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County supes vote to demolish 1903 Martinez jail

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors unanimously decided Tuesday to demolish the old county jail — which has been on the site since 1903 — along with the 12-story former county administration building at 651 Pine St. in Martinez.

The county will now officially start looking for contractors for the project. Board members agreed opponents of the demolition didn’t propose any viable alternatives for the site after four years of debate.

Diane Burgis, board chairwoman, said:

“We are at a place where we can’t just keep continuing.”

The project would cost an estimated $65 million to $75 million, depending on whether the county decides to build a two-story or three-story building. The funds would come from a combination of existing county capital reserve money and new debt issuance.

Supervisors said the nature of the building’s material — concrete meant to keep people inside, along with concerns about factors like asbestos — made it problematic for renovation. They said the fact its existence was based on, and contained so much, suffering helped make their decision.

Supervisor Federal Glover said:

“I would think there would be a celebration with many of our constituencies.”

Members of the Architectural Preservation Foundation of Contra Costa County disagreed during the virtual meeting. The group has worked to find uses for the jail for the past four years and indicated it did bring forth viable alternatives for the jail.

Group president Cheryll Grover said using photos to preserve the history of the first buildings constructed for public use in Contra Costa “is not acceptable to us.”

Grover said:

“Four years ago we presented over 300 signatures to you for preservation. … There has been no current relevant community outreach on this issue.”

The county opened the administration building in 1964. It was officially decommissioned in December, when the county opened its new administrative building across the street.

County officials have expressed interest in using the new complex as office space for its sheriff’s office, district attorney’s office, public defender’s office, health services and office of racial justice and social equity.

During a board retreat last month, supervisors discussed four options presented by staff, paring them down to either a two-story building of about 20,000 square feet of office space, or a three-story building with about 40,000 square feet for offices. Both options include 80 parking spaces.

The county report says the contractor must preserve a record of the jail building “in accordance with National Park Service guidelines for Historic American Building Survey (HABS) documentation,” including photographs and written documentation of the historical content and building description for “submission to local historical repositories, including the Contra Costa Library in Martinez.” Physical building components can also be salvaged for use in public spaces.

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