Courthouse team delivered high technology and security in attractive space
To meet client expectations on the Howard County Circuit Courthouse, the design-build team had to create not only a high-performance facility but a building that simultaneously provided welcoming space and tight security.
High ceilings, tall windows and an atrium with a four-story curtain wall were key to creating an inviting space for courthouse staff and the public in the new 240,000-square-foot facility.
“One thing the design team really focused on was the bucolic environment around the courthouse,” said Timothy Campbell, Project Executive at Clark Construction. “You can be a member of the staff doing your work or a member of a jury getting a morning briefing and have a view of trees and wetlands.”
For courthouse security and public safety, however, the bottom eight feet of first-floor glass had to be backed by a five-inch ballistic frame and coated with a two-inch thick, ballistic-rated glazing system. The glass doors in the building’s main entrance also required ballistic ratings.
“There wasn’t a commercially available window system that met the project’s bullet-resistance and other performance requirements,” Campbell said.
So, the glazing subcontractor, Physical Security, combined products it had used previously to create a unique curtainwall system for the courthouse which met security requirements, maximized light within the atrium and included sunshades that maintained a comfortable temperature inside, reduced heating and cooling requirements, and helped the project attain LEED certification. It also designed a custom system that involved integrating angles into window mullions and knife plates, in order to install a 16-foot-wide replica of the county seal on the atrium curtain wall.
Meanwhile, security and operational requirements necessitated an extraordinarily complex array of technology in the new courthouse. Subcontractor S2N Technology Group designed and constructed enhanced low-voltage systems to support safety, communications and access systems along with several specialty systems, including telecommunications wiring for several independent networks within the building.
S2N designed and installed systems providing detention control, access control, video surveillance and intrusion detection – an array of technology involving 64 CCTV cameras, 10 access control doors, three vehicle entrance/exit locations plus main and backup stations for building security, detention security and security command. The company also delivered audio/visual systems for nine courtrooms, three hearing rooms and other conference, training and specialty rooms. The A/V system alone spanned 82 rooms and met the individual requirements of half a dozen separate departments operating inside the courthouse.
To design and deliver all of those systems, the team had to coordinate with numerous stakeholders, including Howard County, court administration, state and county IT offices, the sheriff’s office, judges, clerks and the local 911 command center. Many of the building’s technology systems had to work seamlessly with and partly reside on networks operated by the county and state.
Successfully installing the systems also required detailed coordination with contractors completing other aspects of construction, including fire control systems, elevators, doors, parking controls, vehicle barriers, flooring, millwork, ceilings, walls and the full CMU detention areas.
“The sheriffs were the most vocal group about the security systems and how the building would operate because they would be responsible for securing the facility as soon as everyone moved in,” Campbell said. “They also became one of S2N’s biggest champions. They felt they got great service and their team felt comfortable and ready to operate and secure this brand new building on day one.”
Numerous other project partners, subcontractors and craftsmen proved vital to the success of the courthouse project, Campbell added. As the leader of a design-build team for a public-private partnership venture, Clark involved numerous contractors – including steel, concrete, MEP, telecom and security – in its pursuit team and involved most other contractors shortly after the contract award.
The project team then conducted nine months of design and planning meetings before construction began. That process enabled contractors to develop detailed understanding of the requirements for the courthouse, involve their own design professionals and identify challenges or opportunities early. The elevator contractor, for example, realized that a large elevator specified in the design documents wasn’t commercially available then identified an alternate, slightly smaller elevator that had been successfully used in other courthouses around the country.
Skilled craftsmen ensured that all parts of construction, ranging from signature to commonplace elements, were expertly completed.
“There are acres and acres of high ceilings in that building,” including 14-foot ceilings in courtrooms and the 70-foot ceiling in the atrium, Campbell said. “It is challenging construction when you are constantly working off a lift very high up, but they did a phenomenal job on the ceilings.”