Laboratory of the Year
Wanted: A new paradigm for forensic sciences that promotes
collaboration and co-location of services and facilities.
When District of Columbia city leaders examined the system in place for han- dling forensic evidence and analysis, they realized public interest and safety
wasn’t served to the fullest. At the time, the Metropolitan Police Department sent thousands of trace
evidence specimens to the FBI’s laboratory in Virginia. This not only meant the District had little control
over the time it took to have samples analyzed, the
transport between locations raised issues of potential
compromise of evidence. The relay-style process also
meant that cases took longer to resolve.
After much discussion about the best approach
to address these issues, the idea emerged to build
a facility within the city that would consolidate all
forensic-based activities. The final program called
for locating the Metropolitan Police Department
Forensic Investigation Units, the Office of the Chief
Medical Examiner, and the Department of Health
Public Health Laboratory under one roof and one
agency—the newly formed Department of Forensic Sciences.
However, resolving their own problems wasn’t enough for this team. They
wanted their project to also become a national model for “functional relationships and interagency collaboration in the forensic sciences.” The unflattering 2009 report Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path
Forward from the National Academy of Sciences cast doubt on the quality of
forensic science work. Taking pride in their professions, the project team aimed
to elevate the level of forensic science while raising the roof on a new building.
These ambitious goals and their successful realization in the form of the
District of Columbia Consolidated Forensic Laboratory (CFL) drew
the attention of the Laboratory of the Year judges who awarded the facility Special Mention for Collaborative Science in R&D Magazine’s annual
Laboratory of the Year Award competition.
multiple agencies thoughtfully into one building—
by developing common protocols and functional
relationships to create a single intake and accessioning area for all material and processes.
In the planning stage, the development of a
forensic science concept served as a universally
adaptable model to maintain strict chain-of-custo-dy and deliver high-performance technical space.
The model successfully integrated the various
groups’ program elements into a common system,
which fostered collaboration.
Some new ideas emerged in the programming of
the research environment. The medical examiner’s
autopsy suites are located on an upper floor, taking
them out of the traditional location in a basement.
In addition, the suites have natural light coming into
the area. A ballistics facility is incorporated into the
heart of the facility, enabling this forensic team to
collaborate more fully with other teams. Enhanced
BSL- 3 laboratories are located on the perimeter of
an upper floor, allowing daylight in. Vehicle examination rooms operate as
laminar flow cleanrooms, maintaining integrity of the evidence.
The project achieved LEED-Platinum certification, while also meeting the stringent requirements of a first-responder facility. The detailed
building envelope, innovations in energy management for laboratories,
water conservation, and promotion of occupant wellness contributed to
the sustainability achievements. In addition, the project is being used as a
sustainable design tool for the District of Columbia Department of General Services to create training programs and guidelines for future projects
across the entire city.
Building information modeling (BIM) was the underlying tool that
drove project management to successfully achieve a highly collaborative
dynamic during construction, as well as creating open communication
among the various team members and agencies.
"Through an iterative and collaborative design process, the team was
able to provide the general contractor with great documentation to build
from. In the construction process the committed collaboration of the
entire team was instrumental to the final project. In the end everyone’s
expectations have been exceeded," says Tim O'Connell, AIA, HOK.
The buy-in from each of the different agencies, along with the city leadership, was critical to the project’s success. The Lab of the Year judges recognized the challenges posed by the co-location of disparate laboratories
and functions. Additionally, the panel noted that, due to budget restrictions and security requirements, forensic science buildings typically result
in floorplans with numerous small, closed rooms and little or no interaction between departments.
The project team for the CFL aimed to ele-
vate the level of forensic science while rais-
ing the roof on a new building. Image: HOK
Co-location, co-location, co-location