Tech Building Boosts Law Enforcement

January 10, 2014 | by Peter Downs, Editor

Tech Building Boosts Law Enforcement

A bi-state boom in construction related to public safety and security appears to be peaking. Notable projects include new forensic science labs on both sides of the river; a tri-county emergency communications system; and an emergency command center in St. Louis County that brings the 911 system, the emergency communications system, and an emergency operations center all under one roof.

Emergency Communications

The plan for an emergency communications system for St. Louis County has expanded to include regions of St. Charles and Jefferson County. “It will bring all of the public safety and emergency providers under one umbrella,” said Director David Barney. “It will have 55 towers instead of 25, and 17,000 users,” he said, and it will connect to the emergency communications systems of St. Louis City, and Madison, Monroe, and St. Clair counties in Illinois.

The cornerstone of the system is the new Emergency Communications Center in St. Louis County’s Ohlendorf West Park in Ballwin, MO, which will house the 800 MHz trunk radio network and systems data center. A trunked radio system utilizes computers to fit more conversations into the idle time between other conversations on a radio frequency to enable multiple groups of users to share a relative handful of radio frequencies. In this way, the many public safety departments in the tri-county area will be able to share a small number of frequencies and also use them to communicate with each other when necessary.

According to the St. Louis County Police Department, it was the terrorist attack on New York City on September 11, 2001 that drew a spotlight and sense of urgency to addressing the incompatibility of communications systems used by different emergency responders. There were over 50 different communications systems in St. Louis County alone. The new tri-county emergency communications system is designed to ensure that fire departments, emergency medical services, police departments, hospitals, and public works agencies can all communicate quickly with each other.

Perhaps the key design requirement for the facility that is at the heart of the new communication system is that it continue to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through any disaster or tragedy, even if it has lost all outside power.

Emergency Command Center

“When the chips are down, this is where St. Louis County will go to bunker down to manage events. It is designed to stay in operation in extreme conditions,” said Michael Shea, senior vice president with Ross & Baruzzini – Critical Operations Design and Engineering (CODE), the facility architect and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems engineer.

The 31,600-square-foot building is designed to withstand 180-mph winds with an impact from a 15-pound 2×4 traveling at 87 miles per hour. “It has 10-inch thick reinforced concrete walls and a 6-inch thick reinforced concrete roof on steel joists and girders. There’s a lot of steel reinforcement,” said Thomas Heinze, project manager for the St. Louis Department of Public Works.

The construction cost is $12.3 million. Orf Construction is the general contractor.

The facility is designed to stay in operation for three days on its own power, without any support from the outside. “It has two generators, either one of which can power the building, and two chillers, either one of which can cool the building,” Shea said.

The generators are located inside the building, with exhaust exiting through the roof, to protect them from tornadoes, such as the one that hit Joplin in 2011, or a terrorist attack like the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995. The chillers and boilers are outside, but protected by reinforced concrete walls and a two-inch steel bar-grate roof.

In addition to the emergency communications center, the facility also will house the St. Louis County’s 911 dispatching center and emergency operations center. One of the chief design and construction challenges, Heinze said, “was meeting all their needs.”

St. Louis Country Emergency Communications

“This is a new paradigm for the county. They are putting three families under one roof,” said Theresa Smith, director, Ross & Baruzzini-CODE. “There is layer upon layer of needs to consider. I call it peeling the onion,” she said.

Jason Mayfield, project architect for Ross & Baruzzini-CODE gave an example: “One-third of the occupants are relocating from an underground bunker and another third from a basement. They want all the benefits of a bunker, but with glass and daylighting and green space. Marrying those quality of life requirements with the design requirements for a safe and efficient facility was a challenge.”


The 911 dispatching center, for example, operates 24-hours a day, every day of the year, “and 911 call-taking is stressful,” Shea said. In 2012, St. Louis County 911 operators answered almost 800,000 calls, according to the county police department’s Bureau of Communications. Operators need to be able to find some respite from the stress.

One solution is dedicated respite areas, another is to just give operators the opportunity to look outside. Strategically placed windows in the exterior walls, including clerestory windows in the 27-foot tall north wall, provide sunlight and views. The windows are multilayer polycarbonate-glass laminates designed to withstand a blast or a tornado.

