Santa Barbara County Supervisors awarded construction contracts for the planned 376-bed North County jail.  (Santa Barbara County photo)

With the North County jail construction contracts awarded, Santa Barbara County leaders are left waiting for final state approval to proceed with building the 376-bed facility near Santa Maria.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 last week to award the contracts, with Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr dissenting.

The $77.7 million construction bid package was awarded to Costa Mesa-based SJ Amoroso Construction Co., Inc., and the $2.9 million bid package for offsite utility and road improvement work was awarded to Santa Maria-based Spiess Construction Co., Inc.

The supervisors also approved contracts with Ventura-based Earth Systems, Inc. for construction testing and special inspection services, and with Lakewood-based Tyr, Inc. for “inspector of record” services.

The total estimated project cost is now $110.86 million, up from $96 million, and the high construction bids contributed to most of that increase.

The North County Jail will be built on about six acres of a 50-acre county-owned property near Santa Maria at Black and Betteravia roads.

The supervisors set a goal of 50-percent local employment participation in the project, and required bidders to submit local labor outreach plans.

​Santa Barbara County has $80 million in state grant funding for the construction project, and with bids coming in very high, the board decided to pull the difference of $14.75 million mainly from the new jail’s operations fund.

The county has been putting money in that fund to pay for transitional staffing and build up to the first-year operational cost of $18 million to $19 million.

Construction is waiting on final approval of the contracts and bid packages by the state, including review by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, State Public Works Board and Pooled Money Investment Board, general services director Matthew Pontes said in an email.

“We are hoping to gain state approval this fall and start construction immediately afterwards,” Pontes said.

State contracts require the county to operate the jail within 90 days of finishing it, and March 2019 is the most recent estimate for opening the facility.

Awarding construction contracts was the county’s point of no return in the jail decision process.

The supervisors voted to eliminate a major component of the jail complex, a 228-bed facility for medical and mental-health treatment and reentry programs, after concerns about the $2 million annual operating cost.

The county officially relinquished the $40 million state grant award offer for that Sheriff’s Treatment and Re-entry Complex in January, Pontes said. It was a separate grant award from the $80 million for the Northern Branch Jail.

When Farr opposed moving forward with the project at the May meeting, she pointed to the fact that the majority of inmates – and custody staff – will face the same conditions as they do now, since the new jail can fit only about a third of the inmates currently held in the Main Jail at 4434 Calle Real.

The Main Jail facility also needs an estimated $15 million in improvements over the next 10 years, not including major renovations, according to county staff. 

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at