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Merced County begins process in jail renovations

The John Latorraca Correctional Center near El Nido is in line for an upgrade thanks to a state grant. The Merced County Board up Supervisors approved accepting the grant Tuesday.
The John Latorraca Correctional Center near El Nido is in line for an upgrade thanks to a state grant. The Merced County Board up Supervisors approved accepting the grant Tuesday. Merced Sun-Star file

The Merced County Board of Supervisors took steps Tuesday to move forward with the renovation project for the John Latorraca Correctional Center.

Along with formally accepting a $40 million grant from the California Board of State and Community Corrections to renovate the jail, the supervisors approved bypassing the bid process when soliciting a construction team.

Instead of soliciting bids from construction teams and choosing the lowest cost, the county will choose a team that best meets its qualifications to maximize its grant money, said Dana Hertfelder, the county’s director of public works. It also will help speed up the project, which is subject to a three-year construction timeline. Completion is tentatively scheduled for November 2017, he said.

The California Board of State and Community Corrections approved Merced County for the grant in November. The county competed against other medium-sized counties for the funding provided by Senate Bill 863, legislation intended to improve jails through facilities that support programs aiming to reduce recidivism.

The funding will help essentially rebuild John Latorraca to update buildings and add new ones, said Capt. Greg Sullivan, commander of jail operations.

The Latorraca facility opened in 1990 and was designed to house low-level offenders, not the diverse classification of inmates it now holds in the wake of Assembly Bill 109, the Public Safety Realignment Act. Enacted in late 2011, the act transferred responsibility for many higher-level convicted felons from the state to the counties, meaning more inmates serving longer terms – sometimes more than a decade – at jails designed to hold inmates for no more than one year.

The facility has seen several escapes, including cases in recent years when inmates were able to break through a wood-framed drywall dormitory and climb out the ceiling.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Sheriff Vern Warnke urged county leaders to make the project a priority, describing it as a public safety issue.

Warnke said though projects in the past had the supervisors’ approval, county departments were slow in starting work and finishing projects.

Board Chairman Hub Walsh noted a challenge in the project will be continuing to house detainees during construction.

Hertfelder said the design-build process will help work through that challenge, along with the help of a construction management company.

The county contracted with Carter Goble Associates for $1.6 million. The company, out of Sacramento, will help bridge the paperwork process between the county and the construction management firm.

Carter Goble has worked with the county on the project up to this point and was instrumental in helping the county secure the grant, Hertfelder said.

Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477

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