+VG Architects restores midcentury-modern courthouse in Hamilton
A midcentury-modern heritage building in Hamilton has undergone an extensive revitalization by +VG Architects and Invizij Architects Inc. The restoration successfully blends elements of the building’s proud heritage with new and modern amenities.
The 112,000-square-foot facility, designed by local architect Alvin Prack of Prack & Prack Architects, opened in 1958 as Wentworth County Courthouse and Wentworth County Offices. In 1989 it was repurposed to house McMaster University’s downtown continuing education centre without irreversibly changing the interior. Now, renamed Provincial Offences Administration Office, it has returned to its original courthouse function.
“There’s a real movement to our cultural appreciation of modernism, the ‘heroic’ design period of the mid-20th century,” says Paul Sapounzi, +VG Managing Partner. “Hamilton, Ontario’s third-largest city, has a good stock of these heroic modern buildings. I’m happy the city considers this to be of historic value.”
The ground floor features a large courtroom with restored oak and cherry paneling, a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal hearing room and a queuing area with service windows for paying fines. The second storey houses three courtrooms.
Provincial offences courts handle only non-criminal provincial charges such as highway traffic act offences, municipal bylaw offences, and environmental and workplace-safety violations.
Nevertheless, retrofitting the building to current courtroom security standards was a primary consideration, as was meeting Hamilton’s barrier-free design guidelines.
In the existing, but newly gleaming, marble-and-granite lobby, members of the public enter after passing through airport security-style screening. Staff members with passcards gain access through turnstiles with retracting glass gates that close swiftly to prevent tailgating.
Existing lights at the main entrance lobby were restored. As well, several existing washrooms were retained, including the original mosaic tile on walls and floors.
Floorplans reveal the biggest change to the layouts: new, discreet circulation paths for judges, prisoners and the public. “We had to keep them all separated; they don’t ride in the same elevators as before,” says Kevin Church, +VG Partner-in-Charge of the project.
The removal of partitions and acoustic-tile T-bar ceilings installed during the McMaster regime exposed hidden treasures. These include a second-storey courtroom’s unusual, handsome fine perforated metal deep trim framing a translucent lighting grid. Energy-efficient, glare-free LED lighting replaces the original hotspot-prone fluorescent-tube luminaires. Another courtroom ceiling is notable for the restored, and now fashionably retro, circular spun-aluminum HVAC diffusers.
Throughout, courtrooms integrate the plethora of requisite services and sensors (cameras, microphones, loudspeakers, fire sprinklers, air diffusers) with minimal visual disruption to the ceiling plane.
The construction schedule allocated time for asbestos and lead-paint abatement, the latter necessitated by the retention of the original custom hollow-metal doors and frames where possible.
The project was completed in 2018 and delivered through a construction management model with Eastern Construction Co. Ltd. +VG Architects served as prime consultant in association with Invizij Architects.
The $37 million budget included two additional big-ticket items.
The building’s heating and cooling plant was upgraded to furnish excess capacity, enabling the building to serve as a satellite hub for Hamilton Community Energy that will meet neighbouring customers’ energy needs.
Also, the three upper floors were demolished to base-building standards, providing 60,000 square feet of office space.
“Our architects and builders did an incredible job of keeping the renovation on track and on budget,” says Rom D’Angelo, the City’s Director, Facilities Management and Capital Programs.
The project team comprised Kevin Church, Partner-in-Charge, + VG Architects; Ross Hanham, and Bob Prince, Principals, Invizij Architects Inc.; and Michael Adams, Project Manager, Eastern Construction Co. Ltd.