Wright On Track
At the Marin County Civic Center, the challenges of maintaining door security while protecting life safety and providing accessibility are complicated further by the need to maintain the architectural integrity of the building’s Frank Lloyd Wright design. The need to increase security and improve accessibility required changes in hardware without compromising the building’s aesthetics.
The Marin County Civic Center complex comprises an administrative building and a judicial center that are set into the area between three small hills. The administration building was completed in 1962 and the Hall of Justice in 1970. The project fully embodies Wright’s ideal of organic architecture — a synthesis of buildings and landscape. In Wright’s words, the structures were planned to “melt into the sunburnt hills.” The Civic Center is a California Registered Historical Landmark.
When the Civic Center was first opened, the door hardware and access control systems were adequate for their time, but as things changed, it became necessary to upgrade accessibility, especially for those with disabilities. Maintaining a balance between security and ease of access also became a bigger factor, particularly in the Hall of Justice. “Attorneys from the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices are going back and forth into restricted record areas all day long. Because these areas need to be locked, they had to lock and unlock them manually from the inside each time,” says Rich Leahy of the Department of Public Works. “What they wanted was ease of egress, where a key wouldn’t be required.”
Proximity card readers and electrically-operated door hardware provided the solution. Pairs of doors are equipped with Von Duprin 33EL Series concealed vertical rod exit devices to provide both security and accessibility. One leaf is electrified and controlled by the card reader, while the other leaf is strictly mechanical, with a key on one side and a thumb turn on the other. The doors are set up so someone can’t leave a door unlocked, but the exit devices provide safe egress at all times.
The building is controlled by an Andover Controls management system, which operates the lighting and air conditioning. The electrified hardware and the card readers were integrated into the same system to provide an audit trail of entries. The system also can be programmed to open the door and turn on the lights in a room when a card is swiped.
Providing suitable accessibility for those with disabilities was another challenge. “The state mandated that each public office should provide at least one door that opens automatically,” Leahy says. “Because the clear width of some doors is too narrow, we had to equip both leafs of a pair with automatic operators.”
The original electric door openers are being replaced with LCN Auto-Equalizer 4810 power operators, which incorporate a control box with a built-in air source for double door applications. Since they have no holding tank or lines to blow out, they require less maintenance than some other pneumatic operators. To date, 64 doors in the complex have been changed, and another 20 of the new power operators are in the process of being installed.
Because of the building’s design significance, it is always necessary to consider the effects of any changes on the design fabric of the facility. For example, the Auto-Equalizers were mounted on the inside of the doors where they were unobtrusive, yet would provide the desired function.
Particularly on the court floor, in the sheriff’s department, and wherever keys are used to control access, the Civic Center uses Schlage Primus keyways. Keyblanks are available only from the manufacturer, and there is no duplication within a geographic area. These restrictions and the patent protection eliminate the possibility of someone making unauthorized copies of keys, which maintains key control. The same high security keys are used at sheriff’s department substations throughout the county as well.
To add greater security without sacrificing usability, some doors outside of the control of the building’s energy management system are being equipped with Locknetics ProEntry Series programmable standalone electromechanical locks.