Burlington POA Courthouse offers development model for cash-strapped municipalities

The new Ontario Court of Justice-Halton Provincial Offences Office by +VG Architects is a 34,000-square-foot building that recalls the spirit of its Burlington facility through “contextual inspirations”.

According to Ed Bourdeau, Partner and Architectural Project Manager at the Brantford, Ont., office of +VG Architects, the design team applied contextual inspirations “to evoke the spirit of the place and imbue the facility with an imaginative sense of place and poetry that pays homage to the primeval forests, the lake and even the weather.”

Photo credit: David Lasker Photography

Photo credit: David Lasker Photography

The project’s design-build and leaseback development model, he adds, “is an innovative way for cash-strapped municipalities to build the infrastructure they need if they don’t have the capital funding. They can pay for the facility on a cash-flow, operational basis instead of raising taxes or floating a bond issue.”

The building’s most striking feature, the colonnade of red-pine telephone poles, adds a monumental yet economical touch while referring to the historical nature of the site, a former pine forest. “The red pines were taken out,” he says. “Just strip the bark off a red pine and you’ve got your telephone pole.”

Photo credit: David Lasker Photography. The colonnade of red-pine telephone poles refers to the historical nature of the site, a former pine forest whose trees were stripped of bark and used as telephone poles. The poles’ rough, rugged surface and warm earth tones contrast with the slick, cool surfaces of the glass-and-steel curtain wall.

Aesthetically, the poles’ rough, rugged surface and warm earth tones contrast vividly with the slick, cool surfaces of the glass-and-steel curtain wall, while the white wall on the north face’s second floor wraps across the top of the roof “as if blanketed by a couple of feet of snow.”

The north half of the building is a stone wall, emblematic of the Niagara Escarpment, while the glass-clad south façade evokes Lake Ontario. Wavy, coloured glazing on the east and west represents the character and motion of local creeks.

The stone section contains the police and security functions as well as access to the justice of the peace secure parking garage, the sally port and incoming service rooms. The glass section houses staff offices and justices’ retiring rooms. Those working in these areas benefit from the abundance of natural light provided by the glass wall. Courtrooms, in the core of the facility on both levels, are secure and accessible by the public after proper security screening.

Photo credit: David Lasker Photography

Photo credit: David Lasker Photography

+VG Architects won the project through a limited competition. “The proposal call included schematic designs with circles and arrows explaining the relationship between certain spaces,” says Mr. Bourdeau. “We maintained those relationships while providing improvements that would make our proposal stand out.

Photo credit: David Lasker Photography

“For instance, the schematic’s main lobby entry didn’t seem suitably grand or institutional for a courthouse; its modesty was more appropriate to an office building. So, we gave it a two-storey lobby with the main public waiting area in this space. There’s a sense of procession from the parking lot through the lobby into the main courtroom, which is made more prominent by the flanking woodwork.

The lobby’s focal point is the sculptural composition of translucent tubular pendant lights suspended from the gridded ceiling at different heights. The floor additionally adds a mesmerizing visual interest with its gradated pattern of slender, light and dark porcelain tiles.

Photo credit: David Lasker Photography

The financial model for building the facility was a new venture for the City of Burlington. As Mr. Bourdeau explains, “Instead of the traditional model where the city finds $15 million to hire an architect, go to tender and get the contractor, they took a design-build-operate approach. The city can find the money to lease it for $70,000 a month, say, for the next 25 years and not worry about maintaining it.”

The courthouse administers court services for Provincial Offences Act (POA) infractions for the Regional Municipality of Halton, southwest of Toronto. The municipality comprises the city of Burlington and the towns of Oakville, Milton and Halton Hills. Provincial offences courts service only non-criminal provincial charges such as highway traffic act offences, municipal bylaw offences and environmental and workplace-safety violations.

Construction by Buttcon Ltd. began in 2017, targeting LEED Silver certification. Gross Capital Inc. assumed the project capital cost of $15.7 million and leased it to Halton Court Services. The facility opened to the public on Feb. 5, 2019.