Aesthetically Secure

Oct. 27, 2008
Security console had to match the historic look of a Pittsburgh school

What do you get when you undertake a security upgrade that's part of the renovation of a historic structure? In the case of Arsenal Middle School , it becomes as much an interior design project as a security upgrade.

In 1999, the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission (HRC) designated Arsenal Middle School a historic structure. During the Civil War, the building served as the southernmost munitions manufacturing facility for the North.

Although the HRC has no jurisdiction over changes made to interiors of historic structures, the architects felt in this case it was important to carry the same historical look and intent of the exterior into the lobby.

A major aspect of the security upgrade was the addition of a security console in the school lobby. The console would serve as a remote monitoring station for the school's access control system, including CCTV and alarms. Because of its size and function, the console also became a major design element of the lobby renovation.

“It's a beautiful school,” says the project's interior designer Jennifer Puglianl McDowell, of architectural firm Quad 3 Group. “It has terrazzo and marble on the walls.”

From the start, McDowell had an idea of what was needed to make the console fit with the unique architectural aspects of the lobby. Initially, she worked with Winsted Corp., a manufacturer of technical furniture for applications such as security consoles. But the modular furniture offered in the company's catalog just didn't fit the look of the lobby.

Winsted understood the unique design requirements of the project and suggested McDowell work with its custom design division, Winsted Technical Interiors, which specializes in the design, development, fabrication and installation of custom workstation consoles for complex technical environments.

Aesthetically it was important that the materials used to construct the console fit with the existing look of the lobby. McDowell specifically requested the use of Avonite and Corian solid-surface materials for their durability and flexibility in design.

The console's transaction counter is constructed of copper-colored Avonite with the appearance of large chip aggregate. The same Avonite was also used over black reveals on all outer vertical surfaces. The work surfaces are constructed of black Corian.

WTI helped architects overcome potential design complications resulting from the lobby's unique architecture. For instance, one side of the console return butts up against a pilaster on the back wall of the lobby. WTI made it a non-issue by fitting the casework to the pilaster so the console appears to be integrated into the wall.

“Aside from trying to match the historical architecture, probably the larger obstacle was finding something that was at least moderately vandal-resistant,” says Ed Sullivan, director of Quad 3 Group's Pitsburgh office.

Because vandalism is a problem at Arsenal and most city schools, providing a solution that is durable and vandal-resistant was a critical design consideration. Constructing the console with solid-surface materials, recessing monitors and including the ability to stow away equipment allowed WTI to solve the issues.

When the desk is left unattended, such as after school hours, virtually everything can be locked up and protected. Two standard keyboards and a specialized Pelco keyboard used to control CCTV monitors, can be hidden and locked in recessed drawers. Locking cabinets were built into the console to house both the access control server and alarm report printer. Four CCTV monitors and the alarm monitor are semi-recessed in the desk and secured in place by a metal monitor frame.

“We have got nothing but compliments, even from the school district itself and their facilities people,” McDowell says.