New Napa County jail

This rendering shows what the inside of the planned, new $128 million county jail could look like. Construction is to begin in the fall of 2020.

Napa County supervisors have a message for planners working on the $128 million replacement jail – stay on budget.

That means keeping a constant eye on the bottom line. Estimates for the upcoming construction phase recently rose from $87 million to $95 million, before the county made changes to rein back the cost.

Rising labor costs, rising material costs because of tariffs and added square footage for operational needs caused the escalation, county officials said. The county responded with such cost-cutting steps as switching from cells to be built onsite with concrete masonry units to cheaper, precast concrete cells.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday heard an update on efforts to replace the aging, downtown jail with a new jail along Highway 221 south of Napa State Hospital. Construction is to begin in fall 2020 and the jail is to open in spring 2022.

Architect Maynard Feist of Lionakis told supervisors the firm is designing the jail to the budget, not asking the county to budget to the design. Board Chair Ryan Gregory quickly voiced approval of this approach.

Supervisors want to stick to the overall jail price tag of $128 million.

“Do not come in over that price,” Supervisor Belia Ramos said with a smile to the county officials working on the project. “That’s it. That’s your price. That’s your allowance.”

But Supervisor Diane Dillon noted the challenge.

“Anybody who has tried to remodel their house and tried to stay on budget—I’ve just got to say,” she said.

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Supervisors aren’t spending extra money to craft a unique, “Napaesque” look to the jail. Rather, they stressed such things as having space for services to inmates to help avoid recidivism.

“I don’t want an award for how aesthetically pleasing this jail is,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said. “There are other jails that have been designed. Let’s look at making sure we’re providing the services to the people who need them the most.”

He doesn’t want to wait for cost overruns to look for ways to save money. The county isn’t building a jail on the cheap, but economically and must spend taxpayers’ dollars wisely, Pedroza said.

The jail financing plan is a patchwork of general fund money, a state grant, money from sale of surplus county lands and other sources. The need for a loan that was estimated at $50 million in summer 2017 and $20 million in spring 2018 is now estimated at $10 million.

That opens the possibility that the county might ultimately be able to find enough money to do without a loan. But Pedroza wasn’t averse to taking on some debt to free up money for other things.

“We have so many competing interests – roads, housing,” Pedroza said. “And here we are, being disciplined to fund the jail, which we have to do. But it’s really hard when our constituents are constantly asking us, ‘Can you do more for roads? Can you do more for housing?’”

Gregory said the county shouldn’t be afraid of taking on “reasonable debt.” With the money that the county already has on hand for the jail, there’s no need to make a decision on a loan immediately.

The new jail is to have 304 beds, plus a 28-bed mental health unit. It is to replace the 264-bed downtown Napa jail that county officials say is too small and inadequately designed for today’s needs.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.