WLC Architects completed Turlock’s $32.0 million Public Safety Facility in 2010. The design features a 57,750 square foot, two-story, combined police and fire headquarters designed on a 4.6-acre site located in the California agricultural community of Turlock. Responsible as both the designer and the builder, WLC completed the entire complex under a unique integrated project delivery agreement with the City. The project represents a major civic addition to the City’s historic downtown district and a neighboring community arts center. Major features include a one-acre “town square” public plaza designed for outdoor community events and a 180-foot communications tower. Concerns about community compatibility, residential scale, public access, and downtown preservation and quality are strategic components of the plan.
Located in Central California’s heartland, the City of Turlock’s Public Safety Facility has been designed to enrich Turlock’s small-town character, encourage pedestrian-oriented access, and to preserve its architecturally rich downtown business and historical district. The highly visible site is located in the original downtown district, which is characterized by a proliferation of historic buildings considered to be the City’s core. A former Carnegie library building, located next door to the project, is one of the community’s smaller but more significant historic buildings. As a prelude to the design of the Public Safety Center, plans were completed by Stockton’s WMB Architects for the Carnegie structure to be restored and expanded into a community visual arts center. When community advocates realized the size of the proposed Public Safety Facility, significant concerns were expressed by the City’s Historical Society regarding the project’s scale. Of particular concern was an 18 story communication tower planned as part of the complex.
Opponents to the project initially lobbied for the project be moved to an alternate site, but site studies showed the downtown location was superior because the addition of a large civic component would enhance the visual and economic vitality of the downtown, not to mention the optimum security benefits afforded to the surrounding business and residential areas. A series of community design workshops were conducted to respond to concerns for community compatibility, residential scale, access to downtown areas, and neighborhood quality which involved Historical Society & Arts commissioners, surrounding residents, and community advocates. Public review comments inspired the addition of architectural features found within the context of Turlock’s historic downtown.
The building design employs a hierarchy of offset building forms and shapes that maintain a clear ordering of street, building, courtyard, parking, pedestrian and open space elements. Nearby historic downtown buildings inspired the use of colonnades, porticos, pitched roof gables, balconies, corbeled recessed windows, articulated upper stories, and a heavy truncated building base. A sensitive massing of the new building elements and the careful placement of the structure respects the scale and character of the site, which has been shaped to minimize the perceived size of the building by breaking down the building facade into a collection of smaller building fronts like those found downtown. Materials of construction were purposefully selected for compatibility with the adjacent Carnegie Center project, and reflect natural, comfortable, timeless, and textural compositions.
By stepping the building back from the street, the opportunity to establish a connecting public plaza to the downtown area was realized. The plaza serves as an outdoor community room and is designed to accommodate public assemblies, a weekly farmer's market, scout camp-outs, pancake breakfasts, and art and craft fairs. When not used for community events, the plaza provides additional short-term parking, while it demonstrates sustainable design practices which include drought-resistant landscaping, reduced heat island effect, enhanced soil and pavement percolation, energy efficient site lighting, and water conservation.
The design concept for the communication tower was inspired by the forms of the predominant “tower icons” of the Carnegie era—buildings like the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and Monadnock Block. The design of the tower involved a lighter, repetitive mid-section facade, used to “lighten” its overall height, while the skeletal top got made to visually disappear, thus further reducing the apparent tower height. Overall, the tower measures 180 feet high, with an 18 foot by 18 foot enclosed base. Normally a highly objectionable design element, the communication tower became a distinctive regional reference point symbolizing Turlock’s civic pride and achievement.
In this way, Turlock’s new Public Safety Facility became a valuable addition to its downtown and has been highly acclaimed by the community at large. During the final public review process, Turlock’s planning authority noted, “Inspiration for the project includes compatibility with the adjacent and historic Carnegie Center, concern for downtown prosperity, conformance with Downtown Design Guidelines, sensitivity to surrounding residential quality, and benefit to public open space—all of which uniquely shape the overall design concept.”