WATSONVILLE, Calif. - UPDATED: 9/7/2016 6:07 PM: The Rountree rehabilitation and Re-entry Facility in Watsonville started construction Wednesday to renovate and expand on the existing jail site which hasn't been used since the 90's.
"The existing infrastructure we had in place wasn't built to house people longer than a year and historically the average length of stay was about 30 to 32 days per person," said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart.
Now the county jail has about 70 inmates who spend up to 12 years behind bars. Sheriff Hart said they need to upgrade their facilities for long term care. Hart joined county and state officials for Rountree's groundbreaking Wednesday. The jail facility boasts 16,000 square feet of new housing, visiting, and administration space.
"And then about 14,000 square feet of programming space so that these people can work on education drug and alcohol treatment," said Hart.
The old jail dormitory was built in the 1960's and use to house 250 bunks. The old dorm will be converted into 64 semi private bunks overlooking a large dayroom. The project will include new security fencing to allow inmates access to exercise areas, and a vegetable garden.
"If they run it like they used to out here there's lots of opportunity out here for doing gardening and landscaping," said inmate, Gerald Elkins.
Elkins said he'll be released by the time the $27 million project is estimated to be complete, December of 2017.
"I will come back and visit it when they do get done, but as a visitor not an inmate," said Elkins.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriffs Office had a ground breaking ceremony in Wastonville Wednesday for the Rountree Rehabilitation and Re-Entry facility.
The project calls for the remodeling and expansion of an existing building that hasn't been used in decades. It was built in the 1960s and was never meant for long term care. When completed, the facility will accommodate 50-60 inmates.
The $27 million project expected to be completed by December of 2017.
Watch tonight for more on the story from KION's Brandon Castillo.