The recently completed renovation for the Comal County Sheriff’s Office is an example of repurposing existing facilities to maximize space and efficiency. The nearly 40-year-old office was built in 1985 and had exhausted the life and capacity of its original systems and the flexibility to adapt to changes in practice for this growing county. With rising populations, increased construction costs and concerns from constituents, counties are faced with the challenge of making the most of their aging buildings and existing real estate assets in the most cost-efficient and effective manner.
Comal County embarked on a long-term strategy with HDR’s design team, in association with firms LMD Architects, M&S Engineers and HMT Civil Engineers to provide for their present/future jail needs and expand the law enforcement space by purchasing property adjacent to their existing jail facility, which also housed the sheriff’s office operations. In Phase 1, a new jail was planned for a total build-out of approximately 900 beds — 587 beds were completed in 2020. Phase 2 included the renovation of the existing jail into the sheriff’s office and law enforcement space to house sheriff’s office administration, patrol, 911 dispatch, criminal investigations, evidence storage and other offices, as well as accommodating planned future expansion through 2031.
When HDR started the project, the existing jail/sheriff’s office facility could no longer support the growing inmate population and no longer had sufficient staff and service spaces required for operations. Support spaces had been repurposed for staff use, and office space intended for one individual held multiple employees. The sheriff’s office was always undergoing repairs and alterations, much of which was accomplished by their own maintenance crews. Renovating the existing Law Enforcement Center provided 68,000 square feet for the sheriff’s office, which will serve them for the next 20 years. With rising costs and inflation, this was an excellent solution since renovation/repurposing costs are significantly lower than new construction. During construction, the sheriff’s office operated out of portables while the existing Law Enforcement Center was renovated by SpawGlass Construction. Vacating the building made it easier for construction without disrupting daily operations. This strategy allowed the sheriff’s office to maintain operations adjacent to the new jail while the existing facility was renovated.
Since the county was already paying to maintain the existing jail, the decision to expand the sheriff’s office into the current jail was the most cost-effective asset-reuse plan for Comal County. In addition, most of the department comprises offices and support spaces that do not require water or sewer, so any problematic under slab plumbing can be capped and abandoned, as needed. Another benefit of renovating the existing building space is that the facility will be brought up to current code requirements for building, life safety, accessibility and energy codes, resulting in a safer facility for staff and visitors. Because of these increased efficiencies, the county should experience a drop in utility costs. In Comal County’s case, the project also allowed the sheriff’s office to reimagine the 30-year-old face of the former facility with a new façade representing the professionalism and values of its current law enforcement staff. This work resulted in a building of great value to the county and one in which staff and visitors can be proud.