Granite Blocks Make the Journey from 1902 Jail to New County Plaza

The Contra Costa County Admin Building and Jail Demo & Redevelopment team is not just building a new structure. It’s breathing new life into history.

January 24, 2024


The Contra Costa County Admin Building and Jail Demo & Redevelopment (CCC ADR) team is not just building a new structure. It’s breathing new life into history.

Along with the new steel, concrete, facades, and other materials used to deliver the county's new administration building, tenants and visitors will find the majestic granite salvaged from the original century-plus-old county jail that was demolished in the project's early stages. These granite blocks, still robust and full of stories, have found a new purpose. "We're crafting a plaza that pays homage to the past," says Project Engineer Nick Borov. "The granite's journey from the 1902 county jail to our plaza is a story of resilience and timelessness."

Creative Recycling: A Sustainable Choice

The process of reusing these historical blocks began with their careful demolition and storage and ended with their transformation into walls, curbs, and pedestrian walkways, echoing Webcor's commitment to sustainability. The process, led by Creative Masonry and American Soil & Stone, has been meticulous, ensuring that each piece of granite finds its ideal place in the plaza.

According to Nick, from a physical standpoint, there's little difference between the salvaged 100-year-old granite and new material. However, salvaging material delivers more than efficient reuse. It also preserves history, allowing us to build a future that respects the past. As Colton Pasnik, previously a senior project engineer, noted, "Preserving key features in salvaged material is high-risk but incredibly rewarding. We're not just constructing a plaza by incorporating the original '1902 County Jail' title blocks and installing descriptive signage. We’re building a narrative."

The reuse of the granite blocks aligns perfectly with the project's TRUE certification goals, emphasizing waste reduction and material reuse. The pursuit of the certification -- which will be the first in the world for a government structure -- includes the diversion of significant waste from landfills, a stark contrast to conventional demolition processes. Instead, these leftover materials have been set aside for use in future county projects, completing a full circle of sustainability.

Challenges and Triumphs

The journey wasn't without its challenges. As Sr. Project Manager Alec Bangs points out, salvaging historical materials comes at a premium and requires careful planning. The logistics of storing and processing these materials demanded creativity and perseverance. The materials would not be used for a year after demolition. Fortunately, a fellow Webcor employee offered his ranch as a storage location. (Marble tiles were also salvaged but took up far less space, creating fewer headaches.)

Transporting the granite to the ranch, then back to the project, and distributing it to its various uses (i.e., block walls, curbs, and pavers, with remaining granite returned to the county for future uses) also proved to be a logistical challenge.

The reuse also adds cost to the project, requiring a willing partner like Contra Costa County, which saw the value in preserving the materials. As a result, the work needed to be factored into the master schedule.

For the community, this project is more than a construction feat; it’s a piece of their heritage reborn. By repurposing the granite, the project team created aesthetic value and contributed to the community's narrative, connecting the past with the present.

Core Values at Work

The reuse of the granite blocks is an example of what can be achieved when projects apply Webcor's "bold" and "innovate" Core Values, thinking outside the conventional realms of construction. Sustainability Manager Kavita Karmarkar highlights the need for just such a paradigm shift, urging architects and builders to consider reused materials as a norm rather than an exception.

While the use of salvaged materials comes with its own set of challenges, including storage and reduced lifespan, the benefits can, under the right circumstances, outweigh the drawbacks. The CCC ADR project has demonstrated that careful planning and innovative thinking can produce a feasible, environmentally, and culturally enriching approach to a project.

The CCC ADR project reveals a path for using salvaged material, recognizing that not all materials from demolitions are worth saving. Still, project team members hope the successful reuse of the CCC ADR granite serves as a precedent for future projects.

"What we have shown here is that Webcor, our clients, partners, and the communities in which we build can redefine the principles of building and preserving," Alec says. "This building isn't just a physical structure; it’s a symbol of our commitment to innovation, sustainability, and respect for our shared history."