Green Police Facilities

"Sustainable, healthy, productive, enviro-friendly, efficient"



Green Police Facilities

By: Susan Geoghegan


“Green” building combines the practice of increased resource efficiency and human health protection to develop a structure that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout its life-cycle. Green, aka “sustainable” or “high-performance” buildings may incorporate sustainable materials in their construction, create healthy indoor environments with minimal pollutants, and/or feature landscaping that reduces water usage.

In the United States, buildings account for

39 percent of total energy use, 12 percent of the total water

consumption, 68 percent of total electricity consumption, and 38 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions. Since green buildings


use fewer resources and reduce the overall environmental footprint of the building sector,

the adoption of green strategies can maximize environmental and economic performance.

Although green construction methods can be integrated into buildings at any stage, the most significant benefits are realized through an integrated approach from the earliest stages of construction.


Development of Green Building

The contemporary green building movement dates back to the early 1970s when increased oil prices spurred extensive research into improving energy efficiency and finding renewable resources. By the 1990s, it gained momentum with the development of programs and initiatives from both the public and private sectors. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) released its Environmental Resource Guide, addressing for the first time the use of Life Cycle Assessment methods in mainstream architectural practice.

The EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy launched its ENERGY STAR program, a voluntary program that promoted energy-efficient products that help to reduce greenhouse emissions. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 were aimed at setting sustainable performance standards and requirements for high-performance green federal buildings.

In 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) was founded to promote

sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated.

A private 501(c) 3, membership-based non-profit

organization, USGBC is dedicated to expanding green building practices and education through the

development of a variety of programs and services.


Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

 (LEED) is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings. Projects that are LEED-certified experience a number of benefits, including cost savings, energy conservation, reduced water consumption, and improved air quality.


Considerations and Options

The same basic principles of green building apply to both commercial and government structures, with some key differences in strategy and approach. Project costs, turnover of ownership, and operational and technological considerations play an integral role in the design and development of sustainable buildings.

Jake Davis, Justice + Civic Sector Leader at DLR Group, points out that while both government and commercial clients take advantage of low-cost items, such as solar orientation to maximize day lighting and energy efficiency, government agencies face greater limitations on available options due to constrained budgets.

Government clients tend to be rather first-cost conscious, somewhat limiting the inclusion of costly items like photovoltaic panels and wind turbines, which have long ROI, for governmental sustainable projects,” Davis said.

LEED AP at Leach Mounce Architects, Matt Huntington, said that regardless of the project type, the basic concept of green building is to create a structure that will use the least amount of energy, provide a safe working place, and reduce the overall impact of the built environment. However, strategies to integrate green building ideas may vary with regard to building type and client needs, as well as local building code requirements.

“We have found that one of the complexities of providing a green building strategy for a facility such as a police or fire station comes when you realize these type of buildings are 24/7 operating facilities—the building never gets a rest,” Huntington said. “Incorporating strategies that address these issues at the beginning of the project usually result in a higher up-front cost, but the savings derived from a good green building strategy will pay off over the life of the building in energy cost savings as well as occupant productivity.”

According to Stephen Springs, a partner with Brinkley Sargent Architects, another major difference between public and private facilities is longevity of ownership. Unlike commercial properties that have a greater turnover of ownership, public facilities tend to have more longevity with one owner. “This means that public entities can have a longer-term perspective when it comes to life-cycle costing. Whereas a commercial developer would only have an interest in maybe a five-year payback, public entities can look much further out.”

He also noted that since

public safety facilities operate 24/7/365 and require effective redundancy and backup solutions, the engineering decisions have tremendous long-term implications in terms of operational costs.

While some agencies opt for building a green facility from the ground up, many choose to renovate and “re-purpose” existing structures in the interest of cost savings. Davis notes that although the re-use of an existing building offers opportunities to gain sustainable credit, it comes with some inherent difficulties.

“One of the obvious limitations is floor-to-floor height/overall deck height. These are important considerations due to the need for inserting new HVAC equipment and ductwork, along with phone/data infrastructure, sprinkler piping, and recessed lighting

all requirements of a modern justice facility, but all fighting for vertical space above ceiling, while attempting to keep ceilings as high as possible,” Davis said.

“High ceilings help to better scale large spaces, such as community/training rooms and large detective pools, and they help with daylighting strategies. None of these things is possible when minimal above-ceiling spaces push ceilings down to the point of non-function, proving that ample floor-to-floor space is a crucial prerequisite for selecting the right renovation/re-use candidate.”


also pointed to the perception among government agencies that renovating an existing structure is more cost-effective than building from the ground up. While there is some truth to this, the new green use may greatly differ from the previous use, making major changes necessary just to meet basic code requirements, and consequently negating the perceived cost savings.

For public safety and justice facilities, even if the existing building meets building and accessibility codes (which is a reach, depending on the age of the building), it may not meet the code-mandated structural importance factors for critical facilities, of which public safety first-responder facilities fall under,” Davis said.

Like Davis, Springs also recognizes the pros and cons of both approaches. “One could easily argue that there is nothing greener than re-purposing an existing building versus developing a greenfield. From a ‘green’ perspective, it is better to work on or restore an already unnatural site than to destroy a new one. The negative, especially for specialized facilities such as justice buildings, is that using an existing structure inevitably comes with compromises because you are stuck working with what you have. A ground-up facility can be more custom-built to suit the needs. And still be designed sustainably.”

