Modular Construction News released a great article on how modular units are now being used in the Department of Corrections using steel units for cells. You can find a full version of the article here: www.modularconstructionnews.com
|Modular Units: Construction Method Offers Quick, Inexpensive Solution
By Peter Krasnow, FAIA
By Peter Krasnow, FAIA
|Modular construction is an option that can accommodate program and building needs within a short time frame at a cost that is usually significantly less than conventional construction.
For correctional industry application the construction method has generally been narrowly focused on housing low-security populations in modular buildings, or higher security populations in precast concrete or steel-cell modular units. It is a method that has helped numerous jurisdictions get out of a bind, and decision makers at federal, state and local levels responsible for funding criminal justice building programs regularly consider it. However, modular construction is not always a catchall solution and some key factors must be considered before it is used at a new or existing facility.
Available Units and Systems
Early modular buildings used in the correctional setting were often created by combining12-foot-by-60-foot pre-manufactured units. Several companies manufactured the units — including SpaceMaster, Arthur Industries and Gelco — but the buildings sometimes had trouble enduring the wear-and-tear atmosphere at correctional facilities.
“New Jersey’s Department of Corrections built an entire minimum-security prison with Arthur system in the early 1980s in southern New Jersey,” says Robert T. Goble, AICP, principal at Carter Goble Companies. “I did an assessment of it for NIC after about five years of operation and found it to be deteriorating (as you would expect with wooden member structures in a correctional environment) and questioned whether it would last the entire 15 years the state had expected.”
Another early entry into modular building construction was built in New Jersey in the early 1990s.
“We successfully completed a 42,000 square-foot multi-story, medium-security correctional facility and administrative/visitor center for Hudson County, N.J., using modular unit construction,” syas Mickey Rosenberg, director of Mark Correctional Systems at Kullman Industries.
There are several modular building designs available that address the low-security needs of facility administrators. General Marine Leasing, Sprung Instant Structures, Miller Modular Construction and American Modular Technologies are some of the companies that specialize in modular buildings. They essentially provide large rectangular enclosures with open floor plan configurations that include bunk beds, and in some units, a separate toilet/lavatory/shower area. A few manufacturers have had success providing their products to correctional facilities for temporary use that occasionally result in permanent housing environments.
Manufacturers such as Rotondo/Weirich and Old Castle Precast Modular Group supply concrete modular cells. Kullman Industries specializes in steel-cell modular units.
Modular building and modular cell construction both provide viable solutions. The option that is best for an individual facility is determined by security needs.
Security and Safety
Security will always be an important, if not critical requirement for facilities that house prisoners.
When planning modular buildings, clear lines of sight must be included in the architectural design to enhance an officer’s responsibilities for good management. Although officers are encouraged to walk about the space in a direct supervision environment, it is important that they also have clear observation from a desk position. During planning, it’s a necessity that communication between the manufacturer, facility operator and professional advisor be open and unimpeded.
Modular concrete cells provide a uniform secure holding area for high-security inmates and they also can provide significant savings if the cells are poured and manufactured on-site.
“Precast modular cells provide the security benefit of uniformity in quality, tolerances and finishes for joints, cast-in doors and frames, and fixtures and furnishings,” says Steve Weirich, owner of Rotondo/Weirich Enterprises. “Eliminating possible hiding places for contraband is inherent to their concrete construction. With on-site precast modular construction, modular contractors are pouring quad cell modules with monolithic mezzanine balconies, further reducing joints and adding to the long-term integrity of new facilities.
“When cell modules are cast on prison job sites at dimensions larger than the allowance for road travel, the number of building components decreases, thereby providing a more seamless, secure structure.”
Relative Costs of Modular Units
Prefabricated unit costs vary significantly. Units can be purchased on a square-foot basis or, more typically, on total building size based on typical housing units of 50 to 100 prisoners.
Estimating the cost of a modular unit system against conventional building must consider the amount of time saved with modular construction to obtain the true value for cost comparisons.
Speed of delivery to respond to immediate housing needs may be the primary reason for choosing a modular unit rather than pursuing conventional construction. In some instances, although these temporary structures outlast their life expectancy, they remain in place in lieu of building permanent units requiring a commitment of funds. In other cases, once they have served their purpose on a short-term basis and funding becomes available they can be removed and a permanent facility constructed.
“I have found that although the cost for modular units can parallel conventional construction, depending upon the region of the country, the speed clearly makes the difference,” says Roger Lichtman, AIA, of The Lichtman Associates (see Page 16 for more on Lichtman). “More often than not, time translates directly to money. In one previous experience, utilizing modular technology we were able to design and build, through the toughest weather of the year, a 192-bed permanent facility. These units are not the wood frame trailers of the past. They are built of the same materials used in conventional construction.
“From the time our contract was signed for architectural services until the time that inmates were moved in was a period of less than six months. Conventional design and construction would have taken three times as long. Twelve years later, the facility still houses 192 inmates in the best of conditions with minimal facility maintenance. To this day, the client remains an excellent reference for us.”
Your Project Needs
With budgets running out of control at all levels of government, it may be prudent to consider modular construction for upcoming projects since the method can be more affordable, faster to deliver and the potential procurement pitfalls of conventional contracting processes could be avoided.
In certain jurisdictions, these units can be purchased directly from a manufacturer without the requirement of procurement regulations associated with retaining services through a conventional request-for-proposals solicitation process. The RFP and interview process can often become very time consuming. If overcrowding or another crises at the facility is particularly bad, emergency measures can sometimes be declared to secure funding.
In many jurisdictions throughout the country, there are methods to purchase modular buildings directly from the product provider. Prefabricated units can often be modified to suit a specific program by adjusting the design elements of a unit without time penalties. In fact, the development of “new models” for modular construction seems most appropriate during these stressed economic times.
A modified modular model could be used during an expansion project at the county jail in Johnson County, Kansas.
“We are currently evaluating and conducting research on the various construction approaches and structural systems applicable for our 416-bed jail addition,” says Neal J. Americano, AIA, Johnson County deputy director of facilities. “A modular system is being considered mainly as a means to speed design and construction. Such a system must allow appropriate functionality of the facility while also providing the aesthetic continuity with the AIA award winning original building.”
Although modular units are still being utilized at correctional facilities, manufacturers have remained tied to early concepts and no significantly different new concepts have been released. And new modular systems do not appear to be in development in today’s marketplace.
One wonders why no one has taken up the challenge of new designs suitable for correctional settings, considering that most jurisdictions have an immediate need for additional bed space with limited funding streams available to them. Units that are secure and rapidly deployable and site-specific could fill the gap between need and cost.
Gregory Offner, principal at Jacobs Facilities Inc. outlined a modular unit he would like to see: “Refine the development, manufacturing, shipping and installation so a complete 200-bed housing building in modular, stackable design … fully outfitted, could be readily available to my clients.”
A key issue regarding modular units is their life expectancy. Most modular buildings on the market have a defined length of use based on the type of inmate population housed at the facility and the nature of the materials and structures employed. A product should be secure, easily maintained while simultaneously providing an environment that is suitable for prisoner containment and rehabilitation.
If the corrections community is committed to the rehabilitation of inmates, then environment plays a key element in behavioral change of those incarcerated. Modular units could also include educational, recreational, and socially relevant programs important for reorienting prisoners to return to a normal and productive life in society. n
Peter Krasnow, FAIA, is an Advisory Board Member of Correctional News and the author of “Correctional Facility Design And Detailing” (McGraw-Hill) a 1998 publication. He is a member of the AIA Justice Committee.
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