This page contains document links to Construction Criteria Base

Mail Center

by Sophia Greenbaum, WBDG Staff

Last updated: 05-20-2013

Overview

In medium to large commercial and federal facilities, the Mail Center space type is used to efficiently and centrally process incoming and outgoing domestic, international, overnight, and priority mail to meet the needs of building occupants. The Mail Center also collects and redistributes interoffice mail and coordinates the pick-up of "burn bag" materials. In general, outgoing expedited, domestic, and international, Certified and Registered, and Pouch Mail Services are also provided. Finally, many Mail Centers can be equipped to handle deliveries from couriers and to provide a level of service and guidance to building occupants. Loading docks are more appropriate for larger deliveries. This space type does not include specialized mail centers in facilities that must deal with an exceptional level of security, although security issues are addressed here.

Space Attributes

Photo of mail center

A variety of products are available for furnishing mail centers.
(Courtesy of Mid-America Business Systems)

Numerous manual operations, including the sorting, metering, and inspection of letters and packages, take place in Mail Centers. Since terrorists contaminated the U.S. mail stream in October of 2001, safety and security have become central issues in the performance center operations. Today, Mail Centers should be designed not only to promote the efficiency of mail processing but to ensure the safety of center occupants. Typical features of Mail Center space types include the list of applicable design objectives elements as outlined below. For a complete list and definitions of the design objectives within the context of whole building design, click on the titles below.

Accessible

  • Work surfaces: The primary built-in fixtures in mail rooms include base cabinets, work surfaces, and shelving units. Ensure that accessible fixtures are provided for users. In particular, provide work surfaces at different heights to accommodate a variety of tasks performed by both standing and sitting users.

Cost-Effective

  • Risk Assessment: Security needs will vary among organizations in relation to their function, size, volume of mail, and profile. A threat/vulnerability assessment and cost/benefit analysis should be performed before capital investments are made in security measures. The estimated capital cost of implementing recommended countermeasures and the estimated installation and operating costs for them are usually part of a complete threat/vulnerability assessment report. See also WBDG Threat/Vulnerability Assessments & Risk Analysis.

Functional / Operational

  • Adjacencies: The Mail Center should be located away from the facilities' main entrances, areas containing critical services, utilities, distribution systems, and important assets. In addition, the Mail Center should be located at the perimeter of the building with an outside wall or window designed for pressure relief. An area near the loading dock may be a preferred location since this will allow the mail to travel directly to the center from outside and minimize the impact that any potentially contaminated mail will have on the rest of the building.
  • Planning space: Although many individuals may visit the Mail Center on occasion, even large corporate Mail Centers may only have one to a few employees directly responsible for Mail Center operations. The space type should be designed for utility and efficiency, keeping in mind that only a small number of users may be in the space at a given time. See also WBDG Functional/Operational—Account for Functional Needs.
  • Noise Reduction: Speech privacy is not a significant consideration in Mail Centers. However, if centers are adjacent to open plan areas, a minimum of 80% of ceiling surfaces should be treated with sound-absorptive materials. Wherever possible, these same corridors should be carpeted.
  • Provide lockers: Provide lockers or personal space for employees' belongings outside of the Mail Center. This will encourage users not to bring their personal belongings into the main mail processing space where the items could become obtrusive or contaminated by hazardous materials or could represent a potential safety threat.
  • Integrated Technology: Begin the design process with a thorough understanding of the technological requirements of the space, including anticipated future needs. See also WBDG Functional/Operational—Ensure Appropriate Product/Systems Integration.
  • Occupancy: Mail Center space types fall into the B2 occupancy classification, with sprinklered construction. The GSA acoustical class is D1 for mailrooms.

Productive

  • Flexibility: The Mail Center space type is durable and adaptable, and will typically include features such as a raised floor system for the distribution of critical services (power, voice, data, and HVAC) and mobile workstations to accommodate changes in employee, equipment, and storage needs over time. See also WBDG Productive—Design for the Changing Workplace.

