Arlington Heights Police Station Designed with Community in Mind
New Arlington Heights Police Station offers more space, efficiency, safety, and community connections
A stone arch stretches over a window on the south façade of Arlington Heights’ new police station. On some nights, when citizens traveling along Sigwalt Street look through that window, they will see officers and fellow residents meeting in the station’s most impressive space . . . a community room that shows what the Arlington Heights Police Department prioritizes: its residents.
Surrounding the community room’s occupants are wood wall panels and roof decking that give evidence of the 130-year-old community’s resilience—the wood was harvested from trees the village had to chop down during a decade-long emerald ash borer infestation.
At twice the size of its predecessor, the 70,500-square-foot station offers much more office, training, and storage space, plus its layout and technology speed up processes for the department. From the indoor firing range and defensive tactics room on the lower level to the conference room atop the entry tower, the space is flexible and adaptable for future uses.
The facility, located between the fire station and the village hall, puts the finishing touch on the long-awaited hub of Arlington Heights’ municipal campus.
“It’s hard to believe that back in 1887 and the years following what sat here on this site was Myers Pond,” said Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes at the December, 2018 dedication. “So we’ve come a long way. Now it’s time for this hub to operate at the center of our service delivery for decades to come.”
“This is a handsome building. It feels good, it looks traditional, and it looks like it fits nicely in our community.” – Jim Tinaglia, Arlington Heights Village Trustee
The station, designed by Legat Architects (with assistance from McClaren, Wilson & Lawrie police design consultant) and built by Riley Construction, was completed under budget. The story behind the new station’s development is one of determination and teamwork.
The Need for New
Sometimes, a sulfurous smell crept into Arlington Heights’ old police station. The odor came from cracked ventilation stacks that allowed sewer gases to vent into the building instead of through the roof. This was just one of many problems the department faced at the old facility.
When it was built in 1978, the station housed 80 employees. Today, the Arlington Heights Police Department employs more than 140. Moreover, the old station occupied a meagre 38,000 square feet, while neighboring stations with a similar full-time staff count averaged between 70,000 and 79,000 square feet. The small size forced the department to create ad hoc spaces: A small records office with bad ventilation served as the training room. A converted dark room housed the traffic unit. Piles of papers filled the basement corridor.
Charles Witherington-Perkins, the village’s director of planning and community development, explained another shortcoming. “The old building was deteriorating. It would have required millions of dollars just to maintain it.”
Proof of the facility’s decline appeared in everywhere from the missing ceiling tiles to the rainwater that sometimes invaded the lobby.
In 2015, the village decided to raze and rebuild the station versus the much more expensive option of upgrading the old building. After interviewing ten architectural and construction management firms in spring of 2016, the village selected Legat and Riley.
Bi-monthly design meetings brought together village representatives, police staff, residents, and the design and construction team. The team set out to design a striking station while meeting the needs of all departments and user groups, as well as the budget requirements.
In May 2017, the department moved out of the old building and leased space during construction. Hundreds of men and women put in over 150,000 skilled trade hours to construct the new station without a single lost-time injury.
A Handsome Neighbor to Welcome the Community
The old station’s exterior showed many signs of its age. Examples included cracked bricks, fogged windows, and railings starting to rot. Furthermore, the station’s nondescript design clashed with the historic look of the newer village hall (built 2008) and fire station (built 2006) on either side of it.
The village wanted the new station to complement its neighbors, but also to have its own identity. Legat designers turned to the Neo-Romanesque architectural style to pay tribute to the historic character of the facilities next door, while giving the station its own personality so visitors have immediate access to the police department. Additionally, the station’s two stories create a smooth transition between the four-story village hall and one-story fire station.
“The new station still has a historic look,” said Legat’s Steve Blye, project designer and Arlington Heights resident, “but instead of making a carbon copy of its neighbors, we used contrasting materials, arched forms, and a hip roof to differentiate the station.”
