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Salt Lake City's Public Safety Building a blast-resistant fortress with flair

Published December 7, 2012 7:59 am

State of the art • Salt Lake City plows forward with its commitment to modern architecture.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It may be the sexiest cop shop in the country.

Salt Lake City's new Public Safety Building boasts blast-resistant curving glass walls, a plaza that will be graced, upon completion in May, with a fountain and sculptures and an outdoor canopy so the public can linger and gaze across 300 East upon the sweeping architecture at Library Square.

According to Salt Lake City officials, taxpayers are getting every penny's worth of the $125 million that voters approved in a 2009 bond vote. And the project, on 300 East at 500 South, is on budget and about 75 percent complete.

During a Thursday tour, project manager Chad Jones emphasized the functional aspects of the structure, such as its green "net-zero" design that produces as much energy as it uses. The facility will be powered by 73,000 square feet of solar panels and make use of passive solar for interior lighting.

Think sexy with substance.

The Public Safety Building — it also will house the Fire Department and the Emergency Operations Center — is built to withstand terrorist bombs and earthquakes up to 7.5 in magnitude. When the big one comes, Salt Lake City emergency responders will be ready.

"It's a building that can shake and move and not bend or break," Jones said. "Every floor shifts and shakes independent of the others."

The design by GSBS Architects of Salt Lake City in conjunction with McClaren, Wilson & Lawrie Inc. of Phoenix encompasses 165,000 square feet of floor space on its four levels above ground — each with a stunning view of Library Square and the city skyline. Similar floor space on two below-ground levels accommodates an armory, evidence storage and parking.

The architecture has impressed the City Council — and just about everybody who walks by.

"If there was any extra money spent making it sexy," said City Councilman Kyle LaMalfa, "it pales in comparison to what went into making it earthquake-proof and secure."

Councilman Luke Garrott noted there was a concerted effort to make the building inviting to the public.

"I'm proud of that building," he said. "Not just because it looks good, but it isn't a fortress that turns its back to the street."

Garrott, too, emphasized the functionality of the building's inner workings. "The public needs to know that public safety will be functional no matter what the emergency."

Former Mayor Rocky Anderson and architect Moshe Safdie set a modern trend for public-sector architecture in Salt Lake City with the Main Library and adjoining plaza, which opened in 2003. That renewed the push to create a civic campus that includes the Matheson Courthouse, City Hall at Washington Square, Library Square and The Leonardo museum, and now, as pushed by Mayor Ralph Becker, the Public Safety Building and plaza.

"We've spent a lot of time and energy creating this civic campus," said Council Chairman Soren Simonsen. "We want to reaffirm that architecture and public architecture is important in Salt Lake City."

The Public Safety Building and its plaza are meant to be an extension of Library Square, Simonsen said. And although the new building is attractive, "it is not over the top."

But it does provide a stark contrast with the old Metropolitan Hall of Justice that was torn down in 1988 to make way for the library. That's when the Police Department moved to the old Northwest Pipeline Building at 315 E. 200 South in something of a stopgap measure that has dragged on for a quarter century.

The current home to Salt Lake City's finest has long been known for its failings. "In the last three years, we've had two fires and two floods," said Deputy Chief Tim Doubt.

Public Safety employees will begin moving into the new building over a two-month period in June and July.

It will be a big morale boost for us, Doubt said. "This is better than Christmas."

csmart@sltrib.com

More online

For more information on the new Public Safety Building and a virtual animation tour of the project, go to http://www.mocamanage.com/slcweb/.