how cities growWhen you filled out your census survey last year, you probably dropped it in the mailbox and never thought of it again. Perhaps you think about it when you hear something about the census on the news, but you never consider how the data that you put on your simple form made it from your mailbox to the evening news. Processing all of the information from each city or region in the country is no small task. It requires large facilities and a lot of planning to record the demographics of just how our cities are growing.

In 2010, large warehouses were leased in Baltimore; Phoenix and Jeffersonville, Ind., that were designated as processing hubs for the millions of census documents that would begin pouring in. It was up to Burns & McDonnell, the engineering contractor for the project, to design and build the interior facilities for these warehouses needed to comfortably hold around 800 employees and millions of documents. Knowing how important this project was, the team set about designing a system that would maximize efficiency and keep employees comfortable and happy while they processed the census data.

Fortunately, the team at Burns & McDonnell had handled this exact situation before in 2000, since they were the contractors that handled the design-build projects for the previous census processing centers. Because of their solidperformance 10 years earlier, the engineering firm landed the project once again.

However, just because they had knowledge of the project from years before did not make it any less of a challenge. Technology has changed dramatically in 10 years, and the tech used to process the last set of census material would not do for the 2010 census.

The buildings were designed with offices, break rooms, training rooms, restrooms, storage and work areas. At the loading docks, semis delivered the millions of census forms and workers sent them through a series of conveyor belts that put them through high-speed sorters and under optical scanners that store the data on the documents, which then had to be stored and finally shredded.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with helping cities grow. The census data is the cornerstone for many government organizations and, frequently, they base the city plans on the data compiled in these large facilities. Without these processing facilities, all the data so meticulously collected would not make it into the hands of the proper governmental departments.