Large windows and warm lighting display public spaces along Sigwalt Street. The facility limits these spaces to one story to create a friendlier presence. The two-story structure behind the public corridor has a sloping roof to make it less imposing. Eyebrow windows cut into the roof bring light into open plan offices.
To help get the project in on budget, designers specified more economical, though still durable materials in the less visible areas both on the exterior and within the building. For instance, the back of the police station, which is less exposed to public view, saves construction dollars with a more utilitarian look. The repetitive window sizing also cuts down on costs.
Village Trustee Jim Tinaglia said, “This is a handsome building. It’s done in a great way without being overdone. It feels good, it looks traditional, and it looks like it fits nicely in our community. The architects have done a great job.”
Sustainable from Driveway to Roof
During design, the village made it clear that it wanted the new station to incorporate sustainable features. The design responds with LED lighting and energy-efficient HVAC systems.
Additionally, the village received a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District grant for permeable pavers on the driveway and behind the building. Unlike standard asphalt, the pavers absorb rainwater through their joints to prevent the runoff that causes erosion and carries pollutants into water systems.
The station’s most notable sustainable element stems from a major setback the village suffered: public spaces incorporate wood from trees that the village chopped down in response to a decade-long emerald ash borer infestation. The wood appears in wall panels, roof decking, window frames, benches, and display cases. Learn more about how the station uses ash wood.
Built for Training
The old station had severe shortcomings when it came to training—its primary “training room” was a converted records office with poor ventilation.
The new station brings officers not only a large lower-level training room, but also a second-floor training room with three writable walls, smartboards, and a table that rises or lowers.
Some officers had trouble finding a spot to do online learning in the old facility. Deputy Chief Nathan Hayes said, “It was cumbersome if you were a sergeant sitting at your desk in the operations room and trying to do assigned training and everybody was coming in.”
The new station resolves the issue with a second-floor Academic Learning Studio, where officers have a place for uninterrupted online training.
Most of the lower level is dedicated to training. The defensive tactics room has mats and a resilient rubber floor so officers can practice everything from threat assessment to martial arts techniques. Next door, a multipurpose classroom supports group training. A partition between these two spaces opens to create a larger training area.
The lower level also houses a 25-yard, six-lane (previous was five) firing range that is 10 feet wider and a bit deeper than the old range. Unlike the old range, which had only one light setting, the new range allows no- or low-light shooting. Additionally, the new range’s bullet-absorbing chopped rubber only needs to be changed every four or five years.
The previous range did not accommodate long gun training—the department had to pay for officers to travel to outdoor ranges in Walworth County, Wisconsin or Kane County, Illinois. The new range, designed to handle .50 caliber rifles, eliminates that problem.
Next to the range are an armory and a staging area with exhaust fans that absorb chemicals and remove lead dust as officers clean their guns.
The lower level also houses a VirTra five-screen training simulator, which uses surround sound and customizable on-screen situations to immerse trainees in thousands of potential scenarios.
“With current training requirements, we don’t want to just see officers shooting paper,” said Hayes. “We want to see decision-making and scenario-based training.”
Where the Work Gets Done
Lack of operations space in the old station meant that some officers had to do reports in a converted trash room with subpar ventilation. Six officers often crammed into the eight-foot by eight-foot room. If one officer was on the phone, his conversation distracted the others.
The new station’s operations center gives the officers four times more space to carry out their patrol duties.
Hayes said, “Before, we were putting people everywhere. Now, officers have their own area designated to meet their needs and they can get work done without having to meander through the rest of the building.”
Among the other large back-of-house spaces on the first floor are a roll call room, records, a report writing room, and an administrative office for sergeants.
Arrestees are brought in through a sally port large enough for not only a squad car, but also for an ambulance (in case the prisoner needs medical attention). The old sally port, too small for an ambulance, had been used as storage space for bicycles and motorcycles.
Officers sit behind a transparent, bullet-resistant barrier as they process prisoners. This offers a much safer scenario than the previous setup, which had no barrier and required officers to sit next to prisoners.
