Corcoran State Prison Goes for LEED Gold

CORCORAN, Calif. — Amid rising operational costs and criticism for California’s correctional health care, the Administrative Segregation Unit/Enhanced Outpatient Unit (ASU-EOP) at Corcoran State Prison is an example of the state’s push toward improved patient care and energy efficiency.

The two-story, approximately 15,000-square-foot mental health unit on the prison’s campus was completed in summer 2013. During the following year, designers worked to finalize efforts toward LEED Gold certification, which the facility earned in July 2014.

The California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) worked with designers and architects at Omaha, Neb.-based HDR; Vanir Construction Management of Sacramento, Calif.; RBS Consulting Engineers of Innisfil, Ontario; and energy modeler Energy Soft of Novato, Calif., to ensure that sustainable features would be incorporated throughout the new building.

Corcoran State Prison, an expansive complex that is comprised of Level 1, Level III and Level IV facilities, along with a security housing unit, protective housing unit, an acute-care hospital and the Prison Industry Authority (a work program for inmates), opened in 1988 and has a capacity of 3,116 inmates.

“We were tracking LEED Silver for the majority of the project with the understanding that if at all possible, we should strive for Gold,” said Matthew Cunha-Rigby, sustainable design coordinator at HDR’s San Francisco office, who worked closely with CDCR on the Corcoran project. “When we realized in the middle of design that it could be possible to get up to the LEED Gold level, the CDCR project director made that a priority.”

Going forward with pursuing LEED Gold, the ASU-EOP unit project was able to gain a majority of LEED points from reducing energy use and providing on-site renewable energy. The building earned significant points for energy-efficiency measures, a rooftop photovoltaic (PV) energy system and enhanced indoor air quality.

The rooftop system will generate more than 34,000 kilowatt-hours of energy annually — roughly 4 percent of the building’s use. There also is a 5 megawatt PV system located outside of the prison’s secure perimeter that provides roughly 12,010 MWh annually to the entire prison complex, 117,000 of which is dedicated to the ASU-EOP building. Through these systems, about 20 percent of the ASU-EOP unit’s energy use comes from on-site renewable energy.

Because the ASU-EOP unit is a mental health facility for inmates, security considerations guided the design of daylighting features.

“It’s obviously a very different building type than an office building or another type of space where you’d have a lot of opportunity to bring in daylight,” Cunha-Rigby said. He explained that many of the spaces in the facility needed to incorporate natural daylighting. “On the ground floor, where the mental health and group therapy rooms are located, each space is located along the perimeter and each one has windows. The windows aren’t extensive due to security concerns, but they are large enough to provide a comfortable amount of daylight. The staff offices and workspaces are located on the upper floor. All of the spaces along the perimeter have windows; while the spaces within the interior of the building use Solatubes, a type of skylight that provides top lighting daylight access.”

Cunha-Rigby and CDCR also focused on the types of materials going into the building in order to provide a healthier and more comfortable environment, which also helped to achieve additional LEED points. All of the paints, sealants, adhesives, coatings, flooring systems and composite wood products contain low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). During construction and before occupancy, an indoor air quality management plan ensured that occupants wouldn’t be exposed to pollutants.
CDCR also took its eco-friendly mission to another level, modifying its operations policies by implementing new pest management and green-cleaning programs that would not use harmful chemicals.

The decision to make the facility more sustainable wasn’t just a financial and environmental consideration — it was necessary by law. Under Executive Order B-18-12, signed in April 2012, grid-based energy purchases must be reduced by 20 percent by 2018. Furthermore, 50 percent of existing square footage in state buildings and major renovations must be in the process of achieving zero net energy by 2015. Additionally, new buildings or major renovations larger than 10,000 square feet must earn at least LEED Silver certification and incorporate on-site renewable energy if economically feasible.

The Corcoran facility’s design ties into CDCR’s plan to make its correctional facilities more eco-friendly. During 2013, CDCR more than doubled the number of prisons served by solar energy fields. The department completed solar projects at seven prison locations. When combined with the fields at five prisons completed prior to 2013, the total generating capacity is about 36 megawatts of power — enough energy to power roughly 7,300 homes. This is expected to generate savings for the department of approximately $72.1 million over the next 20 years. CDCR is evaluating sites at four additional institutions, and if these projects move forward, they could potentially reduce CDCR’s electrical costs by at least an additional $9 million over 20 years.

Corcoran State Prison previously made a significant stride toward sustainability in 2011, when it was outfitted with updated, energy-efficient lighting. CDCR began a partnership with induction lighting firm US Lighting Tech, based in Irvine, Calif., which provided lighting replacements that could increase security and save correctional facilities 30 percent to 50 percent in energy costs. The lighting project — which has been implemented in other state prisons — has helped facilities eliminate the need for frequent re-lamping and the use of extra air conditioning to protect against antiquated lighting systems that produced too much heat.

“There was a genuine and sincere interest on the part of the CDCR’s Project Director John Petropoulos, to exceed the minimum requirements and achieve LEED Gold for this project,” Cunha-Rigby said. “For a project of this type, it really takes leadership within the prison system to want to make this happen, and we had that.”

This article was originally published in the July/August issue of Correctional News.

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