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Blended with bluegrass

Blended with bluegrass

A Kentucky correctional facility blends into its surroundings, appearing to be a horse farm

By By Morgan Luciana Danner, Production Editor | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200104 issue of BD+C.

It was a race against time for Kentucky's Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. Under a federal court order to relieve overcrowding in the Fayette County Detention Center, built in 1976, the government had to move-and move quickly. As Raymond J. Sabbatine, director of community corrections for Lexington-Fayette County, explains, the population of the jail was capped at 574 inmates, yet Lexington-Fayette County needed more than twice that. It was also important that the jail be easily expandable and fit into its surroundings, the rolling hills of bluegrass country.

As Sabbatine wrote recently, "This is the type of challenge that requires an administrator to pull in all the favors and pull out all the stops."

Sabbatine had located the property eight years before. "This location is at the very beginning of a historic horse-farm corridor," says Sabbatine. The corridor contained large, expensive and well-developed pieces of property, and owners were very concerned about locating a large correctional complex there.

The court had mandated that construction begin by December of 1998 and be completed by June 2000. Sabbatine approached the National Institute of Corrections for help through a program called PONI: Planning of New Institutions, which helps local jurisdictions plan jails. The PONI program helped local officials learn about delivery methods and, after attending a seminar at the Design-Build Institute of America, they settled on design/build, which allowed them to accelerate the schedule through concurrent design and construction while constantly engineering for the best value to keep costs down.

The request for proposals went out in May of 1998, and the team was selected a month later. The design/build provider, Pittsburgh-based Dick Corp. with architect/engineers Lexington, Ky.-based Chrisman, Miller and Woodford and Los Angeles-based Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall had only six weeks to give officials 30 percent design drawings and a guaranteed maximum price. After taking almost $8 million off the price through value analysis, actual construction began in October and was completed by May of 2000, a month ahead of schedule and at less than the national average cost per square foot for a jail. According to R.S. Means, the average cost per square foot nationally was $201.04 in 2000 and $179.71 this year. Gene Budler, project leader with general contractor Dick Corp., estimates the Lexington facility's cost at lower than $150 per square foot.

The speed at which the project was completed impressed all involved. To do that required major cooperation and communication, according to Bill Pickering, principal with local architect CMW, the design team project manager. "We had developed the design documents to about 30 percent and construction started and we were designing and building and making decisions while we were going," he explains. Tracking costs and scheduling and not allowing components to get lost in the shuffle was a challenge. Communication was complicated by the involvement of six or seven firms in at least four or five different states, according to Pickering.

Barnlike structure

"Basically," says Sabbatine of the administration building, what you see from the road is a barn-like structure. It masks six acres with no windows and 23-ft. solid concrete walls."

The $62 million facility has 1,135 direct-supervision beds organized in a decentralized design incorporating visitation, recreation and program space into each of 20 housing units. Such a podular design attempts to use the physical plant to improve the staff's ability to manage the inmates. A central broadcast center delivers television, messaging, educational, vocational and religious services to each space and to every classification of offender. "A county jail is a microcosm that handles everybody from the Otis the drunk(s) to the Jeffrey Dahmers," says Sabbatine. Multiple security levels are housed under one roof, but prisoners are classified according to their risk and need. The facility is further divided into subunits of eight inmates. The 40-bed single-cell housing units are subdivided into five eight-bed units while the 64-bed dorm units are subdivided into eight eight-bed dorms. The eight-bed subdivisions have individual TVs and phones.

Inmates stay within their housing units, and are allowed to experience the outdoors only in one of the 20 recreation areas, part of the housing units, which are topped by metal grates.

Material decisions

Initially, according to Budler, the building team had wanted to employ concrete block for many of the structural walls, but specified precast concrete instead when qualified masons seemed to be in short supply. When time for construction arrived, however, precast concrete was unavailable, while qualified masons were no longer in short supply. Many of the bearing walls had to be changed from precast to masonry. "That was a little bit more of a market surprise rather than a work surprise," says Budler.

The Kentucky hills also posed unexpected challenges. When excavating, the contractor would hit karst-solution formations, which are limestone formations found in caves or sinkholes, and the contractor would have to drill until workers hit stronger bedrock, then employ beams to span areas of lower-bearing capacity.

Because of its semicircular plan, the facility can be expanded along its curved perimeter to as many as 2,000 beds. "The radial design in itself really helps a lot with expansion," says Budler.

The building's envelope, rather than miles of razor wire that would prove an eyesore, provides the basic security. Each housing area is isolated by 6 inches of concrete and is basically a box within a box within a box, according to Budler. Each cell has a glazed front rather than steel bars, so that correction officers can see all the way to the back of the space.

Other security needs are met by specialized equipment and systems, including programmable-logic controllers and a complete video system that allows observation from several locations in the facility. A perimeter-detection system is in place and motion detectors are installed where it is uneconomical to install cameras. Duress buttons are located in a number of areas so that employees who get into dangerous situations can signal for help. Security measures even include a personal alarm receiver that allows correction officers to detect where the person who was wearing the receiver is-and whether that person is in trouble. "In general, any time you press a button to request access to a floor, a camera turns on," says Budler.

Whatever the phase of design or construction, whoever the player, professionalism and communication made the difference, according to Pickering. Dick Corp. conducted partnering sessions so that everyone would focus on working at a level that avoided negative confrontation. "People were just willing to work together and not step back and start citing contract language," Pickering notes.




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