Imagine having a new 100,000 sq. ft forensic facility under construction and three months ahead of schedule, but still needing to borrow space from the County Medical Examiner. Now, picture the possibility of catching up on several years of backlog with a full staff of forensic scientists, sworn, and non-swornpersonnel. What would that be like?

The City of Phoenix Police Department will soon know first hand. Their new, $34.6 million, 104,000 sq. ft forensic facility is 50 percent complete and set to open in June 2007. The facility is planned to operate around the clock, with 140 to 150 staff working in three shifts. The new three story, “L” shaped structure will give the City of Phoenix five times its current 19,000 sq. ft located in the basement of the Police Headquarters. Laboratory space will beorganized in one wing, with office space in the other.

The new facility will house state-of-the-art laboratories with emergency showers and examination rooms, training areas, evidence and supply storage, OSHA-approved chemical storage, and space to accommodate public tours. There will be a ballistic testing and pattern determination range, as well as a forensic garage for vehicle inspection accommodating up to six vehicles. The Crime Scene Mobile Response Unit will also call the new facility home and the staff will have the benefit of a modern facility with computerized forensic databases to enhance criminal investigations and to manage the custody of evidence.

The City of Phoenix Police Department Forensic Facility provides an excellent example of how teamwork between city and police administrators can culminate in a modern facility that is within budget. Site selection at Phoenix brought city representatives and federal judges together to address numerous site issues. During planning, police administrators worked with users to meet their space needs within industry guidelines. And finally, the architect, engineers, laboratory planners, and contractors worked hand-in-hand to plan a facility that is both cost effective and delivers cutting edge technology. The team included Durrant, Harley Ellis Devereaux, Crime Lab Design, and Gilbane.

If you are considering planning or renovating your forensic facility, we hope this case study will offer you lessons learned and serve as an example of the type of outcome that is needed to meet present and future needs. In this article, we give you a glimpse into Phoenix’s unique facility. Several aspects of the 3,000 square foot Forensic Laboratory are highlighted and may help inform your agency if faced with similar issues.

Inside the Forensic Laboratory
The primary goal for the City of Phoenix’s Forensic Laboratory was creating an environment of flexibility within every aspect of the space and maximizing future adaptability for the users. The design allows the director to not only rearrange the current facility, but readapt it for a different use in the future. By designing the lab while planning for future needs, the lab director achieves the most out of his or her space. It also provides the director with the freedom to reconfigure the lab at minimal or no cost. Part of the budget that previously may have been needed to rearrange space is now available to keep current with emerging technologies. Purchasing new equipment brings to light the importance of moveable casework systems and the benefits it adds to the future use ofthe laboratory environment.

A perfect example of how adaptability can affect a lab is with the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) suite. If the suite is designed solely for the use of an SEM with fixed casework, under floor utilities, and a special structural system to mitigate vibrations, this limits the usefulness of the spaces when the SEM is replaced. The new technology may require more physical space, movable casework, and different services in a separate location with no need for a restrictive vibration control. By allowing this same space to be flexible and adaptable, not only have you met the needs of today but you have also allowed for flexibility for the future. Now this suite can accommodate new equipment, additional people, and changing scientific methodologies.

In the past few years, the need for adaptable laboratories has been even more apparent. Because of this need, there has been a steady increase in this type of design. In order to achieve this goal within the Phoenix Forensic Laboratory, two major components were used: overhead service carriers (building infrastructure) and move-able furniture (laboratory casework systems). These crucial aspects of design became the building blocks by which this forensic laboratory was assembled.

Overhead service carriers (OSC) are pieces of equipment that are mounted to the ceiling and carry the service connections needed for each location in the lab. The services available on these carriers include electric, data, gasses, exhaust, optional equipment, and even water. The OSC also brings a mechanical, electrical, and plumbing advantage. They allow for all of these services to run through the ceiling, which makes them easily accessible for repairs, expansion, and addition. When new services are needed in the OSC, a contractor can easily get access into the ceiling and make the necessary changes. If the design and planning process of the past were used, the contractor would need access into the wall or under the bench to remove casework and run new services within the wall. This would require more time, labor, and money to accomplish the same task.

The Phoenix Forensic Lab was designed with eleven work stations that consist of two moveable tables and an overhead service carrier. If the item being examined in the work station is large, additional tables can be moved as needed to support the process. This also highlights the advantage of having adaptable casework. If this had been a laboratory made up of fixed casework, an area would have been designed and dedicated for large items, resulting in wasted space when unused.

This example represents a traditional, "U"
shaped work bench. This type of design is
very limited: single user, single use.

This example shows the "U" shaped bench
designed for Phoenix. It is similar to the tradi-
tional "U," but is much larger allowing for
multiple users doing various functions.

This example depicts perimeter casework used
in the Phoenix Forensic Lab. This design
improves building efficiency and allows multi-
ple users to work along the perimeter, making
the room more flexible.

Another design feature of the Phoenix Forensic Lab is the perimeter casework. A large portion of the room is lined in casework. By doing this, it allows for permanent work stations, as well as room for expansion. In the past, “U” shaped benches were used for all the workstations but this did not allow for future employees to be added. By using linear casework, it is possible to add multiple workers along the perimeter, all of which can utilize the moveable tables within the center of the room. There are four “U” shaped benches along one wall of the Phoenix Forensic Lab, but they are much largerand allow for multiple users within one workstation.

As you can see from this conceptual floor plan of the Phoenix Forensic Facility, it was designed in accordance to the National Institute of Justice guidelines with a clear separation of laboratory and office space.

Safety within the laboratory environment is a key element in the Phoenix Forensic Laboratory. By using moveable tables and OSCs, you can create open floor space which is sometimes referred to as a “dance floor.” This allows for several users to work within the space without jeopardizing safety. In the case of an emergency, the dance floor provides easy navigation through the space. Other safety features within the lab are eye wash stations and safety showers. Each sink is equipped with an eye wash on a drench hose used to flush out any impurities that come in contact with a user’s eye. These units operate in a hands free mode and can be removed from their deck mounted position to target a specific area. There is also a minimum of two safety showers on each floor that are referred to as “combo units,” meaning theyare also equipped with an eye wash station.

Keeping an open mind to different design approaches is the most important lesson learned by the City of Phoenix. Through each step of the project, the City was confronted by traditional thinking versus new concepts. Pulling from the best of both approaches will ultimately deliver innovation for todayand flexibility for tomorrow.

Ken Mohr is a Principal and Sr. Forensic Laboratory Planner with Crime Lab Design, which provides full A/E services for forensic and medical examiner facilities.

Travis Krick is a Forensic Laboratory Planner with Crime Lab Design. He is currently working on numerous forensic projects across the country forensic projects across the country. For more info, please visit