Tuolumne County leaders will break ground on a $40 million new jail during a ceremony scheduled to begin at noon on Tuesday.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in March. State grants are covering about $33 million of the construction costs, while the county will take out loans to cover the rest.

Dubbed the Sheriff J.H. “Jack” Dambacher Detention Center, the roughly 63,000-square-foot new jail will expand the number of inmates that the county can currently hold from 147 to about 230.

It will be part of the Law and Justice Center that’s been in development since the early 2000s on 48 acres of land the county purchased off Old Wards Ferry Road in Sonora.

“I think Tuolumne County took the correct approach in putting all of the strategic steps together in the development of this site to get to this point of the groundbreaking,” said Deputy County Administrator Maureen Frank, who has worked on the project since the beginning.

A $20 million juvenile hall, called the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility, opened at the Law and Justice Center last April. The proposed state budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year includes $65 million for a new courthouse that will be located next to the jail at the site.

The ceremony on Tuesday will include remarks by District 4 Supervisor John Gray, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, Linda Penner, chairwoman of the California Board of State and Community Corrections, Sheriff Jim Mele, and Gary Dambacher, grandson of the facility’s namesake who served as county sheriff from 1922 to 1946.

For years, the county has been dogged by grand jury reports that criticize the conditions at the current jail on Yaney Avenue as antiquated and overcrowded.

Frank said the new jail will have more space for rehabilitation programs and a bigger laundry room, kitchen, intake areas and sally port. Once the courthouse is finished, it will also prevent jail staff from having to transport the inmates to court appearances and march them along pedestrian sidewalks.

“It’s an opportunity for the Sheriff’s Office to have an efficient, well-designed building that will provide safer conditions both for the inmates and staff,” Frank said.

The ceremony on Tuesday is scheduled to conclude at 1 p.m., at which point the Board of Supervisors will return to the County Administration Center in Sonora for public hearings beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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