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When Ken left St. Louis the week of 7/23/2011, there was a heat index warning of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. When he arrived in Morocco it was in the upper 70s; a good indication to him of the potential changes that would be available to us for this project. Joining Ken in Morocco were his collages from the States, Lou Hartman of Crime Lab Design and Benjamin Perillo, Senior Forensic Advisor for ICITAP. We were asked to evaluate a proposed forensic laboratory site, develop a program for the agency, test-fit the agency’s program into the building’s floor plans, and make a recommendation as to the potential use of the proposed building as a crime lab.

A concept sketch of the proposed alterations to the existing facility.

Day 1: We arrive in Casablanca on Sunday afternoon, de-plane and clear customs, meet our driver, and make our way to the Hyatt hotel. We check-in, shower, and crash; eat some dinner at the French restaurant in the hotel; and do a little prep work for Monday’s meetings with the Director and Section Heads of the crime lab. Our scope is to help the Moroccan Police with a potential relocation of the existing forensic laboratory facility to a proposed site including a partially constructed building that was originally intended to support government activities of a neighborhood/ section of Casablanca, Prefecture Hay Hassani Ain Chock.

Day 2: After a somewhat restful night’s sleep we make our way to the existing crime lab in Casablanca. We are greeted with handshakes and the traditional French greetings by the Director and his administration, which we returned. Everyone is gracious and helpful.We are also introduced to Mr. Mohamed Benkiran, an architect with ArchiLab selected to retrofit the proposed building into a crime lab; including representatives from other government offices and a newly developed Quality Control Section focused on ISO accreditation. The objective today is to revisit the project’s expectations and tour the proposed building and site. In broad strokes we reviewed current and future staffing needs, forensic services to be offered, and the concept of this facility as the national lab in Casablanca with satellite labs throughout Morocco.

Following lunch, we head off to the proposed building and site. For the past 15 years the structure has been unfinished and open, with roofs completed on the two buildings being considered for reuse and a completed exterior enclosure but without windows. You might imagine the current condition of this vacant, open air, structure; and you would be right. Weather has been entering the building along with birds, small mammals, and squatters. There are areas of debris in the space and some fear that the weather has, overtime, weakened the structure. However, we were able to maneuver through the entire structure and collect the necessary data for our evaluation.

Day 3: Tuesday was one meeting after the other with section heads and their staff to review staffing needs, advancements in their scientific services, and how caseload demands affect these items, including space needs. Included in these discussions was a review of the concept plans that we had generated a year ago for each section.

A list of the Sections:

  • Forensic Biology (DNA) – Casework & Databasing
  • Firearms
  • Toxicology
  • Chemistry/Trace
  • Latent Prints and Vehicle Examination
  • Computer Forensics
  • Questioned Documents
  • Evidence Control
  • Administration & QA/QC
  • Training
  • Building Support

Day 4: More of the same, section meetings continued with exploration into section to section adjacency and stacking location in the proposed building. This exercise also included critical thinking of how to best use the proposed building entrance and exits. Staff could enter from one entrance, while the public and visitors arriving for training could use a different doorway on a different side of the building.

One major issue discovered during these discussions was lack of adequate floor to ceiling height in the existing buildings. Many of the spaces had floor to ceiling heights of 2.5 to 3.5 meters (roughly 7 to 10 feet).We recommend an overall floor to ceiling height between 5 and 5.5 meters (roughly 16 to 17 feet) for laboratory spaces. This allows for mechanical duct work and other mechanical support to be directly above the labs. The lack of sufficient floor to ceiling height will be a challenge if this site is selected for renovation into a crime lab.

Day 5: On this day we bring all the sections back to validate room to room adjacencies, material flow, evidence handling issues, and personnel movement within each section.We also explored laboratory bench configurations, number of sinks, and number of fume hoods, including quantity and type of analytical instruments. All of this information was captured in real time using a tablet PC allowing the users of the space the ability to view the data collection and concept generation, make suggestions, and track the modifications to their space.

Day 6: We compiled all of our work into a half day presentation to a room full of very interested parties. We recapped all of our work and visually shared the data collected and the concepts generated.

We did leave them with a few suggestions.

  • We evaluated the programmatic need for staff and space and developed concepts that work with the proposed building and site. The fit-out of that space would be challenging but doable with a few concessions:

    o Construct an addition to accommodate the latent print section and vehicle examination bays.
    o Construct a partial Level 1 floor on the Administrative building for the DNA databasing section.
    o Construct a full Level 1 floor on the Administrative building for both the DNA databasing section and DNA casework.

  • Since the existing structure requires rework to eliminate stairs, introduce elevators, add duct shafts, and support vertical additions, it may be more expensive to adapt the partially constructed facility than to build new. Typically the value of the structure and basic enclosure is about 20% of the cost of constructing a new facility. The option to construct an entirely new facility should be considered as:

    o Portions of the structure will need to be reworked to close stairs and create new shafts.
    o Much of the concrete slab on the garden level will need to be removed to install drainage piping.
    o The exterior walls are only partially usable.
    o The roof will need replacing.
    o There is potential for hidden decay from the 15 years the structure has been exposed to the elements.
    o The layout of the laboratory spaces will be negatively impacted due to the physical dimensions of the existing structure, including the limited floor to ceiling height.
    o The cost of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems will increase due to the difficulties of installing in the existing structure.

Day 7: The time has come to leave Casablanca and head back to the United States; we make our way to the airport, clear customs, and board our direct flight to JFK on Air Morocco. During our flight back Lou and I reflect on the time we spent with the Moroccan Crime Lab staff: their hospitality and their dedication to forensic science and this project. It’s that level of commitment from the user group that will lead to a successful finish of a successful project.

Ken Mohr (kenm@crimelabdesign.com) is a Principal and Senior Forensic Planner and Lou Hartman (louh@crimelabdesign.com) is a Principal and Senior Mechanical Engineer with Crime Lab Design which provides full architectural and engineering services for forensic and medical examiner facilities worldwide.

Benjamin Perillo is the President of Forensic Quality Services, a forensic accrediting body recognized by IAAC and ILAC. He also serves as a Senior Forensic Advisor to ICITAP. Ben is a Fellow of the AAFS; a member of the IAI; and an emeritus member of MAFS, MAAFS, and ASCLD. He continues to stay abreast of the field, offering his many years of managerial and forensic experience. Ben can be reached at perilloconsult@aol.com.

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