The Public Safety Building’s support structures cannot hold the additional floors that had been planned for a Dane County Jail consolidation project, though the concept designs and forms submitted to the city when the facility was built in the 1990s include the expectation that floors would be added.
Architects and engineers at Mead & Hunt and Potter Lawson told the county’s Jail Consolidation Project Review Committee on Wednesday that they believe the Public Safety Building is safe as it is now, but a structural analysis showed significantly more support on the columns, beams and foundation would be needed to carry the extra floors the county had envisioned.
David Way, a manager at Mead & Hunt who is working on the jail consolidation, said he and many others had the understanding that the Public Safety Building would be able to hold more floors without costly fortifications.
“There was general knowledge amongst everybody that the building was designed to be added onto,” Way said. “It was the discussion of the day. Everybody knew that. And I think, 24 years (after building completion), we believed that as well.”
The expansion of the Public Safety Building, which houses some of the county’s jail inmates as well as the Sheriff’s Office, had an estimated cost of $75.2 million when the County Board approved it last year. The expansion would allow the county to close its outdated maximum security jail on the top floors of the City-County Building as well as the work-release Ferris Huber Center.
The Sheriff’s Office and the project’s contractors — Mead & Hunt, Potter Lawson and HDR — have shifted plans for the jail consolidation to the county-owned parking lot behind the Public Safety Building, where an eight-story tower could be built without a significant change to the square footage of the original proposal.
Way said the tower could cost the county more than the original price tag for the added floors but an estimate wouldn’t be available until more design work is done.
The Public Safety Building — with four floors topped by mechanical components — opened in 1994 at a cost of about $19 million. The initial number of floors to construct had been debated among county officials, according to Wisconsin State Journal reports, with factions of county officials for or against additional floors. Ultimately, construction of the building moved forward without specifying when more floors would be built.
One problem that hinders adding floors now is the support structure between load-bearing columns. The original construction plans called for beams between each column, but Way said he believes that at some point, the contractors decided to use trusses — which can support less weight — between the columns going north and south. Beams still run to each column going east and west.
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The team of contractors working on the current consolidation project haven’t found when or why that decision was made, Way said.
To add floors now, the columns and foundation would have to be reinforced, he said. Adding the needed supports throughout the building would be extremely costly and would require some areas to be gutted and all operations and occupants of the building to be relocated during the construction.
Drywall and fixtures around the columns and trusses would need to be removed for fortifications such as reinforcing bars, or rebar, to be added to the trusses or steel wraps placed around the columns, said Tim Close, a building engineer at Mead & Hunt. Underneath the building, flooring would have to be dug out to expand the foundations.
Chief Deputy Jeff Hook said he and the contractors expected to be further along in the design process and creating general ideas of how the space on the added floors would be laid out, but Way said the findings have set the process back a few months.
The project would have been delayed even further had the contractors not done the structural analysis last month. Way said the analysis is typically done a few steps further down the line in a construction project, but the team decided to look at it sooner.
Building designs by firms Durrant and Heike, produced in 1992 and reviewed by the State Journal, showed outlines for future floors to be added. The contractors’ presentation to the project review committee Wednesday showed excerpts from documents filed with the city before the Public Safety Building’s construction that state the potential for additional floors, as well as an excerpt from a 1995 document filed after the building’s construction that also mentions future additional floors.
Tom Clauder, who was a County Board member when the Public Safety Building was built, said the county had always been under the impression that floors would be added.
The plan “was to add two or three floors. That was always the idea,” Clauder said.
Indications that the building was designed for future construction can also be seen on the roof. The support columns that run from the basement through the floors also extend through the roof. Scott Carlson, project manager with the county’s public works department, said there would be no reason to extend the columns and cap them unless the builder expected there to be further construction.
Other elements also indicate that the developers expected further construction, including the encased cooling unit, sealed-off elevator shafts and extra buttons in the elevators.