Secure / Safe

  • Biological Threats and Irradiation: In October 2001, terrorists contaminated the U.S. mail stream with anthrax. This resulted in the illness and death of federal employees and created fear for the American public. According to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the threat of a similar attack occurring continues to exist today. See the GSA web page, Mail Center Security, for detailed information on threat reduction and mitigation. See also FEMA 452—A How-To Guide to Mitigate Potential Terrorist Attacks Against Buildings.
  • Provide signage: Provide signage that details emergency operations procedures and evacuation routes. This is the most effective and important step towards preparing to deal with emergencies and suspicious packages and letters.
  • Restrict access: To prevent theft and or contamination of mail, control and limit access of employees, known visitors, and escorted visitors to the Mail Center with sign-in sheets, badges, and/or card readers (for large mail operations restricted areas also include plants and workroom floors). If possible, make the Mail Center an enclosed room with defined points of entry. If the Mail Center can not be in its own room, set aside a defined space that is only used for processing mail. See also WBDG Secure/Safe—Provide Security for Building Occupants and Assets.
  • Prevent access by unauthorized persons: Provide locking mechanisms on all Mail Center doors so that doors can be kept locked whenever possible, especially when no one is on duty. Subject to emergency exit safety requirements, keep all outside doors locked and provide means from preventing doors from being propped open. In addition, provide a restricted, defined area for all deliveries and pick-ups. Restrict drivers to an area that is separate from the production/Mail Center facilities.
  • Monitor entry to the facility: Provide video cameras inside and outside the facility and its docks and/or position a center supervisor's office within view of primary entrances and exits in order to monitor entry into the facility. Ensure that supervisors and team leaders will be clearly visible from the work floor.
  • Prevent theft: Mail is sometimes lost or stolen from company Mail Centers, or while en route to or from the Post Office. Much of this mail is quite valuable. Incorporate preventative measures into the design of the space. For example, provide a processing center for Registered Mail™ separate from other mail. Provide locking cabinets to secure fund related equipment like postage meters that are not in use.
  • Encourage hand washing: To limit exposure to potentially hazardous materials, provide a sink in the mail room to encourage employees to wash hands frequently, especially prior to eating.
  • Blast resistance: Mail Centers where packages are received and opened for inspection should be designed to mitigate the effects of a blast on primary vertical or lateral bracing members. Where these rooms are located in occupied areas or adjacent to critical utilities, walls, ceilings, and floors, they should be blast and fragment resistant. In the event of a blast, the areas adjacent to the mailroom should not experience severe damage or collapse. See also WBDG Designing Buildings to Resist Explosive Threats.
  • Ventilation: Where the risk assessment, the volume of mail, and a cost-benefit analysis make it appropriate, the Mail Center should have its own air handling and ventilation system. Consider establishing negative air pressure for the area where processing incoming mail will occur or for the entire Mail Center. If a separate processing area is used, it should not be part of the central ventilation system. Shut-off points of processing area's ventilation system should be mapped and should be part of an emergency procedures handout. See also WBDG Air Decontamination.
  • HEPA filters: Down-draft high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are a good way to limit employee exposure to routine dust as well as possible airborne hazards.
  • Biochemical hood: For high profile organizations that see or may see suspicious packages on a regular basis, provide a biochemical hood, which has negative pressure, for the inspection of packages.
  • Material disposal: Provide adequate space in the Mail Center for explosive disposal containers and covered containers for paper waste including envelopes, packages and boxes. Paper waste should be transported to the loading dock for removal.

Sustainable

  • Energy Efficiency: As energy costs increase with higher reliance on technology, strategies such as the specification of high-efficiency lighting and lighting controls; the application of daylighting; the use of occupancy sensors; and the installation of high-efficiency HVAC equipment should be considered. For more information, see WBDG Sustainable—Optimize Energy Use.

Relevant Codes and Standards

The following agencies and organizations have developed codes and standards affecting the design of Mail Centers. Note that the codes and standards are minimum requirements. Architects, engineers, and consultants should consider exceeding the applicable requirements whenever possible:

Major Resources

WBDG

Building Types

Federal Courthouse, Office Building, Research Facilities

Design Objectives

Functional / Operational, Productive, Secure/Safe, Sustainable