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New public safety building is open, secure, green — and ready for the 'big one'

Published: Thursday, July 11 2013 12:10 p.m. MDT

The new Salt Lake City Public Safety Building located at 475 S. 300 East is under construction and will be ready for a public ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 19 at noon. Photo taken on Wednesday, July 10, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It's something the Salt Lake City Police Department has been dreaming about since long before Chris Burbank became chief.

On July 19, after years of working through leaky roofs, power outages and frequent elevator breakdowns in a building that was literally becoming a safety hazard, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held for the city's new Public Safety Building that will be the home for the Salt Lake police and fire departments.

In 2009, Salt Lake voters approved a $125 million bond for construction of the new building. That effort came on the heels of a rejected bond proposal in 2007 for $192 million.

Since the bond was approved, Salt Lake Assistant Police Chief Tim Doubt has been at the construction site, on 300 East across from Library Square near 420 South, more than at his regular desk.

"I've been working on this for 3 ½ years, from design all the way through. I dream about it every night. I come here every morning. I leave here every night. Most of my days are spent here. It's really exciting being able to watch it come out of the ground and watch it finish. I'm really excited for our employees and the public to be able to see it," he said.

Public tours will begin July 20. Construction crews are in the process of putting in the final details of the new 174,000-square-foot building. The current Public Safety Building, at the corner of 200 South and 300 East, is about 91,000 square feet.

The new building is coming in on time and on budget, according to City Project Manager Chad Jones. But Jones also noted that the building has exceeded nearly everyone's design expectations.

Designers had two particular challenges: making the building earthquake-safe, and somehow finding a way to make it both secure and open to the public at the same time. Having a lot of public open space — similar to nearby Library Square and Washington Square — was a big priority for all involved.

"One of the things that I think I'm most proud of is the fact that (the building) reflects a little bit of my philosophy and style. It's a much more open police building than anything I've visited in the country," Burbank said.

"We can't do our work, we can't be effective if we close ourselves off from the community," Doubt said. "We're a part of the community and they're a part of us. So we want to share that interaction back and forth. That's why it's so open in here. We still have to have a little bit of security in here but we want it to be open. And really, the taxpayers bought this building, we want them to be able to come in here and enjoy this space."

The new, four-story building has no shortage of windows, making the building both energy-efficient and giving it a sense of being open. The public can walk into the plaza area and into the police department atrium to visit the new police museum and the front records desk without going through any checkpoints.

But that design doesn't mean the building will be lacking security. Getting bulletproof windows, for example, to meet the goal of openness vs. security was a difficult and expensive challenge.

"It's hard to keep people safe through windows," Doubt said. "But it was an expense that we were willing to pay in order to be open to the public — and to send that message that this is their building as well."

Burbank said what he didn't want to do was build a fortress, even in light of a recent shooting inside the lobby of the West Valley City Police Department. Salt Lake police could have built the most secure building in the city, he said, but it wouldn't be able to function well in terms of interacting with the community.

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