PORTAL - The new land port of entry facility, which opened last Thursday in the northwestern North Dakota town of Portal, contrasts dramatically with the filthy trucks transporting oil and other commodities through it.
The new facility, which one border patrol officer described as "an upgrade," improves upon the old building, constructed in 1931, dramatically.
When the old building was constructed it was hard to imagine the needs of border law enforcement in these times, said Port Director Brent Beeter. From electrical needs to modern enforcement technologies and concerns, drastic changes were required. "It's been a wonderful building; it's served its purpose well," he said, but later added, "I'm just really happy to be in the new one."
Flint McColgan/MDN • Port Director Brent Beeter stands in front of the south wall of the new port of entry facility in Portal. The wall is composed entirely of windows that allow natural sunlight to illuminate and provide passive heating for the building.
Flint McColgan/MDN • The old facility was shut down when operations shifted to the new building last Thursday. This building was built in 1931 and was not equipped for the needs of modern technology.
Flint McColgan/MDN • This is the front of the new port of entry facility in Portal. This view faces the south where design elements like exposed girders and the “Solar Street” wall of windows can be seen.
The new facility was constructed by Tetra Tech, of Pasadena, Calif., and RSCI, of Meridian, Idaho, at a total cost of "$43 million, which includes things like design, site acquisition, construction, management and inspection," according to a statement by Sally Mayberry, who is the regional public affairs officer for the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. General Services Administration. The GSA is the entity that handled the entire federal project from the presolicitation for contracting work in November 2006 to the upcoming demolition of the old building.
"We can do a lot of things inside that we used to do outside," said Beeter. The jump from the 1.5 acres for the original border patrol crossing to 12.5 acres now has made room for four auxilliary buildings. Two of the buildings are used to search vehicles, one for commercial and the other for private vehicles and buses.
The VACIS, or Vehicle and Container Inspection System, now has a dedicated facility. Before, Beeter says, the VACIS building would often be used for outside purposes like bus inspection. In June, the identical VACIS for the railway border crossing was featured in the news after it spotted five stowaways trying to enter the United States illegally by using its gamma x-ray technology.
The primary building is strikingly modern looking. Industrial aesthetics are all on display, from the bare concrete floors to the steel girders crosshatching the ceiling and walls.
The entire south face of the building is a wall of windows, called the "Solar Street" by the GSA, that allows soft, natural sunlight to flood the building throughout the year. The relatively open floor plan maximizes the potential for that light. The sun also makes for a passive heating system and is designed to keep the building warm even in the harshest of winter weather, but shades can be set to the angle of the sun to keep the building from becoming too warm in summer.
True to industrial design, nothing is without purpose. Strips of blonde wood along the upper wall in the main hallway appear to be decorative but actually house track lighting fixtures and the air vents that circulate the passively heated air throughout the building.
"There's certain things that give you points," Beeter said of the new design. He is not talking about style points, though. There is an entirely different point system at work here called the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The Portal port of entry "is expected to receive a Silver LEED certification," according to a statement by the GSA, which will help by "reducing energy costs, saving taxpayer dollars, and easing government's impact on the environment."
The new facility has almost 90,000 rentable square feet, said the GSA, up from the 12,000 rentable square feet the old facility had. The sheer difference in size has allowed for additions outside of environmental concerns.
A locker room "is something we never had in the old building," said Beeter. He also showed off the adjacent shower room, which will come in handy "in case we get into some chemicals" while performing inspections, he said.
"I'm not sure we'll be hiring more (employees)," said Beeter about the added room and improvements to the building, "but we'll be more efficient."
As for the passive heating system the building uses, Beeter feels confident it will keep the employees warm this winter, or, at the least, "we're certainly hoping so."