Burleigh/Morton County Detention Center

Bismarck, ND

Total precast concrete was the building material of choice to bring this project in on schedule and to meet the demanding needs that Burleigh and Morton Counties are facing with lack of jail space. This year-round construction project began its precast erection in September 2015 and completed erection in April 2016; the entire project completion set for summer 2017. Interior walls, common areas, and the cells were all precast, which simplified coordination amongst the different trades allowing for a streamlined installation process.

Wells Concrete provided 1,550 precast members including columns, beams, and architectural and structural wall panels boasting sandblast and waterwash finishes. 1,800 members of hollowcore were provided by a precast partner and then erected by Wells Concrete. To meet a demanding schedule, Wells coordinated production between all four production facilities and utilized three field crews.

This project is a 213,000 square foot footprint detention facility. Included with the new facility is a five pod, two level design, plus one shelled pod for future expansion, 476 bed lock down facility with support spaces including a full kitchen, full laundry, receiving, administration and booking.

Much of the work on the precast panels occurred in the precaster’s plant throughout the winter months; given the unpredictable North Dakota winters, precast represented a particular advantage in keeping construction going year-round.  The precast panels were formed in a carefully controlled environment, which helped contractors minimize the added “cushion” created in schedules to accommodate bad weather and thereby avoid costly weather delays that other systems can experience.

The new design includes a booking area, which will allow officers to process an inmate within 15 minutes and then resume work quickly. It also features a port area for 11 squad cars, a pre-booking area for officers to finish paperwork and 30 holding cells to keep inmates until they are classified for the right jail population. If bailed out, suspects will exit through the front door. If kept longer, non-trial court hearings could be done via interactive video from the booking section.

The five core buildings in the jail design separate the inmate population into minimum-security, medium-security, maximum-security, and special needs. Plus, the grounds of the jail site have the capacity to expand to 1,000 beds if needed.

“The use of precast for this project was complex and unique because of the size, design and use of the building. This required considerable collaboration with all project stakeholders during design and through construction. However, erecting precast through a North Dakota winter was, without a doubt, the right choice when weighed against other construction materials and the Owner’s project timeline.”

-Kevin Koppang, Project Manager, Comstock Construction, Inc.

“Burleigh County spent a tremendous amount of time and effort in the design of the new Detention Center. Our goal from day one was to have a building that would be up and running within 24 months. The reasons for this was our overrun, old detention center, and our expenditures due to housing inmates in others Counties in North and South Dakota. We chose a structural system so that we could have construction year round in North Dakota. This system also provided us with a security level that is absolutely necessary due to the use of the building upon completion. The precast solution was perfect to meet all of our needs!”

-Pat Heinert, Sheriff, Burleigh County

Project Details

  • 6” Flat Slab = 464 members, 21,222 sq. ft.
  • 8” Flat Slab = 595 members, 93,629 sq. ft.
  • Wall Panel (6-3-3) = 200 members, 43,614 sq. ft.
  • Wall Panel (8-2-2) = 132 members, 45,572 sq. ft.
  • Wall Panel (8-3-3) = 47 members, 7,256 sq. ft.
  • Columns = 87 members, 1,394 lf
  • Beams = 121 members, 3,158 lf

Hollowcore = provided by Gage Brothers


Production was coordinated from all four of our production facilities.  All facilities are capable of producing identical products which allows for more flexibility to meet schedule demands and minimize risk, while still maintaining consistency of the product. In addition, a third crane and crew were added to speed up the erection process to compensate for outside delays early in the schedule.

North Dakota weather conditions can prove particularly challenging for building contractors because weather affects project schedules, construction quality and employee safety. However, the precast concrete building process used addressed the challenges presented by weather with the panels being fabricated indoors and in controlled conditions.

In addition, as the panels were erected, they could provide load-bearing support, giving site managers more flexibility over the construction schedule and providing an immediate barrier to the elements, including insulating properties against the cold, allowing work to be done inside the building.

Design Challenges

Coordination of the structural precast design items with the other engineering disciplines, especially mechanical and plumbing was a challenge for the team to work through. As well as the complexity of the air/water supply systems that required considerable amount of large openings through the precast walls and floor panels.

The grouting of precast hollowcore was a challenge in the winter months, but this product allowed for a faster structure enclosure to keep interior work going. After the beams and hollowcore were in place, the exterior walls were completed to protect the interior from the weather. Window openings were covered with plastic and heaters were brought onsite before the cold weather set in.

Weather is a major factor in North Dakota construction projects. With extreme temperature differences season-to-season and unpredictable snowfall in the winter, project planning is heavily centered on the weather. Partnering with the contractor is critical to implement a strategic plan for year-round construction to help limit construction delays due to weather.


The use of precast concrete cells was an innovative way to speed up project completion as these were erected as the building was constructed.

A total precast system was used, including precast cells, which allowed for minimum joints in the interior.

Casting in electrical / mechanical items insured prisoner safety and added security.

Using a total precast system provided the opportunity for the ownership group along with the design team to tour the precast facility and physically walk through a precast cell unit prior to fabrication. This allowed everyone to make the desired changes up front and allow for everyone’s expectations and standards to be set before product even reached the site.

It was also very beneficial for the precast manufacture because it allowed them to perfect the production process prior to mass production, which ultimately streamlined fabrication and reduced field fixes.

Putting everyone’s mind at ease and setting expectations prior to fabrication ensures that precast will be the product of choice in the future for other design teams.

High Performance Attributes

The total precast system used on this project integrated easily with the other systems and inherently provided the versatility, efficiency, and resiliency needed to meet the multi-hazard protection requirements, low life-cycle costs and long-term demands of high performance structures. The strength and durability of precast was a perfect combination for this justice and correctional facility.

The precast concrete sandwich wall panels provided continuous insulation with an effective RValue of 16.67. The envelope system also provided a continuous air-barrier, as well as a vapor barrier. The exterior precast walls were load-bearing, thereby eliminating exterior columns and increasing floor space.

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Mike Mortensen

Regional Sales Manager

Scott Monzelowsky

Sales | Estimating