OPP Modernization Project

As Originally Seen in Award Magazine www.canadawide.com :

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) patrols nearly one million square kilometres of land and 110,000 square kilometres of waterways. As threats to public safety have changed - now involving everything from human trafficking to identity theft - policing the area requires the latest equipment and facilities.Updating those resources can be an immense project. Witness the recent overhaul of many of the OPP's detachments, regional headquarters and Forensic Identification Units (FlUs).

Rather than tackle each upgrade on an individual, building-by-building basis, the OPP was able to revitalize 18 facilities - seven detachments, three regional command centres and eight FlUs - from Kenora in the northwest to Long Sault in the Hast, all at once.
"The OPP were looking to gain efficiencies by bundling them together," says Martin Toomes, senior project manager with Infrastructure Ontario (IO), the Crown corporation that manages real estate and development of land owned by the province. "With 18 facilities you can realize economies of scale when purchasing equipment and material."

Some of the OPP's buildings were in serious need of updating. Times have changed over the last 50 years. Aspects of policing, especially those to do with handling evidence, are different than they were in the 1960s, when many of the original detachments were constructed.These days the courts are particularly concerned with ensuring evidence is handled properly, labelled accurately and stored so that it can't be tampered with. Evidence collected for lab analysis must be kept clean and isolated. Items associated with the victim must be separated from evidence associated with the perpetrator and evidence from the crime scene.

Alongside updated forensics facilities, the police required new detachments in several locations to house a workforce that is growing apace with the communities that the OPP serves. Enhanced regional headquarters would enable more efficient administrative oversight as well.

Working with the OPP and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, 10 conducted an RFP process. Following a competitive process, the province chose Shield Infrastructure Partnership, a team of companies, to design, build, finance and maintain the new buildings at a total estimated cost of $548.5 million over 30 years (approximately $292.7 million in 2010 dollars).

A member of the team, Bird Design­-Build Ltd., operated as the general contractor on the project. On the team as well were architecture firms Perkins+Will Canada Inc.and architecture and engineering firm Norr Ltd., structural consulting company exp. Global Inc., mechanical and electrical consulting company MCW Group, and MMM Group Ltd.,a civil engineering consultancy.

Beginning in 2010, the team came together to tackle the central challenges of the project. On the one hand the com­panies had to implement OPP standards and templates for efficiency; they didn't want to have to reinvent the wheel for each new building. On the other hand they had to address individual site requirements, such as property limitations.

"Maintaining consistency across the board was the biggest challenge," says Bill Zister, project director at Bird.

Timelines were tight. The clients wanted the buildings to be finished by the end of 2012.That meant the team had just 24 months to design, erect and tum the edifices over to the OPP.

The design and construction team divided the workload into regions - a method that gave each crew a sense of local ownership and responsibility. Certain systems such as safety, project administration and quality assurance were centralized at Bird's Toronto headquarters. Once construction started, the companies held regular meetings to ensure the clients were on board with the development.

Since these are public safety buildings, everyone involved from Bird's internal staffers to subcontractors on site - had to receive required security clearances from the OPP. Bird employed a security clearance system that the company had previously used to verify personnel on projects for the Department of National Defence.

"We can't control the time frame it takes to receive clear­ances," Zister says, explaining that the clearance process made it even more difficult for the team to meet the client's tight timeline. "A background check can take one to six weeks. If you needed to get someone started, you had to plan ahead to make sure all their paperwork was in and they had clearance."

To test the templates and systems that the team devised for efficient project management, the companies focused on completing two buildings first: the new detachment in Walkerton and the FlU in Mount Forest.

"We started in those locations much earlier," Zister says. "That allowed us to make sure the processes worked as well as possible and the design met the client's expectations."

The buildings exhibit the black and white colour motif that is consistent with the established OPP brand. "We took that and ran with it,"says Edward Chan, project manager at Norr Ltd. “It’s a very identifiable colour palette.”