To pass by the doors of the juvenile and adult interview rooms is to see how far the station has advanced. Embedded in each wood door is a half dollar-sized fish-eye lens. This high-tech peephole enables those outside the interview rooms to see every square inch of the room—occupants can’t hide in corners.
The lockup facility includes five male cells, four female cells, a padded cell, and a general bathroom for prisoners during processing. If a prisoner attempts to clog a toilet, an officer simply uses a manual flush button outside the cell.
In the old station, prisoners released on bond were processed and released in the lobby. As officers escorted prisoners through the station, they had to take several steps to avoid crossing paths with victims. The layout of new station avoids this predicament with a separate processing window (not in the lobby) and a separate door where prisoners are released.
Forensic Laboratories and Evidence Storage
Forensics division employees worked in a small basement space of the original police station. When they outgrew that space, they moved to the fourth floor of the village hall.
The new station has two state-of-the-art labs that reunite forensics and the rest of the departments. Officers use the more traditional forensics laboratory on the lower level for everything from evidence testing to hazard evaluations. During processing, specialized drying chambers prevent the mold that might otherwise destroy biological evidence.
The computer forensics laboratory supports cybercrime investigations including analyzing cell phone and computer content. According to detective Brian Clarke, this lab and its specialized equipment enable him and his colleagues to complete in five to ten hours some tasks that would formerly take two years!
Both forensics labs allow technicians to secure evidence so they can testify to the chain of custody.
Much of the station’s evidence storage is located on the lower level. Sliding shelves in the evidence vault enable officers to move thousands of pounds with a rotating wheel. An adjacent narcotics vault has separate ventilation.
The station also has an evidence processing bay with specialty lighting for large evidence, particularly vehicles. Investigators use a dividing wall to close off part of the bay to testify that a vehicle was quarantined during an investigation.
Second Floor Highlights
Officers swipe a key card in the elevator to access the second-floor detective investigations division. “Soft interview” rooms offer bright, comfortable furniture for victims. The detective division also has a controlled bathroom. Previously, officers would have to walk interviewees through the old station to find an unoccupied bathroom.
The jewel of the second floor is the administrative conference room that tops the entry tower. At night, the space illuminates so passersby can see their representatives in action.
A mishmash of cords, boots, and equipment cluttered the old station’s locker rooms. Conversely, the new station’s second-floor locker room is clear and clean. Unlike the old high school-style lockers before, new wider lockers have a shelf to air out vests and a slide-out boot rack on the bottom. A few extra-large lockers accommodate SWAT team equipment.
The second floor also has a fitness room and a breakroom with a rooftop patio.
A Reflection of the Community
For decades, police stations were built like fortresses: imposing and unwelcoming. The new Arlington Heights Police Station departs from this look with a façade that is warm and approachable, yet still conveys a sense of safety.
What most impressed Blye about this project was the village’s commitment to a strong design that promotes civic pride.
During planning, village stakeholders had input on everything from floor plans and exterior renderings to the interior material and color palette.
“We met with the village every two weeks from early design through construction documents,” said Blye. “They didn’t cut any corners. In fact, if you compare the rendering with the completed project, you’ll be hard pressed to find any differences. Arlington Heights never wavered from its focus on quality, and the station shows it.”
“This project is more than just a space for our employees; it’s a reflection of what this community and this organization believe are important.” – Randy Recklaus, Arlington Heights Village Manager
At the dedication, Village Manager Randy Recklaus said, “This project is more than just a space for our employees; it’s a reflection of what this community and this organization believe are important. It’s a reflection of the high esteem with which we hold the law enforcement professionals who work here, and it’s a reflection of the high standards for service in public safety that our community expects. It’s also a reflection of the attention to detail and seriousness with which the design team conducted themselves.”
And what do the officers think of their new home? Hayes said, “I gave tours to 30 or 40 different officers and every single one of them was blown away. Awestruck is what I heard. Every employee that came through here for the first time was almost speechless.”
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