Tour: Wayne County Jail build is on time, not on budget

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — As the new Wayne County Criminal Justice Complex begins to take shape off Interstate 75 and East Warren, three questions come to mind.

Will the project be completed, unlike the partially built and eventually torn down jail site on Gratiot? And will it be built on time (2022) and at cost ($533 million)?

Contractor Barton-Malow's Andrew Miller, center, talks to media members about the construction of the new Wayne County Criminal Justice Complex Tuesday.

According to officials from Wayne County, Bedrock Detroit — buyer of the failed jail site and the county's partner on the new site — and Barton-Malow, its contractor, those answers are yes, yes and no.

More:Wayne County takes a second swing at building new jail

Andrew Miller, project manager for Barton-Malow, said "mid-2022" is when the work would be complete. And it will be complete, he said.

"We're building it," Miller said as he stood near what will one day be the offices for deputy sheriffs, prosecutors and probation agents. "A lot of planning has gone into this. A number of commitments have been made. Never say never, but it would be extremely hard to turn back at this point."

A crane positions a section of a pre-cast concrete wall at the new Wayne County Criminal Justice Complex.

But the original price tag, $533 million, with a max of $380 million paid by Wayne County, has grown. Right now, the project is about $40 million over budget, said Joe Guziewicz, vice president of construction for Bedrock. Cost overruns are covered by Bedrock.

Workers have been on-site a year, but in recent weeks, the progress has become visible to motorists on nearby I-75.

Walls going up off the northbound service drive will house the adult detention facility. A multi-floor structure going up east of that is the first five floors of what will eventually be seven floors of office space. A tunnel between the adult jail facility and the courthouse is being constructed.

About 80,000 man-hours have gone into the site since ground broke, Miller said. 

The criminal justice complex will replace facilities at 525 and 570 Clinton in downtown Detroit, an adult jail facility in Hamtramck and a juvenile detention center, as well as the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, which is home to Wayne County Circuit Court and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

When the facility is complete, it will be more than 1 million square feet, including 1,300 parking spaces.

"We're really trying to have again really a timeless government facility that's going to stand the test of time in terms of style over the years," said Jeff Goodale of HOK, the architect of the project. 

And in terms of durability, he said. 

"The facility is designed really on a 50-year horizon," Goodale said. "It's built out of  precast concrete, which is very long-lasting, with engineering systems that are built to last a long time, which will cost as little to maintain as possible."

'Cautiously excited'

The facility is being built at a time the Wayne County Jail population is shrinking, prompting some critics to question the need for a new jail facility. In 2014, according to Wayne County budget documents, the jail's average daily population was about 2,200. But in the second quarter of 2019, it was 1,618.

A rendering of the still-under-construction Wayne County Jail

The current three-jail system — the downtown jails and the William Dickerson facility in Hamtramck — has 2,951 adult beds, meaning the jail is only operating at less than 55% of its capacity. At the new facility, only adult 2,280 beds will be available. 

The new jail site will also hold 160 juvenile beds, bringing the total bed count to 2,440.

Amanda Alexander, executive director of the Detroit Justice Center, and a member of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Taskforce on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, has publicly, and repeatedly, questioned the need for a new juvenile facility, including in an October guest column for Deadline Detroit.

More:In first meeting, state jail task force outlines goals, seeks solutions

Her collaborator on that piece, Erin Keith, is a staff attorney at the center focused on juvenile justice issues.

"Point blank period: we don't need a new youth jail," Keith told The News Tuesday. "The question we need to be asking ourselves is, why are we investing more money to keep kids in cages?"

More:Wayne County advisory commission digs into jail data

A rendering of the still-under-construction Wayne County Jail, off Interstate 75 and East Warren.

Activists have expressed concern that though the new jail's human footprint will be smaller, it's still larger than the need, and that law enforcement will find ways to meet its capacity.

But that hasn't happened at the jail's current facilities, Robert Dunlap, chief of jails for the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, has told The News previously, and he doesn't expect it to happen at the new facility.  

Dunlap's office conference room still hangs renderings and blueprints of the Gratiot site.

"I guess I gotta take those down at some point," he said during a recent visit.

Wayne County taxpayers lost roughly $150 million halfway-building and maintaining a jail site that was later torn down. In October, the University of Michigan announced plans to turn the property, now owned by billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert, into a $300 million "innovation center." 

More:UM to build 'innovation center' on old Wayne County jail site

On Tuesday, Dunlap said he is "cautiously excited to see (the new jail) come to fruition," as he believes it will be more efficient operating from "one house" as opposed to four: the two downtown adult jails, the juvenile facility, and the William Dickerson adult lock-up in Hamtramck. 

The sheriff's office transports 150 inmates per day to court. Some go to the dozens of district courts in Wayne County, but the "bulk" go to the Wayne County Circuit Court, Dunlap said.

Annual transport costs were not immediately available, but Dunlap he expects those costs to drop once the new facility is in operation, and inmates are a tunnel walk from the court, rather than a bus ride.

The criminal justice complex will replace detention facilities at 525 and 570 Clinton in downtown Detroit, an adult jail facility in Hamtramck and a juvenile detention center, as well as the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, home to Wayne County Circuit Court and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

Dollars and sense

Crain's Business Detroit reported in July that the project was running $40 million over budget. That's about where the numbers still stand, Guziewicz said. 

According to the agreement between the county and Bedrock, made during the sale of the fail-jail site, Wayne County will contribute a maximum of $380 million to the project, with Bedrock contributing the rest, including any cost overruns. That extra $40 million, then, would come out of Bedrock's end.

Gilbert has personally guaranteed that Rock Ventures will have the funds to do so.

Guziewicz said Gilbert's health situation doesn't change matters. Gilbert suffered a stroke in May and has not been in the public eye since.

"We keep churning and moving, and nothing with Dan's health is going to change that," Guziewicz said. "We've committed to this, and we'll do it."