Wayne Co. panel OKs settlement with jail contractors

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Wayne County commissioners on Thursday approved Wayne County Executive Warren Evans’ proposal for an interim settlement with contractors hired to build a jail that sits unfinished on the corner of Gratiot and Madison in Detroit’s Greektown district.

The commission voted 11-2 to approve the measure. Commissioner Burton Leland, D-Detroit, was absent. Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland, and Terry Marecki, R-Livonia, voted no. Martha Scott, D-Highland Park, abstained.

Their vote comes about two days after commissioners met as a committee of the whole to discuss the proposed interim settlement agreement and voted to forward it to the full board.

Commissioner LeBlanc said he voted against the settlement because the county’s $300,000 study on options for the unfinished jail hasn’t been completed yet.

“The level of comfort is not enough to support (the proposal),” he said.

Commissioner Raymond Basham, D-Taylor, said he reluctantly voted in favor of the measure.

“I’m voting for it, but I feel like I have a gun to my head and have to choose getting shot by a .45 or a .357,” he said. “I’m voting for it, but that’s because there’s really no good alternative.”

Evans said the action clears the way for engineering and design contractors to prepare two conceptual plans and cost estimates for completing the jail.

“My administration did not cause this mess with the jail, but we are going to clean it up,” Evans said in a statement. “Completing the Gratiot site may prove to be the most practical option. However with this agreement, we have the flexibility to shift gears if a more viable opportunity is presented.”

In October 2014, the county sued jail project contractors, claiming errors and delays caused the project to fail. The companies counter-sued.

The unfinished, 2,000-bed jail project was started by then-County Executive Bob Ficano. Construction for the $220 million project began in 2011, but was halted in June 2013 after $100 million in overruns and charges of corruption.

Officials estimate it costs the county about $1.3 million a month to have the half-finished jail sitting unused.

Under the interim settlement agreement, the contractors — AECOM and Ghafari Associates — have until Feb. 29, 2016, to provide concept plans and cost estimates for finishing a scaled-down jail project. The companies are expected to provide the county two options for the jail, a 1,944 bed facility and one with 1,504 beds.

Officials said AECOM and Ghafari will assume the costs to develop the concept plans, preliminary inspections and evaluations of the existing structure, and construction cost estimates if the county elects to proceed with the re-designed jail.

They also said the deal sets maximum construction costs for the project at $175 million.

Both concepts are to include a tunnel between the jail and the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, located across Madison Street.

The county can pursue or reject either plan; and if costs exceed the target, the county can re-file its lawsuit against the contractors, according to officials.

If the county picks one of the plans, AECOM and Ghafari will have 180 days to complete redesign work and prepare a bidding package for construction.

Evans told The Detroit News this week the county would have to issue another $200 million in bonds to pay for completing construction of the jail.

He also said the county’s other options for the jail include selling the property or moving the county’s corrections operations to an abandoned state prison on Mound Road on the city’s east side.

Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services earlier this year offered $50 million to buy the site and the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, two old jails and a juvenile lockup. Evans said at the time the offer was too low.

Gov. Rick Snyder has long advocated consolidating the county’s courts and jails at the Mound Road site. Evans said this week the idea had not been taken off the table, but they “didn’t see it as the way to go.”


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