May the force be with us

You might say that CS&P Architects, with regard to the planning and design of police projects, has an impressive rap sheet. Over the past 25 years, the full-service architectural and consulting firm, based in Toronto, has completed or is planning new police facilities for the London Police, Halton Regional, Peel Region, Guelph and the Ontario Provincial Police, all in Ontario; Regina and Saskatoon, in Saskatchewan; and Kelowna in B.C. Fewer than a dozen Canadian firms can handle such projects, CS&P principal in charge Peter Ortved tells this reporter: “Police buildings are complex design challenges because they comprise so many functions.” 

To put it mildly. Take the new Saskatoon Police Service headquarters – one of the most comprehensive municipal police facilities in the country – designed by CS&P in partnership with Saskatoon-based AODBT Architecture + Interior Design. Set on six acres in the historic warehouse district (redubbed the New North Downtown Area, with a mixed-use community in the works), the $122.1-million construction project consolidates, into 390,000 square feet of space, work previously done – by a staff of 650 – in 12 separate buildings across the city. It includes a state-of-the-art forensics lab, along with property and evidence storage (police-services staff are required to analyze and store all manner of exhibits, including DNA and digital hardware/software, for long periods of time). It includes an acoustically isolated indoor firing range, detention centre with over 50 holding cells, and underground fleet parking. It includes a canine-training facility, 911 call centre and polygraph suite. It also includes a parade room (for daily briefing), patrol-writing room, physical-training facility, staff lockers and fitness area, interview rooms and staff lounge. 

Operating 24/7, with redundancies built into all the mechanical and electrical systems, “It’s designed to a much higher standard than most buildings,” says Ortved. (For instance, “A ‘progressive collapse’ structural design ensures that most of the building would remain standing if one section were targeted in a bombing,” notes Chris Atchison in The Globe and Mail.) It’s designed to achieve LEED Silver. (Designation is pending.) And it’s designed to anticipate the future. (Staff is projected to grow to 800 over the next 50 years; the facility is designed to accommodate an equal number of men and women, should the Police Service reach its goal of 47 per cent female membership.) 

But the Saskatoon Police Services HQ is as much about quality as it is about quantity. Says Ortved, “In addition to the necessary, high-security areas, a priority has also been to develop a facility that is open, welcoming and accessible to the community as well as a healthy state-of-the-art workplace for the staff.” Fronting onto a new east-west connector street, the building’s crisp facade pays homage to the early-20th-century brick-and-beam factories of the district. The main entrance is accessed from a public plaza. The visitor steps into a light-filled lobby, two storeys high, “designed to be open and inviting while being secure,” says Saskatoon Police Service deputy chief Bernie Pannell. “These concepts don’t necessarily complement one another, but based on comments I’ve received from the public, the goal was achieved.” All public areas are accessed from the lobby, including service desks (designed so staff can talk to the public without glass barriers), public-records check, display cases, victim services and even a children’s play area. Also accessible are a community meeting room (which can be booked by the public) and gymnasium (ditto), as well as an aboriginal culture room, with special ventilation to allow for smudging ceremonies (relations between Saskatoon police and the native community have been widely criticized in the past). Says Nicole Tiessen, AODBT principal interior designer, “These kind of spaces pull down the walls between police and community.” 

Just beyond the public area is the heart of the building for police: a sunny three-storey atrium, with open stairs and a wall displaying photos of the city and the force through the years. “We worked closely on the atrium with Police Services,” says Tiessen. “It’s a big space that reflects where they were and where they’re going.” Notes Pannell, “Communication and information sharing between units is much easier in the new building, which increases productivity. The centre atrium in the secure area contributes greatly to the informal sharing of information, as members meet each other on the stairs.” 

Throughout the building, Tiessen strove for design that is “classic and timeless and won’t date. With the amount of security involved, it’s very difficult to make changes.” To reflect the history of the police, she chose a cool palette of navy blue and shades of grey. Light and spare and modern, the building bears no relation to the fortress-like police stations of the past century.  

With ample room to expand, the project is well placed to face the future. “The new headquarters has become a source of pride among the police members and community itself,” says deputy chief Bernie Pannell. “The building is the cornerstone of the new downtown neighbourhood and as such defines the styles and architectural controls that will be incorporated.” Adds CS&P principal Peter Ortved, “We expect the new Saskatoon Police Service headquarters will play a defining role in the revitalization of the downtown warehouse district and the future well-being of the city.”   •