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County ready to plan jail
June 05, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Now that county officials have decided they want a new jail and chose a preferred 576-bed size, they will knuckle down this afternoon to discuss priorities in design and construction.

Where exactly the women’s jail fits into a new facility is of particular interest as is the future plan for the warm shell, a floor or wing of unfinished space which could be used to expand incarceration or provide rehabilitative services.

Supervisor Carole Groom wants to insure the women’s facility is treated differently than the current building and wants architects to address if the female inmates could be economically and efficiently housed in a separate unit either outside or within the larger jail.

"For me, that’s very important,” Groom said.

Supervisor Don Horsley, the board vice president and former sheriff who himself touted the need for a new jail during his tenure, is also keen on a women’s unit that allows inmates to have physical contact with visiting children.

Board President Adrienne Tissier has a similar interest in the women’s space specifically but said overall the design needs to reflect what programs are desired inside its walls. Spaces should be big enough to accommodate classes and activities beyond television watching, she said, along with more individually-tailored curriculums. Landscaping and gardening would be nice, too, although they are not the number one priorities, she said.

"Yes, I’d like the building to look nice but we’re not looking for the next Taj Mahal,” she said.

For Tissier, the bottom line is reducing recidivism along with providing security.

"At the end of the day, this is a correctional facility. This is not Shangri-La,” she said.

With each county supervisor, not to mention other stakeholders like the sheriff’s planning unit and service providers, having their own wish list for the new jail, this afternoon’s visioning workshop is a way for high-level input before the final blueprints are drawn up.

 Sheriff Greg Munks will ask the Board of Supervisors and others in attendance to chime in on overall design philosophies, site planning, green building accommodations, programming and re-entry priorities and development features that include initiatives with the neighboring community. Today’s workshop is one of two planned this year and the input from both will be rolled in the final design which Munks will present to the board at a later time, said Lt. Debi Bazan who heads the jail planning unit.

"It’s going to be a very interactive process. We anticipate hearing some strong messages from the board and being very thoughtful when it comes to design,” Bazan said.

Bazan said the sheriff and planning unit don’t really anticipate putting forward their own wishes tomorrow and will take into consideration all suggestions as long as they don’t impact staffing.

Munks said he plans to listen more than anything and wants big picture direction instead of specific details.

"What I don’t want to do is go into the process with preconceived notions,” Munks said.

Tissier said the board should be careful not to micro-manage and let the experts do their jobs.

Aside from her nod to the women’s unit, Groom said she is really looking forward to hearing from the architects what they feel are the most important features based on their experience designing correctional facilities. She also thinks the county can learn from missteps in building the existing men’s Maguire Correctional Facility to make the replacement even more efficient.

As currently envisioned, the new jail will be three floors topped by 40 feet of unfinished space known as the warm shell. The hybrid option was a compromise size chosen by the Board of Supervisors last year.

But Horsley isn’t so sure about the placement of the shell and prefers the space as a separate building.

"If it’s on top there are no other uses than as a jail,” he said.

Horsley wants an emphasis on programs to cut down recidivism and promote successful re-entry back into the community.

"There is a small window of opportunity for people to change and this would give us a place to help that,” Horsley said.

Munks said he is "100 percent open” to the idea but is concerned about added costs and staffing challenges.

Tissier also said the board needs to look at the reality of construction and operational costs — both significant points, too, for Supervisor Dave Pine.

"I think we have to always talk about this against our fiscal realities,” Pine said.

Pine also thinks the warm shell, with its interim programming, and the intake and processing areas lend themselves more to ground-level construction than a multi-story jail.

The Board of Supervisors in May approved $16.5 million in contracts with Hellmuth Obata + Kassabaum for architectural services and Sundt/Layton for construction management services. The jail itself is estimated to cost approximately $155 million with roughly $40 million a year in operating expenses. Munks and other county officials are still keeping their fingers crossed that up to $100 million in state construction funds will come through but have said chronic overcrowding and a dilapidated women’s facility mean they will build a new jail facility regardless.

Later this month, demolition and preparation will begin at the 4.58-acre former Chemical Way site in Redwood City the county specifically bought for $17 million to accommodate the 260,000-square-foot jail. Completion is anticipated in 2015.

Despite the county moving forward, plan opponents hold firm in calling for its derailment.

"There is no money to build this jail, all studies show that we don’t need it and it’s clear that San Mateo residents don’t want it. It’s like the supervisors put this project on autopilot and are avoiding all responsibility for what comes next,” said Manuel La Fontaine of opposition group All or Us or None in a prepared statement issued prior to the workshop.

The jail planning workshop is 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. June 5 in Board Chambers, 400 County Center, Redwood City.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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