State facility to provide jobs, massive economic benefit

Workers prepare for a crane to drop a wall into place for the central utility building at the California Health Care Facility, Stockton. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Workers prepare for a crane to drop a wall into place for the central utility building at the California Health Care Facility, Stockton. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Central Valley Business Journal, February 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

Earth movers have been digging trenches and leveling grade, cranes are hoisting walls into place, and riding trowels are hovering over freshly poured cement to form more walls for more buildings.

And men and women are being put to work on perhaps the largest construction project in California in a decade – the 1,722-bed California Health Care Facility, Stockton just southeast of the intersection of Arch Road and Logistics Drive east of state Highway 99.

At this point, only a couple hundred men and women are working at the site, but in time more – many more – union and nonunion tradesmen and women will be put to work. There will be as many as 5,500 construction jobs with 1,200 workers on hand by the Fourth of July.

It means construction workers get back to work. It means apprentices learn a trade they can take with them for the rest of their lives. It means a lot to a lot of people within 50 miles of the project, the area from which the vast majority of workers will be hired.

“This really is a red letter day for the city of Stockton,” city Mayor Ann Johnston said at a luncheon and tour of the construction site in early January. “For the public to see what’s going on here is important.”

“This is a good thing that’s happening in our community,” she added. “This is a bright spot in our community.”

Contractors, project managers, heavy machine operators, and the alike have been working at the site for a couple of months. With construction estimated at $700 million to $750 million, as many as 1,700 construction workers will be on the site on a given day.

As much as 20 percent of the workforce on the project will be in apprenticeship programs learning a trade.

An all-day jobs information fair was held Jan. 6 at the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium sponsored by the contractors, the city of Stockton, and various government agencies. The contractors, state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, subcontractors, trade unions, the city of Stockton, and others were there with information on applying for jobs at the site and for joining apprenticeship programs to learn trades.

“Some 1,474 people – not including staff – attended the construction jobs fair,” said Judith Buethe of Buethe Communications. “We were very happy with the number.”

The project website also has information about jobs; visit http://www.chcfstockton.com/.

The economic impact from construction alone is expected to be $1 billion. Part of that will be in wages paid to construction workers and part will go beyond the construction site – like wages for workers at the fast-food restaurants, gas stations, and Starbucks just east of the state Highway 99-Arch Road interchange. And in lodging and fees paid at the Hampton Inn and Suites just south of those businesses on Kingsley Road.

Already, patrons sporting outerwear with the logos of the contractors are frequenting the Starbucks and restaurants. Vehicles – pickups with diamond plated toolboxes and utility racks joining cars fresh off the highway – crammed the parking lot in the middle of the week recently. An already bustling retail development near the interchange has a chance of filling all its vacancies by this summer when the peak of construction is likely to happen just down the road past half-vacant commercial developments and business parks to the north and small ranches to the south.

The construction has been highlighted – along with the “Marine Highway” expansion at the Port of Stockton and the construction of a Veterans Affairs clinic and care facility in French Camp – in a growing number of economic forecasts for providing momentum in moving the Central Valley out of the recession.

And once the facility is completed and inmates are housed there no later than December 2013, there will be 2,400 permanent civil service jobs with an annual payroll of $220 million.

“This is an example of how we have moved from a contentious situation to a partnership of partners and friends,” Douglass Wilhoit, chief executive officer of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, said in praising the “very, very fair” process to eliminate early concerns.

One of the “win-win” results, said Wilhoit, was a 25-bed secure unit at the San Joaquin County General Hospital for inmates requiring medical procedures that won’t be handled at the state facility. There is also a partnership with San Joaquin Delta College to expand its accredited psychiatric technician program and necessary infrastructure improvements near the facility will be carried out.

In the design-build approach to the project, the joint venture of Granite Construction, Hensel Phelps and HOK architects, are working on utilities, secure perimeter fencing and guard towers, storage warehouse, and other non-secure buildings and infrastructure. The joint venture of Clark Construction and McCarthy, along with HDR Architects, are building the housing and health-care facilities, including a diagnostics and treatment center, central kitchen, administration center, and more.

The team for a third project at the same site, the renovation and expansion of the former DeWitt Nelson Youth Correction Facility to be used as an adult health-care institution, is expected to be selected early this year.

“This is a huge project for any contractor,” Mike Ricker, vice president of the Clark/McCarthy joint venture, said over the ruckus of heavy equipment being used to dig plumbing trenches for the first housing unit. He said this was one of a handful of similarly sized projects in the state and perhaps one of a dozen in the entire nation.

It is not just the bulk of the project, said Shannon Gustine, Hensel Phelps Construction Co.’s project manager, it is also about how quickly things will be built. The deadline for inmates to be in the facility is Dec. 31, 2013, which means the contractors must be finished several months before that to allow time for various inspections and certifications of the massive facility. Buildings will total nearly 1.2 million square feet on 144 acres.

“It’s basically a small city,” Mike Meredith, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s project director, added during the tour. “It’s got everything you’d need.”

Besides housing for 1,722 inmates, the facility will have a central utility building, patient-inmate housing clusters, diagnostic and treatment center, warehousing and support facilities, visitor and staff entry building, a central kitchen, and staff training facility. And all LEED Silver certified.

Of course, it also will have a 13-foot tall lethal electrified fence between two perimeter fences, 11 45-foot tall guard towers, external lighting, and 24-hour patrol.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

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