St. Catharines fire station and secure data centre replaces 62-year-old structure

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Niagara fire hall story

$5 million Charter Building’s project blends into historic Merriton community

Niagara Construction News special feature

Replacing a 62-year old building, the new St. Catharines Fire Station will serve as both home for the department’s communications and the city’s centre for emergency operations when it opens this month (July 2013).

The $5 million, 16,800 sq. ft. station features drive-through bays for trucks, a back-up communication system to keep dispatchers on the air in emergency situations, locker rooms for male and female firefighters, sleeping quarters, an exercise room, a kitchen and office space. The station also has a water recovery system through an underground cistern to prevent the waste of tens of thousands of litres of water during training drills and a 120 ft. tall radio tower.

Designed by Venerino V.P. Panici Architect Inc., the inclusion of the 911 call centre and secure data centre added complexities. Senior technologist Barry Beaton says the secure data centre has been designed like a building within a building. “The room is fully self-sufficient. It has a fire suppression system to protect it from fire within the rest of the building, is seismically isolated, uses its own mechanical and electrical and redundant systems to protect the security and integrity of the data,” he says.

The data centre, which acts as the data hub for the municipality, also sits on a raised access floor as protection against electrical interference.

The building is also designed as emergency and post-disaster centres and handles 911 dispatch for the Niagara peninsula. Project designer Kevin Emrich says the company has never designed a building with all of these components together. “We did a lot of research into how each area functions and relied on the expertise of our engineers along the way.”

Karl Dorr, project manager with general contractor Charter Building, says: “Elsewhere inside the building, the administrative wing includes various offices, a meeting room. All public areas of the building are built to current FADS (facility accessibility design) standards, exceeding all barrier-free requirements of the Ontario Building Code.”

Emrich says FADS goes well beyond current accessibility codes, including elements like definition between floors and walls for visual acuity.

Visually, Dorr says the most striking component is the masonry stone. “Externally, the building design relates to the surrounding context of historic Meritton, and incorporates seemingly ‘old’ details iterated in contemporary and durable materials,” he says. “Hipped rooflines in standing seam metal echo copper roofs of traditional downtown civic buildings.”

The building façade utilizes ‘hand-moulded’ brick, pre-cast concrete and man-made stone in a variety of shapes, patterns and profiles with historical reference. “Even the building’s windows are historically accurate in proportion and detail, but are realized in modern-day aluminum extrusions to offer long-term performance and durability.”

Emrich says the design team looked at the historic architecture and regional context. “There is a big precedence for stone and we wanted to reflect the permanence of this municipal building and its connection to the community.”

Dorr says the low-lying former factory area was brought up to suitable elevation with engineered fill. “The property measures 8,094 sq. m. and features access from two bounding streets, Oakdale Ave., and Merritt St. The site is primarily fenced and parking areas are bounded by landscaping to enhance and buffer the residential and commercial surroundings,” he says.

Dorr says the building has been designed to complement and enhances its surroundings and has received positive public feedback and reflections of community pride.

“It’s unusual to get this kind of supportive response to a civic building, particularly before it’s complete,” says Emrich. “When you consider the building should be there for 50 years, it’s important it make a significant and positive contribution to the community. Judging by the feedback received so far, it already has.”

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