Wayne County Jail Project Under New Guidance

DETROIT — In a unanimous July 7 vote, Wayne County, Mich., commissioners approved a contract with Miami-based CGL to oversee the county’s stalled and unfinished downtown Detroit jail project. CGL will serve as the county’s representative with a contract valued at approximately $4 million.

County commissioners recently settled with the project’s original engineering and architecture team of AECOM Services, headquartered in Los Angeles, and Ghafari Associates, headquartered in Dearborn, Mich. The settlement gave the county $2.5 million and included a dismissal of counterclaims against county leadership as well as the Wayne County Building Authority, according to the Detroit Free Press. The settlement also placed design documents for the new jail under county ownership.

"The commission’s decision to approve the settlement agreement with AECOM and Ghafari puts us one step closer to removing the eyesore that the unfinished jail site has become," said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans in a statement.

The commissioners originally hesitated to work with CGL, as the company was also in talks with local developer Dan Gilbert’s company, Rock Ventures, to turn the site into soccer stadium. The company has since been removed from that project to avoid any potential conflict of interest, and will work exclusively with Wayne County. CGL’s contract with the county, which includes completing a new Request for Proposals for the design and construction of the jail, will run through October 2019.

Deputy County Executive Richard Kaufman had originally expressed interest in continuing the project with AECOM and Ghafari Associates to avoid letting the project sit dormant for too long and to ensure county worked with the team with the greatest knowledge of the site and project. That plan was abandoned following talks with CGL, according to a statement by the commissioners.

While the jail project is under new guidance, the decision as to its ultimate location has not yet been confirmed. Construction could continue on the downtown site off Gratiot Street or could be moved to a new location. Wayne County Commissioner Chair Gary Woronchak told the Detroit Free Press that the Mound Correctional Facility site, which had been considered as an alternative after the downtown project stalled, is likely off the table.

Should the jail be constructed on an alternative site, administration officials say firms backing the construction of a new soccer facility should be expected to help fund the construction of the county’s new jail, juvenile justice facility and courthouse — not taxpayers. As the project remains stalled, however, the cost of such a project remains unknown. The county has already dedicated roughly $150 million to the unfinished project, and spends approximately $1 million each month to maintain the site and cover other costs.

Work on the new jail facility was first approved in September 2011. Then, plans included the construction of a new five-story, 2,000-bed jail at a cost of approximately $300 million. The project was intended to deliver a state-of-the-art, money-saving facility that would streamline management of jail medical care, food programs and laundry services. It was originally projected to save Wayne County up to $30 million annually, and would have facilitated the closing of two nearby correctional complexes.

Despite making some progress on the project, which began construction in mid-2012, work was halted in the summer of 2013 when it was confirmed that the project would instead cost approximately $391 million.