non-tonal or broadband back-up alarm, instead of traditional pulsed tonal back-up beepers, on equipment.

Permanent versus temporary storage

Storage takes many forms: bins for stone, mulch, or soil mixes; covered areas devoted to sand and salt; racks or palletized storage for piping or manhole covers; gantries for hanging sander bodies.

Designate additional areas for temporary piles such as brush, pavement millings, soil, and snow. This is imperative. Make sure there’s enough space to control inventory while keeping items clear of snow.

Getting around

Whether vehicles are stored indoors, under cover to protect against the elements, or along a circulation path, make their movement the number-one priority as you plan pathways. The ideal pattern for vehicle and pedestrian circulation safely moves vehicles and people through the site while providing clear paths for movement, appropriate turning radii, material-delivery zones, unloading areas, and queuing areas.

Throughout the planning process, designers should observe your team’s daily work processes, convene sessions to get more detail about their routines, and present options for further modification.

During the design process, delineate buildings and storage areas using traffic cones and pavement paint and have users drive proposed traffic patterns to identify potential bottlenecks and other obstacles. Visit other public works yards to assess their strengths and weaknesses.

Consider how site elements relate to existing structures and other project-specific site concerns. Don’t forget about the location of generators and transformers, and address runoff control like constructed wetlands or bio-basins as early as possible in the process to minimize future stormwater regulatory issues.

Four circulation rules

Fuel island: Position to allow for quick and easy access by vehicles that fuel 24/7, as well as those that fuel just once a day, whether in the morning before exiting or upon entering the yard at the end of the workday.

Secure access: Gate off work areas so employees don’t have to worry about people, in cars or on foot, who aren’t trained to encounter things like a fully loaded dump truck. Gates also protect against theft.

Separate work vehicles from public vehicles: The sooner the public is barred from entering a work area, either by signage or by a rolling gate, the safer the yard becomes. Whenever possible, put public activities like compost drop-off in a controlled area that’s separate and distinct from the rest of the yard.

Truck movement: Counterclockwise circulation provides the best view by enabling drivers to look to the left. If that’s not possible, provide adequate roadways and turning areas, which may increase the size of circulation areas.

- Janet M Slemenda (jslemenda@hktarchitects.com) is principal for HKT Architects Inc. (www.hktarchitects.com) of Somerville, Mass. For more information, see our February 2010 cover story: “Rebels with a cause.”