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Construction projects moving forward in Calaveras

    Build it and they will come.
    The treasured line from the movie “Field of Dreams” has a double meaning in Calaveras County, where two important construction projects are moving forward.
    Yes, the county’s inmates will come to the new, 280-bed jail in San Andreas — although few will be happy there is suddenly room at the new inn.
    And students will certainly come to Columbia College’s proposed satellite campus in Angels Camp, and they will delighted to do so.
    There was progress on both projects last week, and the Calaveras County supervisors and the Yosemite Community College District trustees should be commended for keeping the ball rolling during these hard economic times.
    Actually, those hard times have played into the hands of the Calaveras Sheriff’s Office.
    Because of dropping building costs and competition among contractors for the few large projects actually going to bid, the county will get a lot more bang for its buck.
    Or, more accurately, more bang for its 59 million bucks.
    Earlier, when the construction picture was not so favorable, the cash would only build 114,000 square feet and the project was cut back accordingly. But, based on more recent cost estimates, $59 million will build all of the original 130,000 sq. ft. project, and it has been upscaled accordingly.
    Now the jail, once 65,000 gross square feet, is back to 76,537. And the adjacent sheriff’s administration building, earlier 38,000, is back to 41,463, And a dormitory for lower-risk inmates, is up 1,000 feet to 12,000.
    With a project nearly ready to build, Calaveras County is poised to take advantage of an economic climate that is nowhere near as kind to most other builders.
     The reason? According to Capt. Ed Ballard, much of the credit goes to citizens who in 2007 approved Measure J, a $31 million jail bond issue.
    Almost as much should go to Sheriff Dennis Downum, Ballard and other project planners, whose tireless lobbying have put the Calaveras job among the top three jail projects in line for state funding.
    It all leads to the conclusion that there may be justice after all. Because with a 47-year-old jail that can house just 65 inmates, what California county needs a new lockup more than Calaveras?
    Under current plans, jail complex bids will be asked next February, with completion slated for December of 2012.
    The schedule for construction of Columbia College’s Calaveras campus is nowhere near as certain, but the college board took a giant step last week: It bought a 5.9-acre campus site on Murphys Grade Road for $615,000.
    The Angels Camp acreage is in the heart of southern Calaveras County, which is within the Yosemite District boundaries.
    The purchase solidifies the college’s presence north of the Stanislaus River.
    Now Columbia offers a two-year program of classes at Bret Harte High School and earlier it had a storefront classrooms at the Glory Hole Center on Highway 49 north of Angels. But the Murphys Grade campus will be the real deal.
    A $10 million slice of Measure E, a $326 million bond issue passed by college district voters in 2004, has been earmarked for the Calaveras campus. And preliminary plans called for more than 19,000-square feet of classrooms and other buildings on the campus.
    The district’s satellite campus plan is among the final Measure E projects to launch and now may be the perfect time to move it along. Because, as the Calaveras Sheriff’s Office learned, there are some pretty good construction deals out there.

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