Seismic retrofits could delay Sutter County jail expansion
Timeline: Work could begin next year.
Projected cost: $10.2 million.
Contribution from state: $9.7 million.
What's included: Space for 42 more beds, improved medical and food service facilities, additional safety features such as sprinklers.
The plan to expand the Sutter County jail to handle more prisoners is on a bit shakier ground, with the need for seismic retrofits possibly resulting in delays and/or higher costs.
But Sheriff J. Paul Parker said he doesn't believe the issue will stop the expansion from happening, though it could affect how much the project entails.
"We really won't know until we get that smaller seismic study," he said. "These types of things run into unforeseen issues."
Earlier this week, county supervisors approved a $26,900 contract to study the problem, which entails improvements Parker's office wanted to make to the existing jail area's for food service and medical treatment alongside the $10 million expansion.
Because almost all the money for the expansion comes from the state — to help the county deal with more prisoners because of criminal justice realignment — California officials asked for seismic upgrades on the older jail portions to comply with current state building codes.
The study should take about two months, according to the presentation at the supervisors' meeting. Supervisor James Gallagher, noting there was a request for the study but no money for it, said, "Sounds like the state."
Parker said work isn't scheduled to start until next year, but the study should suggest a more specific timeline.
"It depends on how much design modification they have to make," he said, adding for the existing jail modifications, design work may have to start over.
When the jail last expanded in 1998, Parker said, the same issues came up, but the county solved them with a fix not applicable this time.
If the study determines a big jump in costs is necessary, he said, the county may have to reassess the project and what details it will include.
For both medical and food services, Parker said, being up to date and able to handle increased traffic are critical. Inadequate health care in state prisons led indirectly to realignment when state officials looked for a way to lessen overcrowding.
"These kinds of things, you don't want to let them fall by the wayside," Parker said.
Sutter County won't know how making parts of the older jail seismically sound will affect the overall expansion project for a couple of months.
But an expert with the state advisory group on seismic matters said there is the potential to both significantly raise the cost and push back the timeline.
"It's not an uncommon situation to encounter," said Fred Turner, staff structural engineer with the Seismic Safety Commission of California.
Some years back, he said, seismic issues forced counties to reassess the value of courthouses when those buildings were being transferred to state oversight. When the buildings didn't comply with seismic building codes, Turner said, the counties had to either retrofit them or downgrade the value.
"Typically, it's a major outlay project," Turner said, adding he wasn't familiar with Sutter County's jail. "There's potential for lots of disruption."
Sutter County Sheriff J. Paul Parker said the jail was built in 1977 and is mostly concrete. Because of its age, Turner said, it makes sense for state officials to insist on upgrades now, before the jail is too old to continue using.
Concrete retrofitting costs run about $150 a square foot, according to Turner. It's not clear, however, how much of the jail might need such work, because only the medical facility and food services area are planned to be part of the expansion, according to county officials.
If there is a potential upside for county officials, he said, it's that the location of the project is also a consideration in determining how much seismic retrofitting is necessary.
"Really, the Marysville-Yuba City area is one of the least earthquake prone in the state," Turner said.