Bill Sessa / OPEC Staff

The California Correctional Health Care Facility rises like a Phoenix out of the rubble of a demolished juvenile justice facility on the outskirts of Stockton.
Although ground preparation began in November 2010, the above-ground construction began last January. In eight months, 82 separate buildings, many of them longer than a football field, have risen on 400 acres that formerly housed the Karl Holton Juvenile Justice Facility.
Thousands of craftsmen coordinated their work in a carefully choreographed plan to keep the project on an ultra-aggressive schedule and on budget. On a recent August day, an army of 1,400 workers, more than half of whom are from San Joaquin County, were filling building shells with plumbing and electricity on a project that will ultimately create 5,500 construction jobs.
“We have more masons on this project than any other site in California,” said construction supervisor Mike Tovarez, to emphasize the scale of the $900 million, 1.2 million sq. ft. facility.
To keep pace, the California Correctional Health Care Facility generates $70 million a month in billings, more than some complete construction projects are worth.  More than half of that money is spent on local workers and contractors, creating a $1 billion economic impact in Stockton and the surrounding area.
“A project of this magnitude has thousands of parts and hundreds of decisions every week,” said Chris Meyer, senior chief, Facility Planning, Construction and Management.   “Everybody has been making an effort and a half to keep this moving.” 
The first of 1,722 inmate patients are expected to arrive on schedule by August, 2013, where they will receive intermediate level mental health and medical care. Surrounded by an electrified perimeter fence and guard towers, it will clearly be a secured institution.
Within the walls, however, the buildings are designed to provide care.  Skylights and atriums provide natural sunlight, an important factor in the rehabilitation of mental health patients.  Medical facilities are designed for efficiency. 
“The two things hardest to build are prisons and medical,” Tovarez said.
“This facility puts everything in one place so that doctors can deliver everything to the patient,” he added.  “It juggles the need for custody and medical care.”
It is also designed to meet the demands of the courts for improvements in CDCR’s mental health and medical programs.
 “This facility takes head on the issues in the Coleman, Armstrong, Plata lawsuits,”  Meyer said.