September 1, 2018
LAKE CHARLES, La. — The result of forward-thinking collaboration and progressive trends in justice facility design, the in-progress Calcasieu Parish Office of Juvenile Justice Services (CPOJJS) building in Lake Charles is all about breaking the old mold and fitting into a growing new dynamic.
That factor among many others is what made the challenge so enticing to Baton Rouge, La.-based GraceHebert Architects’ Adam Fishbein and Alex Deshotels, project architects for the 57,000-square-foot venue that broke ground in June. The pair was given guidance by the client, the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury Office of Juvenile Justice Services, which emphasized the creation of a venue that didn’t look — or feel — like a jail. This dictum was given not only with the mental well being of its juvenile residents in mind, but also in deference to detainees’ families and the many staffers working on site.
For you see, the unique new venue slated for finalization in about 18 months will not only house 38 juvenile offenders in five pods — it will be home to Juvenile, Services for the parish, including offices for probation, drug court offices, social services/truancy, mental health and assessment services. And also adding to the degree of difficulty in design was the CPOJJS’ desire to have the building itself — rather than obtrusive fencing — serve as the secure perimeter.
Helping the two lead architects tackle the task, however, was a progressive client who took a proactive, hands-on approach navigating the tricky design challenges. CPOJJS executives even took to the road with Fishbein and Deshotels, traveling to various locales around the nation to visit other facilities and find design techniques they liked that would work well in addition to ones that might not.
“They have really been fantastic to work with,” said Adam Fishbein. “From the inception of the project they’ve been proactive, even visiting facilities with us to get ideas. It’s fairly unusual for a client to be so hands-on.”
Both architects believe that the modern new facility fits into a greater underlying trend with adult and juvenile correctional facilities — serving for the most part as venues designed to educate and rehabilitate rather than just detain.
“The client is very progressive and wanted a facility to match that,” Deshotels remarked. “It’s not just about the kids, but their families, administration and staff. It’s a 21st century facility that’s aimed at enhancing the client’s already forward-thinking programs. They really wanted people to be able to decompress and be in a better mindset while in the facility.”
Among some of the key design elements that helped the GraceHebert team achieve its goals was a centralized courtyard and control room that allowed for the large structure itself to serve as a detainment rather than constructing highly visible fencing around the entire property. This approach not only played down the detention feel of the venue, but also allowed for a more-holistic approach to security and supervision.
“We believe the naked eye is more important than anything electronic,” Fishbein commented in regard tom security, explaining that the large, open courtyard and expansive glass walls along all the inward-facing spaces helped provide a signature touch of GraceHebert’s approach to the project.
“Clear sightlines are a holistic design issue within many of our facilities,” he explained, adding that the design allows officials to instantly see if any youth residents are in a place where they shouldn’t be. The large windows also provide another signature touch of the architectural firm, Fishbein said — namely an abundance of natural light.
A major effort was also made to soften the facility, perhaps the residential area most substantially, aiming to create an atmosphere more amenable to rehabilitation than mere confinement.
“We really wanted the kids to feel like they’re in a dorm or school setting,” Deshotels said.
To that end, materials like carpeting were chosen over cement floors, windows instead of walls and wood ceilings in the multipurpose room rather than concrete ones. Other thoughtful decisions included laying out the various segments of the facility — such as visitation, housing, administration — as “clusters of neighborhoods” rather than separate and distinct quadrants. This helped “blur the lines” between the adjudicated and the staff and public, another detail that makes the facility appear less detention-focused.
“They took their time and did it right,” said Bill Sommers, director of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, who was part of the design team that took to the road seeking ideas and inspiration. “We didn’t want it to look like a correctional facility; we’re program-oriented and wanted the space to reflect that. And that’s exactly what they designed.”
While he said the group had takeaways from plenty of juvenile justice venues they visited, Sommers mentioned New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Washington, D.C., as being particularly inspirational — especially its kitchen and dining areas.
“Some of the places we visited just had too hard a feel, and that’s not for us,” Sommers added. “It’s not who we are. I really think the design team hit a home run; they listened to what we do and designed a facility to match that. I really think the design will assist our families and children with rehabilitation.”
Another key part of the team was the locally based architectural firm of Champeaux Evans Hotard, though it will take the lead on the construction side of the project and not the design scheme.