MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Members of the Merced County Sheriff's Office and other local leaders gathered Tuesday to break ground on construction at the John Latorraca Correctional Center (JLCC) off Highway 59 and Sandy Mush Road.
"It's just an exciting day because it's been so long and coming. We got this initial $40 million grant from the state. Times have changed, things have changed, and Covid happened, and prices go up," said Merced County Board of Supervisor Scott Silveira.
Prices have gone way up. Phase one of the project is now expected to cost more than $77 million. It includes a new kitchen, new medical, dental, and mental health facilities, plus classrooms and renovated dormitory buildings.
Phase two is a $61 million project to build a new 256-bed jail next to JLCC. It's scheduled to be complete by June of 2026 and will replace the main jail in downtown Merced.
"Having it out here, on an already established place, and it's not anywhere near neighbors. And it's just a better location," said Warnke.
Both of Merced County's jails have had multiple inmates escape in the past, including a man who forced his way through layers of building material at John Latorraca in 2021. He then broke through perimeter fencing before being caught weeks later in Oklahoma.
"We've had a lot of updating to keep doing with this facility because of the nature of the inmates that we're getting," said Sheriff Warnke.
As the long-awaited project moves forward, the sheriff's office said it will improve public safety while providing more opportunities for rehabilitation.
The Downtown jail will be phased out and just used for administrative staff once the John Latorraca facility project is complete.
The Merced County Sheriff's Office said it's hiring for new positions to be filled at the new facility.
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