Architects find a niche in public safety solutions

Jessica Perry//July 15, 2014

Architects find a niche in public safety solutions

Jessica Perry//July 15, 2014

With extreme weather events and heightened concerns about homeland security, the needs of police and public safety agencies are changing, perhaps more than ever.

For DMR Architects, those changes have helped add a new wrinkle to its portfolio.

The Hasbrouck Heights-based firm has been tapped in recent years by local and county governments to help upgrade facilities such as police stations and 911 call centers. That’s given it a growing specialty in public safety-related projects — in a time when design firms are always searching for new ways to keep their pipelines filled.

“I think it’s a growing opportunity or niche in the building types,” said Lloyd Rosenberg, president and CEO of DMR. “It certainly has evolved as the world has become more sensitive to security, and the municipalities and the counties and the state have taken up the obligation to secure both the public and the police people in the work that they do.”

The firm’s first major project in this space was the 71,000-square-foot Jersey City Justice Complex, which was completed in 2005. Since then, it has completed work on eight other public safety facilities in New Jersey, and it’s currently working on three others.

Planning such a facility requires a focus on flexibility, said Pradeep Kapoor, DMR’s director of sustainable design. That can mean designing the building with a raised floor system — as in the Bergen County Public Safety Operations Center in Mahwah — in which mechanical and electrical systems are under tiles. That allows for easy access and modifications, Kapoor said, while making it easier to reconfigure furniture.

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At Garfield’s police headquarters, the firm’s design includes training rooms that can be broken up into small conference areas or spaces used for roll calls. He said such flexibility is important when space and budget dollars are at a premium, especially considering that public safety agencies must adapt to a range of situations.

Redundancy is equally critical.

“When police personnel are dealing with life safety or emergency situations, they do not want to think about the building,” Kapoor said, so backup generators are essential in new facilities, helping to ensure that mechanical and computer systems are protected.

It’s no secret that governments at every level have had to tighten their purse strings in recent years. Planners at DMR know that all too well, but they feel that, as facilities get older and technology gets more advanced, public officials will find the money.

“It’s about efficiency and the response time,” Kapoor said.

Building the niche has meant trying to stay ahead of the curve. Before working on the 36,000-square-foot Bergen County command center, Kapoor visited other facilities, such as a 911 call center in Washington, D.C., and first-responder facilities in Newark and Elizabeth. That helped inform a facility that houses a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week operation, one that served as the county’s nerve center during Hurricane Sandy.

DMR’s other completed projects in this sector now include the Bayonne police headquarters, the North Bergen and Woodbridge municipal court facilities and a building for the Westampton fire department. It’s currently working on Hackensack’s emergency operations center and police stations in Wayne and Garfield.

And as they finish those assignments, they can only hope to keep the projects coming.

“There’s a number of proposals that we have out right now looking at new opportunities,” Rosenberg said. “Hopefully within the next couple of months they’ll break.”


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