Waterloo Region Courthouse atrium, designed to be non-threatening to the public following a "Grand River" theme. Photo: EllisDon Corporation.
The imposing Waterloo Region Courthouse at Duke and Frederick streets in downtown Kitchener, southern Ontario, is one of five new courthouses that Infrastructure Ontario has completed recently. Four of these are “consolidated” courthouses; that is, they bring together courts that previously operated in dispersed older structures and move them into a single facility that has the most advanced systems and technologies.
The Waterloo Region Courthouse of the Ministry of the Attorney General consolidates the Ontario Court of Justice and Superior Court of Justice in a seven-storey, 41,340-m2/445,000-sq.ft. building. Located on a 3.3 acre site, it has 30 courtrooms, including a high-security courtroom for complex criminal cases. It also contains holding cells.
Built between March 2010 and January 2013, and occupied in the spring of 2013, the courthouse was a design-build-finance-maintain project by a consortium known as Integrated Team Solutions (ITS). The consortium included Fengate Capital Management/LPF Infrastructure Fund, Ellis Don, SNC-Lavalin Profac and CIT Group Securities. On the design side NORR was the architect and structural engineer; Hidi Rae was mechanical engineer; Mulvey + Banani were the electrical engineers; and Ellis Don managed the design and construction. SNC-Lavalin has a 30-year contract to maintain the building. The net present value of the 30-year concession, including construction, operations and maintenance is $370 million.
The courthouse site is landscaped in curvilinear forms using an architectural theme that recalls the local Grand River. This curving river theme is carried through into the brightly lit three-storey atrium inside. Materials are stone, zinc and custom concrete. Overall the building is designed to LEED Silver level.
Designed for high risk
Security systems are naturally one of the most critical aspects of the building design — and also one of the most sensitive.
“The building has been designed with both passive and active security features to mitigate potential risks,” says Frank McCarthy, who was one of the project managers with EllisDon. “The goal was to integrate the systems into the architectural design so that the building is perceived as a welcoming, non-threatening place for the public.”
“I can’t give you too many specifics,” he continues, “but I can tell you that the building is a modern, very sophisticated building with an integrated security system that has access control throughout.”
The structure of the building is robust and has been reinforced at numerous points, including in the cladding, landscape features and access gates.
Airport level screening
Everyone entering the building has to go through the same single checkpoint. “As standards have progressed, basically there is now airport level screening for everybody who enters the courthouse,” McCarthy explains. The screening equipment includes magnetometers (metal detectors) and X-ray machines.
Once inside, there are two levels of access control, one for the detention areas which have special heavy grade locking systems, and another for the rest of the building which have simple swipe cards and touch screen monitoring. Almost all the doors are monitored.
Wherever you move around in the building you are tracked on camera. “There is an extensive video surveillance network,” says McCarthy. “It’s virtually 100 per cent coverage throughout the building.” The building exterior is also monitored, including cameras that are discreetly incorporated into the landscaping.
High quality A/V
Inside the courtrooms technology plays an important role for presenting evidence. “The audio-visual systems are as cutting edge as they can be,” says McCarthy. Each courtroom has been provided with a high definition projector and integrated A/V system that allows multiple inputs including HDMI and legacy formats. There are projectors and inputs for the judge, clerks and lawyers.
The video monitors are “high-definition, very bright, and excellent quality,” says McCarthy. The monitors have to be seen by everyone when the full house lights are on in the courtroom.
Video conferencing and video remand systems allow witnesses to give evidence from remote locations. Also defendants can appear remotely for routine bail and remand hearings.
CCTV is also used to allow vulnerable witnesses to be questioned from a secure remote testimony suite that is within the building but outside the courtroom.
The courtrooms also have an “audio uplift” system whereby microphones are dispersed throughout the room to pick up soft voices and ensure that everything is heard and “put on the record.” The system even amplifies soft voices in the gallery.
There are also infra-red hearing assistance devices and provisions for translation if required.
The building has a two-stage fire alarm system and is fully sprinklered. A dry suppression system is used in the computer server room.
The project team, Waterloo Regional Police and the Ministry of the Attorney General worked on an extensive fire plan. “Obviously it’s a big building and can have a large number of occupants. There is also a detention component,” McCarthy notes.
As a condition of occupancy, a full scale evacuation of the detention area was required by the Kitchener Fire Department. A demonstration was carried out with local college students to prove that the integrated fire alarm and security systems worked.
In case of a power outage the courthouse has a full system of back-up generators. Most buildings would have back-up power just for the life-safety systems, but the courthouse also has redundant systems for the mechanical and electrical systems.
An automatic transfer switch triggers the emergency supply when necessary. An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system has also been provided for critical IT and A/V systems to ensure court proceedings are not disrupted during a power failure.
“One of the big things with any of the security systems is the handover and the transfer — making sure that the keys and other equipment are managed with a proper chain of custody,” says McCarthy. To ensure that the transfer was secure EllisDon worked closely with the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Waterloo Regional Police Service.
Indeed, close collaboration with the police and other authorities was essential on the project from the beginning. Says McCarthy: “Throughout the design development there were extensive meetings with the stakeholders and users, and consultation all the way through, including building a full-scale operational mock-up of a courtroom off site to prove the systems worked as designed.”cce