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Local News

Board of Supervisors Keeps North County Jail Project Moving

Preliminary designs are expected late this year, with construction bids to open in mid-2015

Santa Barbara County expects to finish preliminary designs for a North County Jail facility by November, and open construction bids in mid-2015.

The county Board of Supervisors approved agreements with the state Tuesday that outline planning and financial timelines for the proposed project.

All five supervisors reiterated their commitment to the project, and thanked Sheriff Bill Brown and county staff members for getting an $80 million state grant for the project.

The 376-bed jail is estimated to cost $96 million, which includes $80 million in state money and the rest in local matching funds. The county already bought a 50-acre property outside the city of Santa Maria, on Black and Betteravia roads.

“It’s important to remember that this is not just a North County project; this is a new facility that will help us better protect all Santa Barbara County residents,” Brown said.

With Assembly Bill 109 realignment, the jail has to hold more long-term inmates, beyond the traditional year or less. It will also be designed to have a medical and mental-health wing.

“The essence of this is to build a facility that is somewhat of a hybrid between a jail and a prison,” Brown said.

Brown said his department is already doing interviews for a jail project expert, a construction manager to oversee the project and an architect-engineer firm.

The supervisors on Tuesday approved a project delivery and construction agreement, a state planning document, and a Board of State and Community Corrections construction agreement — which handles the financial aspects of the project.

They also determined that no more environmental review was needed, since a final environmental impact report was adopted in 2008, and then an addendum was approved in 2011 for the smaller facility.

There are financial risks for the county in the agreements, said Grady Williams, the county’s project manager for the jail. The county can terminate the project any time before awarding a construction contract, but is responsible for any costs that exceed $80 million.

The county also has to indemnify the state for the construction and operation of the jail.

The county already has invested $5.3 million, in purchasing the property and California Environmental Quality Act documentation, and is expected to spend another $4 million or so in schematic design by November.

Jail construction would bring up to 407 jobs to the area, and the ongoing operation would bring about 189 public and private jobs, Brown said. The project also would address the overcrowding that’s been a problem for decades, he added.

The annual operation cost is estimated at $17.3 million, starting in 2018-19 when construction is completed.

The current 28-bed Santa Maria branch jail would be closed, and the 161-bed medium-security facility at the Main Jail would probably be closed and repurposed, Brown said.

“Unless things dramatically change, we will have to really reprioritize how we spend our money; $17 million will be a big chunk out of our general fund,” Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said.

The jail and the 10 acres of land it’s on will be leased to the state until all of the state debt for the project is paid off, chief assistant county counsel Mike Ghizzoni said.

“This is just a huge financial responsibility that we are taking on, and every step of the way we need to be aware of every risk that’s involved, and future encumbrances that we’re going to have as a county,” Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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