Proposed Jail Building Plan Could Cost Fresno County $3 Billion
(12/04/2009)

FRESNO, Calif. — County supervisors are examining funding alternatives for an overhaul of the jail system after consultants estimated the 3,000-bed replacement and expansion project could cost up to $3 billion.

A needs assessment and master plan, developed by Sacramento–based consultants Daniel Smith and Associates to solve the county’s short- and long-term jail needs, outlines the replacement of aging facilities and expansion of bed capacity.

The master plan calls for the construction of two six-story towers, 2,892 new beds and 724,106 gross square feet of new detention, operations and support space at an estimated capital cost of $506 million to $646 million.

The proposed jail complex would increase systemwide bed capacity by 1,718 jail-rated beds to 5,496 rated jail-beds, augmented with an additional 168 non-rated infirmary and psychiatric intensive supervision beds. Annual operating costs for the jail system could increase by almost 60 percent to more than $120 million, officials say.

The three-phase project, which could take up to 20 years to complete, would provide almost 1.2 million square feet of facility space, an increase of approximately 120 percent from almost 530,600 square feet. The escalated total capital cost, which assumes a compounded annual escalation rate for project costs of 8 percent to year 2023, could range from $2.3 billion to $2.9 billion, according to the report released in September.

The county operates 3,478 beds at three jail facilities — Main Jail, North Annex Jail and South Annex Jail — in downtown Fresno. A 300-bed satellite facility, located two miles south of the city, was shuttered in 2008.

Phases one and two of the jail complex development would replace the 300-bed Satellite Jail, the 686 beds in the South Annex and existing infirmary beds in the Main Jail with a new six-story inmate housing tower.

The 1,280-bed tower would include medium- and maximum-security beds, and medical and psychiatric services, special-needs and segregation components, and an inmate processing area. An additional 294-bed special-housing unit would be added by the end of phase two.

A new central control would serve the entire expanded downtown jail campus and a secure inmate movement tunnel would connect to the existing jail-court tunnel network.

Video-visitation space, staff support services and an administrative area would also be developed adjacent to the first tower.

A second six-story tower with 1,424 beds, mostly minimum-security inmate housing, would be built during phase three.

The overhaul is necessary to improve operations, relieve existing overcrowding and meet inmate population growth projections through 2030, according to the report. Phoenix-based construction services firm Kitchell Corp. and Don Todd Associates, a project and construction management firm headquartered in Oakland, Calif., acted as subconsultants.

The North Annex, which was built in 1993, is staff-efficient and cost-effective to operate. Its modern design and sound physical condition can meet county needs through the 2030 planning horizon, according to the report.

Although the Main Jail, built in 1989, also functions well and is physically sound, jail-support areas are over capacity, and inmate processing and medical and psychiatric services should be relocated to the new facility, according to the report.

In addition, several facilities, including the Satellite Jail, have aged beyond their useful lifespan, becoming increasingly dysfunctional and decreasingly cost-effective to operate, according to the report.

Satellite Jail, built in 1986, recently closed and is no longer cost-effective to occupy and should be demolished, according to the needs assessment. The age and architecture of the South Annex, which was built 1947 and expanded in the 1970s, pose a “significant risk to safety and security,” according to a December 2006 jail assessment by the National Institute of Corrections.

Outmoded and substandard facilities are compounded by chronic overcrowding, and the county jail system is crowded beyond safe operational capacity — the Satellite Jail often operated 300 percent above rated capacity — according to the 2006 NIC report.

In 2008, the sheriff’s department was forced to relieve overcrowding through the early release of inmates after the population exceeded the system’s total rated capacity, officials say.

A temporary federal order allows the existing Main Jail and North Annex to operate beyond their bed capacity in violation of state Correctional Standards Authority regulations.

The population of Fresno County is projected to continue its robust growth of recent years, exacerbating current overcrowding issues by driving significant increases in jail booking and inmate population levels.

The needs assessment predicts a substantial increase in jail-bed requirements to accommodate the projected 44 percent growth in bookings (from 42,604 to 61,349 by 2030) and an increase in the average daily population from 2,953 inmates to 4,232 inmates, according to the report.

The pressing need for additional jail space has pushed supervisors to take the first steps toward development, despite reservations about the potential cost and the county’s ability to secure and finance such a large capital investment.

The board has directed county staff to secure land for the new 2,704-bed, twin-tower West Annex, which would be constructed adjacent to existing downtown jail facilities.

Supervisors have also begun investigating financing options for the new jail and assessing the county’s bond capacity — the debt service on the three-phase project could cost more than $80 million a year, officials say.

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