Stone Walls DO NOT a Prison Make

Pod concept of $568.6 million Edmonton New Remand Centre allows for future expansion

We've all read about how much Alberta's population has grown in recent years and the strain that growth has placed on the province's infrastructure. Highway and road improvement projects will keep countless construction crews busy this summer. So will work on schools, hospitals and other public facilities.

One notable example: The Edmonton New Remand Centre. At nearly $568.6 million, it's one of the largest public construction projects in western Canada.

The prime consultant is Edmonton-based ONPA Architects. Interestingly, ONPA was also involved as prime consultant on the existing downtown Remand Centre.

When completed in October 2012, the centre will be the largest remand facility in the country.

Some details:

  • At 16 hectares, the site is about the size of 27 Canadian Football League football fields.
  • The building will be about 60,000 square metres.
  • About 2,600 piles will be used to complete the centre.
  • Approximately 643,500 square feet of reinforced concrete block is being used in the construction.
  • The structure uses 23,400 cubic metres of reinforced structural concrete (above grade).

Built in 1979, the current Remand Centre was designed to accommodate 332 men and women (and opened with a population of 388). The centre can no longer provide adequate facilities to care for and control the expanding population of inmates from the northern Alberta area.

The new remand centre, on the north side of Edmonton, next to the Edmonton Young Offender Centre at 127 Street and 186 Avenue, has room to grow. Unlike jails or prisons of the past, the centre relies heavily on pod concept to house prisoners. The space will include an administration building, a health care pod, a segregation pod and five general population pods. The general population pods are divided into four general living units that can each house 288 inmates.


The total centre will be able to house 1,944 inmates in 976 cells. The design allows for the future addition of another three housing pods without disrupting operations, should the need arise. This would bring the ultimate capacity to just over 2,800 beds.

As you can imagine, the construction of a remand centre poses challenges that construction companies do not normally face. Some were logistical. Some were financial. Some were a combination of the two.

"How can we manage the costs of six identical buildings when the start date of the last building is 12 months after the first building?" asks Yanick Parent, project manager for Stuart Olson Dominion Construction Ltd., as he explains that each building costs $45 million and takes almost two years to complete.

Implementing numerous smaller-tender packages based on the project needs and pre-purchasing key materials and equipment solved this problem. The identical buildings are being built simultaneously, though they are not all at exactly the same stage. It also doesn't hurt that the labour force on this project is over 600 people.

Another challenge the project team had to overcome dealt with the question of security. Again, a remand centre is not like a regular office building. "In partnering with our prime consultant, ONPA, we implemented a detention wall system that houses the electrical and mechanical systems needed to operate the facility, thus modularizing the cell areas," Parent explains.

Not surprisingly, sustainability and energy efficiency are important components of the project. The centre is being built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards. According to the project's mechanical engineering firm, Hemisphere Engineering Inc., each pod has its own mechanical plant. That way, they can operate independently of one another.


The advantage of the pod concept is two-fold, explains Doug Cargill, principal mechanical engineer at Hemisphere, who is also a LEED-accredited professional.

First, there is an advantage from a system redundancy perspective. "Instead of reliance on a single plant [either heating or cooling], there are multiple plants that mitigate the risk of a single component failure paralyzing the facility," he says.

"Secondly, when a centralized plant becomes too large, the education/training requirements of the building operators become too costly for an organization to financially support. In addition, the staff must be on-site 24-7.

"With smaller plants, the provincial requirements are much less as the system complexity simply isn't there. This provides a manpower savings for the owner-operators."

Cargill expects noticeable energy savings . "We are hoping for a 50 per cent reduction in natural gas and electricity consumption for space heating and ventilation over what one would see in a traditionally designed facility," he says.

Another interesting aspect of the new remand centre is that it is based around a video court and video visitation model. It is designed to decrease the amount of travel for an inmate and visitors. That should lessen the centre's carbon footprint.

"Inmates will visit from teleconferencing terminals located in their living unit and members of the public will visit from teleconferencing terminals located at an off-site public visitation centre," says Ryan Cromb, director of communications for the Solicitor General and Public Security.

Inmates will be responsible for checking their visiting schedules at kiosks in the units, preparing themselves for the visit and sitting down at the visiting station at the pre-arranged time. "There will be no need to wait to be escorted to a shared visiting area," Cromb says. "Visits will not be delayed by operational issues such as cease movements or high traffic within the centre. Inmates will not have to wait to move as a group and will be able to terminate their visits early if desired without having to wait to be escorted back to their living unit."

Cromb says planners "used much input from frontline staff to improve operations and increase the effectiveness of the infrastructure."

Each general living unit will contain a fresh air room, exercise rooms, meal service facilities, program rooms, video visitation stations, inmate information kiosks, televisions and telephones. Natural lighting will be plentiful.

"Cells will have bunks on the back wall, instead of on a side wall, as is currently the case," Cromb says. "This makes it easier for staff to visually check that inmates are OK, and also, this configuration creates more floor space in cells."

Staff needs were also taken into consideration. The central administration building includes a lounge, a workout room, a quiet room, a cafeteria, a kitchen, a courtyard and a deck. Each living unit also has an attached office-break area with a kitchenette for workers.

In the administration building, there are educational and training areas for correctional officers. This consists of a training room, a muster room with auditorium-style seating and a computer room. There is even a mock living cell that comes outfitted with video recorders for ongoing tactical practice exercises.

Cargill, the engineer at Hemisphere, has worked on prison projects before. "When I worked for a previous firm, I had spent five years on the North Slave Correctional Facility project in Yellowknife," he says. "In addition, I have worked on numerous RCMP detachments."

That past experience helps. "The largest aspect of a prison project that one has to be cognizant of is the preservation of the safety of staff and inmates," he emphasizes. "Components cannot be installed that could be used to harm others or harm the individuals themselves. This is accomplished through the use of fasteners, fixtures, equipment and surfaces that resist vandalism and tampering and cannot be removed without of the use of specialized equipment and tools.

"For instance, the toilets and sinks within the cells-called a "Combi unit"-are designed to withstand 5,000 pounds of force without permanent deflection and damage. And the sprinkler heads cannot be used as a hanging point for suicide, as they break away with a relatively small force."

While the technical aspects of the project have been challenging, Cargill says what has made this project different than others he's worked on centres around people. From the owner to the design team to the construction crew, "there are so many passionate individuals that love what they do. It is truly an honour to be working on the project."

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