Edmonton Remand Centre

Improving Edmonton's correctional services

An ambitious five-year, 16-acre, 2,000 capacity Remand Centre is being erected in Edmonton’s north end. Behind the project is a capable and innovative team who are learning that the best way to stay on budget and adhere to a very tight schedule is to work collectively, without wearing their various architect, construction and project manager hats.

Built in 1979, the original Edmonton Remand Centre was a 734-bed facility accommodating adult male and female inmates. The newer, larger facility will be able to hold up to 2,000 inmates on a site that is roughly the size of 20 CFL football fields. The fast-track project began in 2007 and is scheduled to open in October 2012.

There had been a business plan for a new correctional facility since the early 2000s. “The current Centre’s capacity was far exceeded in the 1990s,” says Kevin O’Brien, Executive Program Manager, Alberta Solicitor General and Public Security, correctional services division.

The current Edmonton Remand Centre has 800 inmates, triple-bunked into single-bunk cells. The population has continued to rise. “We have had to exceed our design capacities at all our adult institutions to manage the increase in our custody count,” says O’Brien. “We need to grow now, we needed to grow four years ago and we feel lucky that we have got the funding to be able to build it in time for our scheduled opening.”

The site has a number of buffers around it that make it an ideal choice. It is surrounded by city-owned land to the west, the future Anthony Henday Drive to the south, an environmental reserve to the east and the Edmonton Young Offender Centre to the north.

Once the site was selected, the next task was to assemble a team. After a competitive process, ONPA Architects, experienced building correctional facilities in a northern environment, won the bid. A decision was also reached to use construction managers—Stuart Olson Dominion (SOD) Construction—rather than a design-build approach to manage costs and expedite the schedule.

“One of the driving factors in going the construction management (CM) route was that we had very tight schedules that we had ahead of us,” explains Charlie Klaver, Senior Project Manager with Alberta Infrastructure. “Through the CM process we were able to shave two years off our construction schedule. Another reason was that we were going through a time when escalation was rapidly reaching phenomenal numbers; going up 30-plus per cent every year. And it was through the CM process that we were able to start the construction process even while the design was in the early stage and then try to keep ahead of the escalation curve. That saved us considerable dollars for this project.”

Another advantage of the CM process was to have the input and expertise of the entire team right from the start, on both the design and constructability decisions. “One of the ideas that SOD came up with was to use the steel-wall system rather than concrete,” adds Jason Said, of ONPA Architects. “We just didn’t think we would be able to get enough concrete trays on the site to finish the project. And it kept the project on schedule.”


One way to save both time and money on the project was to control the use of mechanical and electrical products. “We were able to purchase [the products] about a year ago and save the owner a lot of money,” says Robert Gomizelj, Project Manager with Stuart Olson Dominion Construction. “We have also been able to have the products in our hands rather than in the hands of the vendors or suppliers. Making sure we had all our cable and pipe and wire has certainly been beneficial to the project and the schedule.”

The project also went through a recommendation process to add mechanical and electrical sub-construction managers to the team. “Because of the size of this project we had concerns that we didn’t have enough labour force on the market, mechanically or electrically, to handle what was being constructed on-site,” says Klaver. “Through a sub-CM process we were able to lock in labour resources, since labour two or three years ago was at an absolute premium. And also we had the advantage of having their assistance in helping with the design.”

The project was initially tendered before the recession when Alberta was the hottest economy in North America. “One of the issues we are dealing with on a project of this length is that, due to the physical nature of the economy, you are going to have highs and lows,” explains Gomizelj. “By using the tender strategies that we have, like using sub-CM, we are reducing escalation and getting them on board to help out with some of the constructability aspects as well. We are going right to the key trades and getting their input. This is truly a team approach on the project in every sense.”

A new look

The new Remand Centre will look like a modern low-rise office building. Enclosed exercise yards and exterior lighting that is directed toward the facility will minimize the impact on the neighbourhood. After the site selection was announced back in 2007, there was some concern from the community about a prison coming into the area.

“We did have an open house,” says O’Brien. “There was a fair amount of attendance from the surrounding community and they expressed a great deal of concern about having a jail built in this area. However, since that time we really have not had much community reaction. The main thing is that we have this huge freeway that is being built to the south, which basically serves as a moat between us and the residential community that might be affected.”

Community concern has also likely decreased due to the leading technological elements of the project. For instance, instead of visitors descending on the facility, a video-visiting system will be installed to mitigate traffic and security systems will be state-of-the-art. “From a correctional management perspective this is going to be a very high-tech facility,” explains O’Brien. “We are going to have more than 1,500 cameras both internally and externally to monitor inmates.”

The project is aiming for LEED Silver certification, as well as contributing to the surrounding area in terms of its environmental impact. “We do have environmental wetlands to the east of us and a lot of the water from our site helps to recharge that during the year,” explains Said. “Instead of taking all of our storm water and dumping it into the Edmonton sewer system, we have created a system that helps to filter the water and recharges the system to the east of us. We have been environmentally responsible in that sense.”

More than halfway through the project, the team is on budget. According to Klaver, the government-funded Centre has a budget of $568 million but it is estimated that the facility will max out around the $600-million mark, mainly because of all the technology involved. The project has also created about 550 construction jobs for Edmonton and, when staffing is completed, there will be 700 correctional jobs as well.

In the meantime, the team is pulling together to complete the project on schedule and on budget and is almost there. “One of the reasons that the job is going well is that there is a really great synergy that we have on this site,” says Klaver. “Everybody is willing to work together to get this thing to the end successfully. We are on time and on budget and I don’t think we could have done that without the team we have here.”

Gomizelj adds: “Any time that we have had an issue we have been able to sit down in a room and take off the hats—as the contractor, as the architect, as the owner—and do what is best for the project.”