The RCMP's new Nova Scotia headquarters

The RCMP’s new Nova Scotia headquarters

Facilities tread a thin blue line between internal security and external accountability
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
By Michelle Ervin

The RCMP’s new Nova Scotia H Division headquarters tread a broad, gently curving footprint in Dartmouth’s Burnside Business Park.

The convex exterior-facing side of their façade is solid, its red brick presenting as protective shield. The concave interior-facing side of their façade is transparent, its gleaming glass projecting public accessibility.

It’s a design concept from DIALOG and Lydon Lynch Architects which reconciles the RCMP’s requirements of internal security and external accountability. It also visually represents the organization’s transition from the fortress-like facilities of the past to the open doors of modern community policing.

Spanning nearly a decade, the $113-million project delivered a five-storey, roughly 250,000-square-foot building that allowed the RCMP to amalgamate staff spread across 10 leased sites under one roof.

“Centralizing critical units like major crime investigators, dog unit, bomb disposal units, emergency response teams and traffic patrols for our 100 series will contribute to safer communities in Nova Scotia,” said the province’s then-Justice Minister Ross Landry at the facility’s official opening.

In Nova Scotia, the RCMP serves an important role as the provincial police force, with more than 1,500 employees performing federal, provincial and municipal policing duties through 37 detachments. A scan of current news releases shows the force’s work ranges from missing persons and street racing investigations to drug trafficking arrests and attempted murder charges.

The RCMP’s H Division headquarters house more than 500 employees, an emergency operations centre, and operational units such as the underwater recovery team. Collaborating in equal joint venture, Lydon Lynch Architects took the lead on the facility’s exteriors and DIALOG took the lead on the facility’s interiors.

On the building’s exterior, the transparent side of the façade frames the way staff and visitors enter the site, said Eugene Pieczonka, principal, Lydon Lynch Architects.

A bronze statue and flags greet staff and visitors in an all-glass, circular entry pavilion. In behind the statue and flags, a polished black granite wall features an engraving of the RCMP’s crest as well as display panels telling the police force’s history and the facility’s sustainability story.

“It becomes the first line of security, so that anyone can enter the pavilion, but then, beyond that, there’s a very rigourous line of security that one would have to pass through to get to the rest of the facility,” said Pieczonka.

The project’s already-demanding security requirements changed during the early design phases, in the post-September 11 era. Though he couldn’t divulge details, the architect explained that the facility’s defenses can be thought of as concentric circles.

“They’re sort of layers of security that one might go through,” said Pieczonka. “It all begins at the outside of the property, in how you secure the site, how you secure entry into the site, how you monitor movement through the site, how you monitor entry into the building and how you monitor movement through the building.”

The entry pavilion’s polished black granite wall extends into the building, guiding staff and visitors alike toward the main lobby. At this vertical core of the building is a structural stair — intended to encourage serendipitous encounters — leading all the way up to the fifth storey.

One of the government’s main goals for the project was to promote connectivity that balanced efficiency and security.

The first floor — the most public area of the facility — is designed to be visitor-friendly, said Rob Adamson, principal, DIALOG

“In some ways, policing scary to people and crime is scary to people,” he said. “But now, in community policing, we want the building to reflect the attitudes of police and organizations, which is openness, availability, transparency.”

Another of the government’s main goals for the project was to create supportive work environments.

In practical terms, that meant moving employees from closed-cell to open-concept offices, which are contained on floors two to four. The change supported modern methods of policing, with their focus on information-sharing as opposed to secrecy, said Adamson.

Some privacy would still be required — for activities such as phone calls — which was achieved through space planning and acoustical treatments. Few of the facility’s closed spaces were allocated to offices. These spaces, which were dictated by the functional program, were for areas such as cells, interview rooms and special electronic labs.

Also important to encouraging collaboration was relocating H Divisions employees from more than a dozen locations scattered across Halifax to a single facility.

“It allowed them to come together, create a sense of community around H Division, and be able to share information between divisions or department more easily,” said Adamson. “They’re not miles across the city; they’re feet down the hallway.”

Many of the facility’s amenities, which include a cafeteria and officers’ messes, were strategically located on the fifth floor, for its views from the outdoor terrace overlooking Spectacle Lake.

A one-storey technical block bisects the building, providing special physical and programmatic requirements that the main building couldn’t deliver, such as boat storage.

Rounding out the government’s main goals for the project was sustainable development. In fact, the H Division headquarters are one of the most energy efficient buildings the government has ever commissioned.

Sustainability principles informed the project from construction though to day-to-day operations.

The facility’s design incorporated locally sourced materials, which included red marble quarried in Cape Breton, and maximized waste diversion from landfill. Among the building’s sustainable features are eastern Canada’s at-the-time-largest living green roof as well as a high-performance building envelope and efficient mechanical system.

A knock-on benefit that the government aimed to capture with these sustainability requirements was operating cost savings.

The government estimated that the building’s design would improve energy efficiency by 47 per cent compared to a benchmark building constructed to minimum current standards. Likewise, introducing shared spaces into the work environment condensed the organization’s overall footprint.

The RCMP’s new Nova Scotia H Division headquarters attained LEED Gold certification this spring.

But the project’s value is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s about how the facility supports the people who occupy it in the name of serving and protecting the public.

Said Diane Finley, then-minister of public works and government services, at its official opening: “This is more than a building — it is an investment in the men and women of the RCMP, giving them the facility and equipment that they need to keep safe streets and communities for Canadians and their families.”

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

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