Reinventing the Canadian Correctional Facility

An aerial view shows the relationship of the four buildings to one another, connected via covered walkways. The two housing pods are shown at the bottom and to the left, in the photograph.

When asked what requests the owners made for the new North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, the Centre’s Director, John Surridge, jokingly replied that they didn’t request, they demanded. The same demands were described as “severe” by John Richardson, a corrections consultant with HKS, a Dallas-based architecture firm that was part of the design team. But the demands both men talked about were never viewed as unreasonable, only challenging.

The facility’s owner is the British Columbia Building Corporation, and the challenge they put forward, according to Greg Dowling, partner at DGBK Architects, the lead architect on the project, was “to find a better way of delivering correctional services in the province and to do it with a significantly less expenditure of money, both on the capital side as well as the operating side.” The targets they set were pretty aggressive.

“The original budget for this project, which was a budget based on their history with other facilities, was $54 million [$35.1 million U.S.], and they told us we have to do better than that,” said Dowling, “They wanted a facility to be built for $34 million [$22.1 million U.S.], so automatically we had, at the outset, a real challenge to cut $20 million [$13 million U.S.] out of what they would typically spend on a project of this type and scale.”
The owners also requested operational expenditures for the 167,333-square-foot facility be drastically reduced. John Surridge estimates that operational costs at other facilities throughout the province average $190 per inmate [$123.5 U.S.] while at North Fraser costs were reduced to an average of $100 per inmate [$65 U.S.].
When final calculations are tallied, the North Fraser Pretrial Centre was constructed for $32.4 million [$21 million U.S.], a 40 percent reduction in construction costs. Operational costs were reduced by 50 percent.

Efficiency and Innovation

The North Fraser Pretrial Center is the first Canadian justice facility with three-tiered housing pods. Cells are designed for single-occupancy, but can be double bunked.

The building’s efficiencies required the team to reinvent the way such facilities are built in the province.
“We went through a formal value engineering process as part of the project, and I think we looked at and considered well over 200 different issues to try to find the most effective economy or the best value for any aspect of the design of the facility,” explains Dowling.

In the process of setting a new standard in Canada, the team developed the country’s first three-tiered living units. In order to improve the facility’s operations, the building’s adjacencies had to be reduced; in other words, housing units needed to be pulled closer together and visitation, dayrooms, exercise rooms, and outdoor recreation areas needed to be connected to the living units. Typically, Canadian facilities feature two-tiered living units separated from the facility’s other services, which requires a great deal of inmate movement. The new layout greatly reduces inmate movement and eliminates the need for many corridors. In each housing pod, four 30-cell living units-each cell can be double bunked-surround an elevated, central control station. Each pod has four dayrooms, four exercise rooms, and four outdoor recreation areas. Inmates eat, exercise, receive non-contact visits, and even are treated for illness within the housing units. Inmates with severe health crisis are transported to the facility’s health care unit.

Project Data

Architects: DGBK Architects; Ron Dies Architecture; HKS
Construction Manager: PCL Constructors Canada Inc.
Owner: British Columbia Buildings Corp.; Ministry of Attorney
General Owner Representative: John Warby
Project Manager: British Columbia Buildings Corp.
Security Systems Consultant: R.A. Duff & Associates
Food Service Consultant: Lisa Bell & Associates

Creating the country’s first three-tiered housing unit was not simply a matter of designing three levels and drafting finished schematics. Because the concept reduced the ratio of staff to inmates from the typical one officer for every 20 inmates to one officer for every 30 or 45 inmates, the unionized correctional officers had to accept the plan. While the staff ratio served to reduce operational costs, security was tantamount.

Union representative accompanied the project’s team members on tours of similar three-tiered facilities in Texas and Colorado, to witness firsthand the relationship between the inmates and the built environment. “The tours were quite valuable,” says Dowling. “We saw some things we wanted to do and saw some things we didn’t want to do.”

HKS’s John Richardson was initially concerned about the officer’s union’s reaction to the three-tiered plan because the design dictates the staffing. If the officers were not convinced that a 1:45 ratio would be safe, the design would have to be rethought, staff would be increased, and efficiencies reevaluated. However, the correctional officer’s union agreed to the concept and the plan went through. “It was a drastic change in philosophy,” says Richardson, “but those changes were critical.”

The direct-supervision facility can, theoretically, rise to an inmate to correctional officer ratio of 1:60, depending on how many of the cells are double bunked. It’s unlikely that number will ever be reached and the optimum number of 1:45 or 1:48 will be adhered to as strictly as possible. Currently, Surridge estimates that only about 40 percent of the cells are double bunked.