Huntington finds that building green “from scratch” has an advantage over re-purposing an existing structure in that it can be tailored to the performance that is required by the owner. “

In an existing building, incorporation of a green strategy may be limited by what is available to the designer.

For example, the designer for an existing facility may be told that the roof of the building cannot be touched but has also been asked to design a building that meets a certain level of energy performance—not being able to upgrade the roof’s energy performance may negate the owners requirement. In a new building, all energy performance requirements can be met, as long as the budget allows for it,” Huntington said.

“Another example would be natural day lighting which, when incorporated, saves lighting and mechanical costs that would be included in a new building at very little additional cost, but may not be feasible to achieve by modifying an existing building.”


Brinkley Sargent Architects

Brinkley Sargent Architects is an established, award-winning firm specializing in public architecture that spans a broad range of project types, such as courthouses, city halls, and police facilities. Bringing a 3D approach and principal involvement to technically demanding building projects, Brinkley Sargent offers an extensive array of services that include needs assessment, programming, site master planning, architectural and sustainable design, budgeting, and technology integration. 

The company’s list of completed public safety projects includes both renovated buildings and ground-up structures. The DART Police Headquarters and the Grand Prairie Public Safety Facility are examples of each type of approach, and both were recognized with the AIA’s annual justice design award upon completion.

The Dallas Area Rapid Transport (DART) Police Headquarters is currently housed in a 99-year-old structure that was originally built as a maintenance facility for the Texas Electric Railway. Listed with the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), the building was renovated in 2011 to accommodate the increased number of police personnel needed for its expanding DART Rail system.

The architectural design was crafted to have minimal impact on the structure, while maintaining and enhancing the historic aspects wherever possible, including a historic trolley car displayed in the public lobby. This is believed to be the first publicly owned NRHP-listed building to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certification.

Working closely with the Texas Historical Commission to ensure that the renovations were handled in an environmentally sensitive way, Brinkley Sargent, in collaboration with Aguirre Roden, provided a needs assessment and program for the headquarters facility. The final design included a public meeting space, and areas for police records, hiring and recruiting, police training, patrol, criminal investigations, internal affairs, police administration, and evidence processing, as well as locker room and exercise facilities for staff.

The Grand Prairie Public Safety Facility is a ground-up project that embraces the “building in a park” concept by consolidating many public safety and justice departments into one unifying whole. Built within a public park, the facility combines Fire Administration, Detention, and Law Enforcement services in a state-of-the-art 149,729-square-foot building. All four stories house facilities for police administration, locker rooms and exercise areas for staff, as well as museum space for both the fire and police departments. Completed in 2010, this project has achieved LEED Silver Certification.


DLR Group

Founded in 1966, the DLR Group is a full-service design firm that provides in-house expertise and custom sustainable-design tools to create environmentally and economically effective facilities. A member of both Architecture 2030 and the U.S. Green Building Council, DLR Group works collaboratively with clients to understand their goals and objectives, and then applies their own professional expertise to create a truly integrated design. Their expertise covers a broad range of markets, including government, education and hospitality. Many of the company’s completed projects have been recognized for excellence in design and have earned LEED certification.

The George C. Young Federal Building in Orlando, Fla. opened in 1975, when green methods of design and construction had not yet been adopted. After the completion of a new courts annex adjacent to the Young building in 2007, the General Services Administration decided to update the older structure to the standards of green building. Before the onset of construction, DLR’s design team explored ways to create a high-performance building envelope where one did not exist previously. After numerous exterior and interior modifications to enhance sustainability, the result was a completely modernized facility with a projected energy water usage reduction of 40 percent.


Leach Mounce Architects

Leach Mounce Architects provides a full range of professional services for public safety agencies, and in the past 20 years has completed more than 80 needs assessments for city and county governments. They provide expertise in the construction of law enforcement and detention facilities, communications centers, fire stations, and crime laboratories, as well as libraries and civic centers. By identifying and defining the problems and opportunities that arise during the needs assessment phase, Leach Mounce Architects are able to provide solutions specific to each project’s goals, site, and operations.

When the City of San Mateo’s Police Department determined that their police facility (built in 1960) needed a major overhaul, they opted to build a new facility that would meet their long-term requirements, rather than remodel the existing building. The design team included City and Police officials, Leach Mounce Architects, Green Building Studio (energy consultants), and the engineering firm of Mazzetti and Associates.

The new San Mateo Police Facility consists of a 47,500-square-foot, two-story main building and a 43,000-square-foot subterranean parking garage. According to Huntington, the building is the culmination of a 10-year design process, from needs assessment through site selection to final construction.

Huntington stated, “The City of San Mateo made a solid commitment to demonstrating leadership in advancing sustainability and green policies and practices throughout the city. From the onset of the new police facility project’s design phase, a comprehensive checklist of goals was formed, paving the way for an organized approach to incorporating energy-efficient measures and documenting LEED-qualifying design strategies.” The project has achieved the LEED Green building Rating System’s Silver certification and was also the subject of a Pacific Gas and Electric case study in energy efficiency.


Funding Resources

Funding opportunities for green building projects are offered by a number of government agencies and non-profit organizations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The EPA has a wealth of information on available grant programs for sustainable projects at the federal, state, and local levels, providing hyperlinks to each one. The USGBC’s Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant Program wards grants to affordable housing developers and public agencies pursuing LEED certification.


Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Fla. She can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2013

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