For another group of stakeholders in the project a big concern was the outward appearance of the building. “A unique part of this job was trying to fit it into a residential community without being offensive,” Mayfield said. The single-story, brick-and-zinc clad administrative portion of the facility softens the 27-foot height of the main technological component of the building. A mosaic of metallic architectural panels is meant to break up the tall, 300-foot long facade of the main building component.


The Illinois State Police have a new $37.8 million forensic science laboratory under construction in Belleville, IL.

The two-story, 64,100-square-foot lab will replace a decades-old, 15,000-square-foot lab in leased space in Fairview Heights. Detroit-based Harley Ellis Deveraux was the architect. Contegra Construction Co. is the general contractor. Contegra’s portion of the contract is $25.8 million. When operational, it will serve 154 police agencies in the eight-county Metro-East region of southern Illinois.

“There is an increased demand for DNA analysis and other highly specialized testing on crime scene evidence,” Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau said in a press release. With the new facility, “our skilled scientists will be prepared to keep up with technology and demand,” he said.

The building will include more than 40,000 square feet of lab space hosting equipment for crime scene services, trace chemistry, drug chemistry, polygraph, latent prints, firearms, and forensic biology/DNA testing, including a shooting range to analyze firearm ballistics; two vehicle exam bays; a water tank; firearms lab; and various specialized vaults for evidence storage.

“The design and equipment specification of every lab is unique and specific to its use, which makes thorough pre-planning and precise execution imperative,” Angela Ridgway, Contegra project manager, said in a press release. The building will be supported with back-up power supplied by diesel fuel generators.

Contegra was awarded the project and broke ground in February 2012, after an objection from a losing bidder was resolved. The project stalled when the steel fabricator went bankrupt. Contegra then brought Affront Fabricating & Welding Co. in to take over steel fabrication. The project is headed for completion this spring.

The St. Louis County police recently began enjoying the services of a new 33,000-square-foot forensic crime lab in Clayton, MO. The new $11.7 million lab replaces a 9,000-square-foot lab. Hastings & Chivetta was the architectural firm. ICS was the general contractor.

Lieutenant Mason Keller, commander of the crime lab, said the advantages of the new, expanded space include:

• the ability to store all crime scene negatives and photos in a single, secure location;
• individual spaces for each analyst in biology, including 3 large exam rooms so that multiple cases can be screened simultaneously (the old lab had one room);
• individual DNA extraction spaces for each analyst (the old lab had one space);
• extraction robots and the new 3500 capillary electrophoresis genetic analyzers (each 3500 analyzes eight samples in the time the old instruments analyzed one).
• fume hoods for all chemists working with dangerous controlled substances and testing reagents;
• an arson/explosives lab that allows analysis of fire debris samples anytime versus only nights and weekends in the old lab;
• an XRD instrument to analyze explosives and residues;
• separate rooms for the firing range, projectile recovery tank, ammunition, and reference collection (they were all together in one room in the old facility);
• a custom-designed remote firing device ensures examiner safety by giving them a means to fire a potentially hazardous gun without having to be in contact with it.

Ultimately, the benefit of increased capabilities and efficiency is that the lab will be able to analyze evidence more quickly, “which means that a case can be adjudicated more quickly,” said Keller.

“It was a unique challenge for us, as it was our first crime lab project,” said Christopher Chivetta, president and principal-in-charge, Hastings & Chivetta. After a national search, they partnered with MWL, a planning firm that does nothing but crime labs.

“Our biggest challenge was fitting the lab space into the old jail cell area on the fourth floor of the police building. We had a little spill over to a lower floor to fit the program requirements,” he said.

Hastings & Chivetta has designed many academic laboratories. The big difference with a forensic lab is how they handle the chain of evidence and control custody of materials.

“In a collegiate lab or research lab, you focus on the safety of people, who may not have been trained in proper lab procedures, and how they move chemicals and materials in the lab. In a crime lab, everyone has been trained in good protocols and procedures, and you are overlaying those with control of the sample so that it doesn’t get contaminated,” Chivetta said. “You approach it like a health care environment,” he said, and the result is “a very sophisticated lab environment.”

A real forensic lab is nothing like on TV, he added. “On television, you have beautiful glass crime labs with people walking freely from one room to another. When you are dealing with sensitive evidence in the real world, you have to keep it secure. You have to keep people away and you have to have a protocol on how to handle it. It is very much out of sync with TV crime labs,” he said.

Source: St. Louis Construction News & Review