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From trash to treasure

Waterfall and creek to be built in coming months at government center

  • Updated
  • 3 min to read

What’s the county to do with a chain from an ocean buoy anchor, bark beetle-killed trees and a steel spiral staircase stripped from a demolished building?

Calaveras County Facilities and Grounds Manager Patrick Martin has a few ideas.

His latest project includes a waterfall, creek and other new landscaping near the north-facing set of stairs leading to the government center in San Andreas. To be built with nearly all repurposed materials, the project is only costing taxpayers about $2,000.

“I’ve got a very talented group of guys. I dream up these crazy ideas, give them rough sketches, and then they pull it off,” Martin said on a Sept. 3 tour of the grounds.

The beginnings of what Martin calls “Rejuvenation” has raised curiosity in county residents and staff.

“This whole front area, we wanted to turn it into a little more than just lawn,” Martin said. “So this is what we got.”

An octagonal, concrete foundation supports multiple wood posts on the lawn across from the site of the county government’s annual frog jump. A long piece of hollowed-out, 100-year-old redwood juts out from a wall of metal bars salvaged from the wreckage of the old jail, which was demolished in July.

Built in 1963, the jail was decommissioned about six years ago, and had been sitting vacant since. The demolition provided more than just excess materials for government center beautification – the county now has roughly 3,000 cubic yards of road base to be distributed to the General Fund for various projects.

That’ll save the county money and keep heavy trucks off the road which would normally be hauling road base into the county, Martin said.

Also decommissioned with the jail, a 150-year-old barn, that was at one time used to raise livestock to feed hospital residents, made it into Martin’s creation as well.

When the barn was transitioned into a laundry facility, steel rods were used in a pulley system to run industrial washers and dryers.

The facilities crew took those rods, shaved them down and used them to hang additional, smaller pieces of redwood below the long piece at the top of the metal bars.

Water pumped uphill will eventually fall through the redwood and along a buoy anchor chain into a water wheel, from where it’ll be delivered downslope to recirculate into a holding pond just north of the parking lot.

Martin said the buoy was likely included in a military surplus acquisition, and had been sitting in a yard for 25 years.

Stopping at the water wheel, also made of beetle-killed redwood, Martin said, “these guys fabricated the spokes, welded this together – they’ve made the entire thing.”

Rock planter beds full of tropical plants will line the creek as it runs along a gravel path.

“It’ll be a quiet area to give people an opportunity to get away from everything,” Martin said.

Along with the rocks and gravel, a steel spiral staircase rises out of the ashes of the jail as another water feature. Leftover plexiglass from the county’s “sneeze guards” installed to slow COVID-19 spread will frame the sides of two staircases on either side of the wheel, and old road signs will close off the backs of the stairs.

Martin said all the county has purchased for the project is the cement for the structure and the pipe in the ground.

Repurposing materials to “beautify” county property on a minimal budget has become somewhat of a side-hobby for Martin.

Not too far from “Rejuvenation” is a redwood pergola just outside the entrance to board chambers installed in 2018 with beetle-killed trees.

More recently, Martin oversaw the renovation of the West Point Community Center using Butte Fire settlement funds from Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

“I’ve been a builder my whole career and I love making the extraordinary out of the ordinary,” said Martin, whose “playground” consists of more than 1,200 acres of undeveloped county land. “This was the perfect environment for my wild creativity because I’ve got such a playground of stuff. I love building crazy, cool things.”

There’s only so much time for the innovative end-of-the-day projects, though, especially with COVID-19 requiring more than usual of the facilities crew.

“As long as we get our other responsibilities finished, I have guys that come out an hour or two here and there,” Martin said.

The list of projects undertaken by Martin’s team this year includes sneeze guards, a complete replacement of the county’s 50 antiquated heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units, new landscaping by the elections office and more.

With a price tag of $2.9 million, the HVAC upgrade, in particular, will save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs over 10 years, Martin said.

He said the county normally replaces three to five units every year. The new units, likely to be installed by the end of November, are more efficient and safer for curbing COVID-19 transmission due to their capacity for better air filtration, Martin said.

Martin said the waterfall project should be finished by December, just in time to be presented as “his gift in the hopes of a better 2021.”

“Tons of people ask questions about it, because the concrete structure’s been here for about eight months, but now with the back structure in, we’re going to tarp it and close it in, so we can hold the ‘wow’ factor back and finish the work inside,” Martin said. “I don’t want to give away all my thunder until we’re ready.”



Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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