An imposing brick building encircled by black fencing has been growing on Lower Sacramento Road in Woodbridge. It's the new office for the Woodbridge Irrigation District. District staff are still unpacking and sweeping up the last of the construction dust, but the project is complete.
The new office blends Italian and and Spanish styling with a sense of Woodbridge history, and puts district operations right next door to the facilities they manage.
It cost $1 million to build, but the district didn't borrow a cent to pay for it.
"It's bought and paid for," said district manager Andy Christensen proudly. "Now we have a place to convey our rich history. We couldn't do it in the old building."
The district has been in a constant state of construction since Christensen joined them in 1996. Between building the new dam, the fish screen, the fish ladder and now this new building, there seemed to be no end to the projects. But now they are all complete, and the district can turn its attention to improving canals and pipelines in the field.
District staff spent two years planning the building and lining up permits. Designers were keen for the new structure to blend in with other brick buildings on Lower Sacramento Road, such as Cactus Mexican Dining and Woodbridge Crossing.
"We didn't want something ultra-modern," said Christensen.
Spanish and Italian influences are present in the sandy tile floors, the marble counter and open, airy layout.
On the left in the main hallways is a lighted display case full of historical Woodbridge artifacts. It holds rusty mining equipment, photographs of women walking on the 1891 dam and a water level recorder that uses a clock mechanism to mark the change in water level at the dam for a week at a time.
The case is bordered with beams dredged up from 25 feet below the riverbed. District staff ran into the 16 foot beams when they excavated that portion of the river to build the fish screen in 2008. They were the support piles for the 1891 dam. Now the beams are dotted with replica square iron bolts designed to match those used in the original Woodbridge Dam.
Massive beams, distressed to match the cabinet beams, support the vaulted ceiling in the foyer, held together with the same square bolts.
Why the historical bent? Christensen has spent months researching the history of Woodbridge, and wants to use the building to showcase those stories.
"Woodbridge was a main stopover for the Gold Rush," he said. Miners hoping to strike it rich would travel over land from San Francisco, then stop in Woodbridge to stock up before heading to the hills. They had to cross the river by paying Jeremiah H. Wood, the town's founder. He would help people ford the river or ferry them across when the river was high.
Another historical note is a working safe moved over from the old office, built in 1924. It's a throwback to the days when farmers would pay for their water in cash. Now most growers pay with check or debit card, but a few old timers are still holding out, said Christensen.
Instead of holding cash, the back of the safe has been cut away. It faces out of a storage room filled with district records that go back as early as 1913. Dozens of originals are kept in an old-fashioned secretary cabinet, though most have been transferred to a digital file.
One narrow room is set aside for the district supervisory control and data acquisition system. When its ready, a technician will be able to manage the dozens of canals, gates and pumps with more precision than if he were standing on-site with his hand on the lever. That system will come online in mid-June.
A major asset of the new place is the size. The original office was too small and cramped. Most district records and maps were stored in an outdoor storage container.
"Fighting for room to operate our business consumed our time," Christensen said. Now, oversize documents have their own office, complete with a drafting table for growers and district officials to roll up their sleeves and lay out plans.
There's no shortage of techy gadgets. Lights turn on not with a switch but with a hand waved in front of a small panel. If a speaker has a presentation on their computer, the slides can be transferred to a television screen with WiFi capability. And live feeds from cameras across WID property can be viewed either in the SCADA control room or, soon, by authorized smartphones.
The real beauty of the building is in its location. The office resettled on the east side of Lower Sacramento Road and sits on a curve of the Mokelumne River. A small patio lies next to a lush green lawn. A slate-colored gravel trail is both a walking path and service road for trucks. Less than 1,000 feet to the west, the river crashes over the Woodbridge Dam. About 100 feet to the right lies the fish screen.
"Our district has grown and expanded since that office was built. Now, we're closer to our operations. It gives the customer a better experience," said Christensen.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.