Wayne board eyes OK'ing downtown jail project restart

Steve Pardo
The Detroit News

Detroit — Construction could soon restart on the half-finished jail site where work was halted 16 months ago because of cost overruns estimated at more than $90 million.

Wayne County commissioners are poised to approve a resolution, crafted by Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, supporting the construction on the jail site. Commissioners could grant final approval at the Oct. 16 meeting.

Over the past several months officials have heard options of finishing the jail at Gratiot and Madison downtown or moving operations to a former prison facility on Mound Road. About a month ago, officials from the office of County Executive Robert Ficano released cost estimates of both plans — each of which involve tens or hundreds of millions more than originally approved.

"We need to try to move in a direction," Woronchak, D-Dearborn, said. "The administration has brought us information that points entirely to staying at the Gratiot site."

Commissioners approved $300 million in bonds when the plan was approved in 2011. Ficano ordered the project halted in June of last year when estimates soared to $391 million.

About $160 million has been spent so far on the unfinished jail. Estimates on building out the jail would total $372.5 million, Wayne County Chief Financial Officer Mark Abbo said.

Building a jail at the Mound Road site — and a needed courthouse and juvenile detention facility — would cost up to $651 million.

Commissioner Laura Cox, R-Livonia, expressed skepticism over the estimates. She pointed out jail construction estimates topped out at $300 million three years ago.

"You give us estimates. I'm concerned with how good these estimates are," Cox said Tuesday to Ficano's chief of staff. "I talk to people and they're frustrated. It's absolutely insane."

Commissioners were considering renovating the current jail facilities at a cost of about $20 million. On Tuesday, they heard from bond experts that the county could have to pay back millions in credits issued from the Internal Revenue Service surrounding the bonds.

In December of last year, Rock Ventures LLC pitched a plan for a $50 million purchase of the 15½-acre site of the unfinished jail. The Mound proposal takes into consideration that amount.

Meanwhile, a current and a former Wayne County official appeared in court Tuesday on charges related to jail cost overruns.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Vonda Evans ordered the lawyers for former chief financial officer Carla Sledge and Steve Collins, an assistant corporation counsel, not to talk about the case to media and set a next hearing date for Oct. 31.

Sledge and Collins pleaded not guilty earlier this month to allegations of intentionally misleading county commissioners and building authority members about the true costs of the project.

A third official, former jail consultant, Anthony Parlovecchio, faces a misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty by a public official.


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Detroit News Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed.