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New Salt Lake City Public Safety Building Consolidates Key Departments in One Location

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Salt Lake City will add another landmark building to the greater downtown area with completion of the $125-million Public Safety Building, scheduled to open in spring 2013. It will replace the current building occupied by public safety administrators since 1958.

Photo by Brian Fryer
In order for the building to remain operational following an earthquake, the steel frame will be braced with viscous dampers attached to special fittings on the joints.
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Continuing a west-to-east line of civic buildings that includes the state's Matheson Courthouse, the historic City and County Building and the Moshe Safdie-designed Salt Lake City Public Library, the new Public Safety Building will fulfill a multitude of needs, including consolidating the administrative offices of the police and fire departments, central dispatch and a disaster/emergency operations center. It also will create an outdoor plaza for festivals and a visible public safety presence in the heart of the city.

It has 172,000 sq ft of space on four levels above ground and 143,000 sq ft of secure parking below grade.

Salt Lake City-based GSBS Architects designed a building that not only meets LEED-Silver standards but also works toward net-zero-energy efficiency.

"The city had quite a list of guidelines of things it wanted for this building," says Mike Stransky, president of GSBS Architects. "The building has to be accessible visually and physically, and it should make people feel good about public safety in the city."

While most people who work in the building will enter from secure underground parking, the public face of the building is oriented to the northwest. It gradually steps back, with a concave glass curtain wall facing the public plaza and sloping from one wing to the other.

"We canted the glass back facing the north and then it gradually cants out as you go to the west," says GSBS architect Valerie Nagasawa. "That helped us maintain our square footages without a lot of open space above the front lobby."

A glass awning with integrated photovoltaic panels will extend from the main entrance onto the plaza. "The shape of the building came about as part of trying to make it a welcoming campus," Nagasawa says. "We wanted the building to reach out and embrace the plaza and the public."

Stransky says the shape was also dictated by the needs of those who will work there. "The city did not want some of the detectives on one floor and the rest on another. We were able to keep all the departments together, with space for administration and records into 2020."

The structural engineering team, led by Salt Lake City's Dunn Associates Inc., studied several options for seismic design, including base isolation, but eventually opted for a system of 55 viscous dampers—essentially massive shock absorbers placed on the vertical columns. "We looked at a base isolation (system) but because of the underground parking that was not the best solution," Dunn's Chris Olson says. "The dampers start at grade level and go up, stacked vertically."

The structural system must also stand up to explosives. "We designed this for progressive collapse, so one whole column can be removed and the structure will still stand," Olson says.

Making It Green

In addition to the solar panels on the ground-floor awning, the roof will be fitted with photovoltaics that should produce 340 kW of power for the building, Jones says. Two diesel generators will serve as back-ups. The building will feature several green roofs with native plants as well as "rain gardens" on the grounds.

The complex sits on a 4.8-acre site and will include a first-of-its-kind feature for Utah on the north side of the public plaza. It is called a "woonerf" in the Netherlands, where the concept originated, but is also known as a "living street" in other parts of Europe.

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