Calaveras County’s lackluster government center is being transformed into a destination in its own right, thanks to one man with a vision.
County Facilities and Grounds Manager Patrick Martin and his small band of employees installed a custom-made water wheel outside the government center on Dec. 21—the focal point of a new recreational area that will bring babbling water, lush vegetation and ample seating to a previously uninspiring patch of lawn.
“On behalf of the board I think we’re quite excited to have something beautiful and creative as part of a very formal environment. … I’m sure it will take on many stories as we move through the years,” county Board of Supervisors Chairperson Merita Callaway said about the project. “It’s exciting to see somebody’s vision really happen and how this whole facilities group made it come together.”
In just three years on the job so far, briefly-retired builder Martin hasn’t been afraid to dream up fresh ideas in addition to his duties of maintaining the 53-acre campus and other properties across the county.
“For us to take on something like this in addition is a monumental task,” he said, but it’s a labor of love.
Martin's passion was apparent as the waterwheel, flanked by two spiral staircases and feeding into a creek straddled by a wooden bridge, began to take shape, the product of more than two years of planning and building. Like the pergola his team built from Cal Fire tree mortality wood two years ago in the government center’s plaza, Martin envisions a truly special space where county workers, newlyweds and the greater community can gather, relax and take photos.
Perhaps the most impressive feat has been completing the project without a designated budget. By the time it’s complete, Martin estimates less than $5,000 in county funds will be spent—all sourced from his department’s annual budget. Without the creative use of salvaged materials and labor provided by a handful of department employees and jail inmates, Martin says the project would have cost around $500,000.
The team constructed the water wheel and bridge out of tree mortality wood left over from the pergola project. The staircases and surrounding “fence” were recovered from the old jail demolition near the government center.
“There were just treasures galore in there for someone like me to repurpose,” Martin said.
The rocks were sourced from the excavation for the new jail, and a cedar that had to be cut down on the other side of the campus will be used to build seating and picnic tables.
An additional $3,000 was donated to the project for landscaping by Mark Twain Health Care District CEO Randy Smart, MD, in exchange for beams recovered from an old barn that was previously owned by the health care district but was disassembled by the county after it changed hands.
The only materials purchased for the project were the “invisible” components: concrete, pipes, pumps and pond liner.
As county workers lowered large rocks into their new forever home last week, Martin said he could not be prouder of his staff for tackling a project that is out of their wheelhouse.
“When we did the pergola, (my staff) thought I was crazy. When I brought this up, they said ‘Let’s do it,’” Martin said.” It’s really instilled a lot of confidence in these guys. Their talent is incredible.”