$68 million project on track
In spite of the excessive rain over the last few months, construction on the South County Detention Facility is going strong, and the way Lt. Cory Jones sees it, the project is on track to be finished by June 2018.
“It [construction] is going great,” said Jones, a lieutenant with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. “We are looking really good.”
Jones, who serves as the sheriff’s liaison for the South County Detention Facility project, said if construction workers with Bernards Construction had followed their original plan, which was to work and finish unit 1 of the project first, the rain would have caused major delays. Instead, he said construction crews put off work on unit 1 while it was raining and went ahead and started working on, and finishing, the blacktop and curb and gutter for the project.
That part of the project, Jones said, was initially scheduled for later.
“Bernards [Construction] has been very good about changing the direction for the project,” Jones said.
The roughly $68 million project on West Scranton Avenue, Jones said, is broken down into three units. Units 1 and 2, Jones said, both serve as housing units, and unit 3, which he called the administration section of the detention facility, will include a lobby, intake, a bakery and a medical and kitchen area.
As of last Thursday, Jones said construction crews were working on finishing the walls and the roof on unit 1. Once completed, he said crews will then simultaneously start putting up walls on unit 2 and start work on the interior of unit 1, which includes installing metal, prefabricated jail cells. Once the project is finished, the facility will be able to house more than 500 county inmates.
“They [cells] will come in blocks of four and will be slid in, welded down and then they [construction crews] will start working on stairs and electrical components,” Jones said.
He noted that in comparison to other jails in Tulare County, the South County Detention Facility will be the most technologically-advanced jail yet.
“It will have more program and more educational space, and it will also work in conjunction with our new North County Facility that we are also getting ready to build up,” said Jones, adding that it will also have a South County intake, which will greatly assist in splitting booking area. “No longer do South County communities have to go all the way up to pretrial to book their custodies, they can now come here to book them so that will be an added benefit for the Porterville and Lindsay communities.”
Jones, who will serve as the facility commander once the project is completed, said Vanir is the construction management company overseeing the management of the project. He said the company works in conjunction with the county to ensure the project meets the scope and all of the requirements.
“If we have a problem with Bernards [Construction] we go to our management team,” Jones said, adding, “They have been working with us almost from day one on this.”
Day one on the project, specifically the beginning stages of the design aspect, Jones said, began way back in 2012. Once awarded funding from the state, Jones said the full scope design of the project began in 2015 and construction in June of last year.
Jones said around 1,000 employees, including Bernards Construction workers, subcontractors, delivery personnel and local employees, will have worked on the project once it is completely finished.
Because the project is within the flight path of the city’s airport, Jones said he had to get a special permit for the crane used for the project to be able to operate, which he said was surprisingly not a problem at all.
“That is very unusual for government entities to get along so well that we can get things rolling this quickly so it has been a real exciting thing going on here,” Jones said.
Mike McGovern, the project manager for Bernards Construction, which specializes in constructing sports arenas and schools, most recently University of Southern California’s (USC) Wallis Annenberg Hall, said it is not everyday that he gets to work on a detention facility and said it has been a cool experience so far.
“This is a neat project to be a part of, to build,” McGovern said. “I am thrilled.”
McGovern noted that the thing he really loves about the detention facility project is the thermal energy storage tank concept. That concept involves charging a million gallon tank with chilled water at night, when energy is at its cheapest, and drawing from the tank during the day, when energy is at its premium, to cool the facility in the summer.
“It is really, really awesome,” McGovern said.
Jones said the tank is an enclosed system.
“You take that tank, you almost freeze the water, and then you run it over the air conditioning system so the air conditioners work and the coolers work at a reduced level to provide that cold air,” Jones said, adding that the tank is also used at the county’s main jail and courthouse.
Jones said the storage tank has the potential to cut anywhere from 30 to 50 percent in electricity use. Although he has received constant complaints from county residents about giving inmates creature comforts, he said the county doesn’t really have a choice.
“There are certain things that we, as a sheriff’s office, are mandated by the State of California to provide, and one of them is you have to keep it [detention facility] climate controlled, you can’t just let it get too hot or too cold in there,” Jones said. “That costs money and this [thermal energy storage tank] helps reduce that cost.”
Jones said another component to the detention facility that reduces costs and makes it a “standalone project” is the sheriff’s office’s farming operations from up north. Additionally, Jones said many acres of land surrounding the detention facility are also going to be farmed by the sheriff’s department. He said most of the food inmates eat will come from the farm.
“We farm cattle, swine and we have chickens that lay eggs so we provide all of our own eggs now, and that is all provided for a fraction of the cost that we would have to pay to have those brought in,” Jones said, adding, “I think the only thing we bring in anymore is poultry and chicken.”
With the exception of the county’s chickens, which are used just for eggs, Jones said the sheriff’s office produces 100 percent of its own beef and pork.
“We are the largest county that does it, but one of two counties that still operate a full farm,” he said.
Jones said the farm is also used to train and educate inmates on how to work on it so when they leave the jail they can find sustainable work.
“That is our ultimate goal — get them out, get them working and get them out of the lifestyle that brings them back to jail,” Jones said.
Overall, Jones said he is really excited that the project is moving along and that “Sheriff Boudreaux’s vision of incorporating the South County communities into our justice partnership has finally come to fruition.”
He added, “It is very exciting for us.”