While HKS played a crucial role in helping develop the programs and refine concepts and schematics, the firm’s four to five months of intense involvement ended when construction documents were complete and groundbreaking began.

Visible behind the wall of glass are two private recreation areas; each housing pod is directly connected to an outdoor recreation space and to a private exercise room. Elevated central control stations have commanding views of housing units and recreation spaces.

Big Building, Small Footprint

Because of its relatively compact design-the building’s total square footage is about half that of similar facilities-the multi-story complex occupies less than four of the site’s 10 acres. In addition to the living units, the complex also includes facilities for intake, health care, and maximum-security cells, as well as facilities for support functions, administrative offices, and food preparation.

Project Data

Food Service: Alex Gair & Sons
Chopper Pumps: Muffin Monster
Steam Kettles: Cleveland
Cabinet Steamers: Cleveland
Walk-in Cooler/Freezers: Can-Jay
Refrigeration: Hobart Food
Ovens: Garland
Custom Stainless Equipment: Ian Richards Agency; Alex Gair & Sons
Pneumatic Tube System: Adanac Air Tube Systems
Correctional Furniture: Folger Adams
Detention Accessories: Tag Security Grilles; Acorn
Security Systems: GE Fanuc
PLC: GE Fanuc Cimplicity
CCTV: Cibermation
Touchscreen System: HP Computer Systems; Integris
Intercom: Harding DXI
Card Access: Motorola
Personal Alarm System: PAL Actall
Security Glazing: Lami Glass
Security Windows: Shanahans; Sherwood
Security Gates: Guardian
Elevators: Thyssen Dover
Dock Levelers: Blue Giant
Security Cell Doors: Trussbilt
Security Fencing: Progressive Fence
Security Locks: ADTEC
Security Penal Plumbing: Crane; Sloan; Metcraft
Security Sprinkler Equipment: Gisborne; Victaulic; Reliable
Smoke Detection Equipment: Cerberus
Weapons Detection System: Garrett
Concrete: Ocean Concrete
Exterior Finish: HIL-RON
Roofing: HIL-RON; Soprema
Floor/Wall Tile: Tarkett; Altro; Flaviker; New Concordia
Security Ceiling Systems: Steel Ceilings Inc.
Sallyport Doors: Kinnear/Wayne Dalton
Plumbing: PITT Meadows Mechanical
HVAC: McQuay; Olympic; Scott Springfield Mfg. Inc.
Security Cell Lighting: Rebelle
Perimeter Security System: Pulnix Beam Detector

While the buildings are separate structures, they’re all connected by enclosed walkways. The rationale behind keeping the buildings separate, which might seem to contradict the notion of efficiency, is that the architects wanted to include as much natural daylighting in the living units as possible. Looking at the floor plans, the buildings read as one facility.

Facility expansion would be handled in the same manner; there’s enough space left on the site to allow the construction of at least two 120-bed pods, which would be connected to the main facility in a similar fashion.

John Surridge doesn’t expect the facility to be expanded anytime soon, however. “The expansion rate is flat,” he answers when asked about increasing inmate populations. At the time the facility was conceived, in 1997, the province of British Columbia was facing increasing inmate populations and a consolidation of inmates from older, less-secure facilities that were being shuttered. By the time the facility was completed in April 2001, crime rates and consolidation had leveled out.

Holding off on expansion also holds the line on site costs. Only a portion of the site was improved for construction, and any addition would create significant site work. Located in an industrial area outside of Vancouver, the site exhibits poor soil conditions, and at one time had been the dumping ground for contaminated soil removed from another building site. While removal of environmental contaminants was part of the initial construction project, other site improvements would be required to accommodate any future building.

The facility itself blends with its industrial neighbors, with Surridge saying that concrete-including the use of tilt-up-and steel give the building a commercial look. “What happens is that many of the people who visit here have to drive by several times before they find it because it looks so much like an industrial building, not an unattractive one, but it still looks industrial,” says Surridge. “People don’t recognize it as a jail.”

Inside, industrial-level finishes keep the building’s operating and maintenance costs low. However, the facility is in the midst of installing rubber flooring over the exposed, colored concrete floor because the dying process didn’t work out as had hoped.

A Possible Prototype

The North Fraser Pretrial Centre still is a one-of-a-kind facility in Canada. While the intent was to make the building’s design an easily adaptable prototype, no facility has yet been constructed using the model, again because inmate levels in British Columbia have steadied. There is, however, talk of decommissioning several facilities in the future and building off this model. And, an affordable model it is; the building has a 40-year life expectancy, according to Dowling, and with an anticipated annual operating savings of $13 million [$8.5 million U.S.], the facility’s pay back period is estimated to be less than four years.


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