The Ge-Da-Gi-Binez Youth Centre in Fort Frances is a secure custody facility that accommodates up to 12 Indigenous youth from Northwestern Ontario, who are being detained or serving sentences. The centre is the first of its kind in Canada dedicated to rehabilitating Indigenous youth in conflict with the law. Evidence-based rehabilitative programs are provided in keeping with First Nation culture. It is owned by the Ontario government and operated in partnership with a consortium of Aboriginal and social service agencies.
This was a third in a series of youth facilities designed by Mitchell Jensen Architects. This very unique 18,711 square foot facility was delivered using a modified design-bid-build delivery system, in an abbreviated time frame to allow the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) to fulfill its commitments regarding appropriate accommodation for youth in custody.
The design was the result of a comprehensive and rewarding consultation process led by Paul Mitchell which included leaders and elders from 7 First Nations as well as educators, spiritual leaders, police, and MCYS corrections staff. Maintaining a high-level of security was central, but the design also succeeded in embodying a representation of First Nations’ values and beliefs with architecture inspired by historical aboriginal structures. Unique to this facility, the design carefully orchestrated the interaction of children in custody with visiting Indigenous leaders, mentors and their community – an interaction considered vital to the healing of the young people in trouble. A two classroom school also formed part of the facility to reinforce and promote the value of education.
Cultivating the skills necessary to listen, absorb and reflect a well-considered series of values is the greatest lesson learned on this project, as well as the teamwork necessary to develop and implement a unique project delivery process. On-time completion was a critical criterion for the success of this project and it was achieved through consultation and teamwork with Infrastructure Ontario to develop and implement unique contracting strategies to realize this important goal.
The implementation of an enhanced construction review program by the architectural team assisted in avoiding delays and accelerating the process, while ensuring a quality product. This helped Infrastructure Ontario to achieve the important goal of timely completion on behalf of MCYS in the spring of 2009.
A video describing the centre is available here.