The architects aimed for similarities across all the sites, not only in colour but also in form. The detachments and regional headquarters feature entrances that are welcoming, where members of the public feel comfortable and safe. It’s a slightly different story for the FIUs. According to Chan, these forensics centres had to be “almost impenetrable. You have evidence in criminal cases stored there.”

The buildings had to blend into the communities. So Norr and Perkins+Will crafted a design that gives FIUs the air of a welcoming fortress.

The black and white colour scheme didn’t work for every building. In Peterborough, for example, the FIU was to be built beside an existing detachment that was brown and red. Rather than impose a new black and white building there, the team amended the colours to blend better with the older building.

Every property had peculiarities. The team had to shift various elements of the construction to suit individual sites. Sometimes that meant rearranging an entryway or changing the size of a stormwater management pond. The ponds are meant to help the OPP attain the LEED Silver standard for its new buildings. The construction team also installed high-efficiency HVAC systems with heat recovery capabilities.

The regional headquarters in Orillia is situated on a hill. That called for a soil-retention solution that was unique to the site, says Helen He, project manager at exp. Global.

The Smiths Falls building is a hybrid; FIU on one side, regional headquarters on the other. The construction team had to consider ways in which each side operated, and incorporate the two, sometimes contrary applications, into a single entity. The FIU needed to be extremely secure and hygienic, with few entrances. The headquarters needed to be welcoming, designed for efficiency. Controlled connections between the two sides, plus a shared reception area, helped combine the FIU and command centre functions into a cohesive whole.

Despite the challenges of working with unique sites and associated requirements, “the drive was to standardize as much as possible,” Chan says. This isn’t simply a matter of efficient construction, it has a lot to do with helping police officers work efficiently, too. “If someone working at Peterborough has to travel to Chatham, they can walk in and know where everything is.”

Form must follow function with these facilities, Chan explains. Interiors are designed to ensure witnesses never come into contact with evidence, for instance. Windows provide plenty of natural light , but they don't open. Instead a Roto-Vent is used to pull fresh air inside.

Constructed of steel, each new structure is designed to operate as a refuge following any sort of disaster in the communities. Concrete was ill-suited because the curing time would have been much longer in the North, where winter temperatures are well below freezing for most of the season. On a project of this scale, “your schedule is fixed, so you do everything possible to work quickly,” Chan says.

The buildings feature a progressive collapse-resistant design. The foundations incorporate typical edge beams, but some of the buildings in the North required deeper footings, because the frost levels are deeper.

The exteriors consist of coloured concrete block and tempered, laminated glass, ensuring security, while allowing the maximum amount of natural light to penetrate the offices, training facilities, reconfigurable boardrooms, public spaces and other inside areas. The buildings sport exterior-grade laminate with wood grain, which provide a sense of natural warmth at the entryways. Combined with a bold black metal fascia, the wood-like soffit suggests durability and strength.

Interiors differ, depending on the building type. Vinyl flooring and carpeting greet visitors in the detachments and regional headquarters. “The detachments are the faces of the police in the community, so they had to be welcoming,” Chan says. The FIUs have epoxy flooring in the laboratories, where cleanliness is paramount. Each FIU lab has its own air-handling system, and the labs are pressurized such that the air inside can’t escape into other areas of the building – a necessary measure to maintain investigative integrity.

Even though standardization and economies of scale helped the construction team meet the client’s timeline and budget (all of the new buildings were finished by November 2012), the people involved point out that at the end of the day, this was no cookie-cutter effort.

“There are no real short cuts you can take,” Chan says, explaining that ultimately, the team couldn’t just impose its designs the same way everywhere. Instead, the companies had to think creatively and adjust their systems accordingly. “That’s where the effort was the biggest. The only way to solve it is to put your heads together.”

That collaboration may be the most significant triumph of the project. According to Zister, “Everyone really worked as a team. We put our minds together to figure things out.”
Opp Modernization Project : News & Media : Bird Construction