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Behind the Project: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – Secure Care and Recovery Building

The Queen St. West site for Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is currently undergoing a redevelopment, and the project’s structural design is being driven by a notable group of leaders as part of the PCL Partnerships team. In honour of International Women in Engineering Day, we spoke with the three women serving as Entuitive’s project leads for this important and impactful development, discussing the project’s technical challenges and the importance of taking advantage of mentorship opportunities.

Belinda Wong, Associate, is Entuitive’s project principal for CAMH, Karimat Okunlola is leading the gravity design, and Victoria Sypher is leading the lateral design. Thanks so much for sitting down with us, Belinda, Karimat, and Victoria. Can you tell us a bit about this project? Belinda: Entuitive is providing structural engineering consulting to the Secure Care and Recovery Building at CAMH. This building is part of the final phase of CAMH’s redevelopment plan and will replace the existing facilities for clients with complex mental illness who have encountered the legal system. The new seven-story building will include 235 beds, clinics for clients receiving care in the community, recovery-based therapeutic spaces, and a secure outdoor space for treatment.  We are extremely proud to be working on this project that will make a real difference to the community, and we are also proud to have women at all levels on the team. 

Courtyard, rendering courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects

Can you tell us about some of the technical challenges of this project? Karimat: From a technical standpoint, this is a very interesting building. Its geometry is complex as our goal was to support the architect’s vision to provide an esthetically pleasing building. This led to structural irregularities. For example, the perimeter of the floor plates don’t align with adjacent floors. 


In addition, this type of building requires heightened security and user safety. For example, sight lines must be maintained in all directions from the various nurses’ stations. This resulted in instances in which columns cannot align vertically from floor to floor.  As a design team we have had to develop creative solutions to shift structural columns between floors to accommodate the specific programming needs. 

Victoria: One interesting challenge on the project so far has been approach to permitting. Based on industry knowledge, the team was aware that a new National Building Code of Canda would be coming into effect soon, though the exact date was an unknown. To solve this challenge, the entire consultant team performed a risk analysis and decided that we would follow the new building code updates when seeking the permit. The new code includes many changes when it comes to earthquake design, and our team had to navigate through the differences to ensure we remained compliant.

Courtyard terrace, rendering courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects International Women in Engineering Day is coming up, and we are proud to boast project teams with women leaders at all levels. Can you tell us a bit about your experience on the team?

Belinda: I have really been enjoying the work on this project with this team. Everyone has a huge sense of ownership over their work, which creates such a positive atmosphere. The size of this project also lends itself well to mentoring at all levels, which I believe is extremely important, especially for women in engineering. 


Victoria: I’ve not worked with Karimat or Belinda before, so this experience has been so great. Six years into my career and I’m still learning. The entire team is so hands on. As Belinda said, it’s a great atmosphere. And Belinda herself really fosters that mentoring environment. It’s such a pleasure working with this team. 


Karimat: In addition to the interesting technical aspects of this project, I have enjoyed working with this team as well. I’ve learned so much thanks to the environment of mentorship. 

Thank you so much, Belinda, Karimat, and Victoria for talking to us about this important project! To learn more, reach out to Belinda Wong.


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