Salt Lake City's new Public Safety Building one of a kind

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 11 2012 7:17 p.m. MST

A worker is silhouetted in a window of the fourth floor atrium during a press tour of Salt Lake City's new Public Safety Building, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The new $125 million Public Safety Building will be completed in a few months, and Salt Lake City residents soon will have a one-of-a-kind public building to brag about.

The building will house the capital city's police and fire departments, as well as an emergency operations center. The earthquake-proof, energy-efficient facility will replace the 50-year-old public safety headquarters at 315 E. 200 South.

For the first time in Salt Lake City's history, dispatch for police and fire will be combined, providing emergency services to residents more efficiently than ever before, city officials said.

The building also is designed to be completely operational after an earthquake up to a magnitude 7.5.

"It's got to not only survive but be operational," project manager Chad Jones said.

The building has an array of safety features, such as seismic dampers, essentially a shock-absorber system designed to ensure the city's police, fire and emergency agencies can survive and help the city recover in the event of a disaster, like an earthquake.

"Once you have the structural system into place, you still have to worry about water lines being braced and not snapping, walls not buckling, bookcases not falling once there's shake," Jones said.

The new Public Safety Building is also designed to recover energy, with energy-efficient design, sophisticated monitors and a large solar array, similar to the one on top of the Salt Palace.

It aims to have a "net-zero" energy balance, meaning it will create as much energy as it uses. Some of the panels will be on the building, and others will be on a solar farm near the airport.

"We've looked at other office buildings, but as far as we know, we're the only 24/7 … operating net-zero building," Jones said.

The building will even have a solar canopy at the entrance, complete with electric outlets for the public to charge up.

"We probably toured over two dozen buildings in the United States when we were getting ready to design the building, and this will be far and above anything we ever saw," Salt Lake Deputy Police Chief Tim Doubt said. "So, yeah, it's going to be one of a kind."

The building will also feature a multiuse space for public gatherings, a police and fire museum and a new outdoor plaza that will create more festival space downtown.

"We're trying to create a nice civic campus where people can come and enjoy festivals and events," Jones said.

The new building is expected to be substantially completed by May 2013 and then fully operational for police and fire departments by the end of the summer. 

Now, the city faces a dilemma about what to do with the current facility at 315 E. 200 South. The old building is dilapidated and even considered by some as unsafe.

"You know if it happens, (a) 7.5 earthquake, I'm not sure our old building would withstand it," Doubt said. "If it did withstand it, it would be condemned. We may get out alive; we may not. But even if we did, it wouldn't be usable. So we'd be on the street just like everyone else in the valley."

Kirk Huffaker, executive director of the Utah Heritage Foundation, said the city could sell it either for renovation or as clear land.

"The public safety building … has a great history here on the near-east side and should definitely be saved," Huffaker said. "This building would be fabulous as housing, with wonderful views and near downtown."

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and notable architecturally, Huffaker said. It was constructed in 1958 in what's called the "international style," based on styles that emerged in Europe in the 1930s, he said.

The architects who built the public safety facility, Slack and David Wilburn, used that same style to design the Ken Garff building at 405 S. Main in 1955. That building underwent $12 million worth of renovation and seismic retrofitting, which was completed in 2004.

Salt Lake City voters in 2009 overwhelmingly approved a bond measure for construction of the building.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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