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Forced work stoppage adds cost, time to build of new Wayne County Jail

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — As work resumes Thursday on the new Wayne County Jail, officials on the project say they don't immediately know how the almost two-month mandated work stoppage will affect the timetable for the new jail's opening — or its cost — but were certain the jail would indeed be finished.

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

Work stopped in March at the site due to the spread of the coronavirus in Michigan, which led Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to halt the work of the construction industry. At that point, the project was about $40 million over its $533 million budget, the same as it was late last year, said Joe Guziewicz, vice president of construction for Bedrock, who is managing the project on behalf of Wayne County. 

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

"We may not have been paying everybody (during the layoff), but we had workers securing the site, equipment we've rented," Guziewicz said. "Shutting the site down doesn't do anything positive for the schedule or the budget."

That the stoppage will add time and cost to the project is clear, Guziewicz said. Just how great those effects will be are not immediately known.

Rick Kaufman, deputy Wayne County Executive, said it's a "good rule of thumb" that each workday lost would have to be added to the back end. 

On Thursday, a small amount of site supervisors, about 15 or so, will return to the work site to prepare it for the full-scale  return coming Monday. They will check materials, start equipment that has sat idle for months and set up multiple hand-cleaning stations on the site.

Another group, about that same size, will arrive at the site on Friday for training.

On Monday, Guziewicz said, work will resume "in earnest" at the site — though how many workers that will entail was not immediately known Wednesday, as Bedrock hadn't yet talked to some of the subcontractors involved, "each of which may have their own policies" about how work must be carried out in the era of a virus crisis that requires social distancing.

That group includes electrical and mechanical workers, plumbers, steel workers.

"Everyone is getting a feel for what the post-COVID-19 workplace will look like," Guziewicz said.

The nearly two-month layoff did not save the project money, Guziewicz said. But its cost won't be known for some time. 

It's not just a jail going up on the site, but a justice center. The Wayne County Circuit Court will be housed there, as well as the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. Both are now at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice. Bedrock owns, but the county controls, the justice hall and Detroit jail properties.

As the coronavirus spread through Michigan, construction had been considered a non-essential industry and therefore sidelined. But Gov. Whitmer has allowed the field to resume its work Thursday, with "enhanced" social distancing measures.

More:Whitmer lifting some restrictions on construction, real estate

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity released on Wednesday a 24-page guide on how construction projects can safely resume.

Among its many tips: screening protocols; social distancing of six-feet between workers, or the wearing of personal protective equipment when that's not possible; signage reminding workers to wash hands, and access to plenty of hand-cleaning equipment; and deep-cleaning of areas of the job site where people known to test positive have worked.

Mid-2022 had been the completion date for the jail before the work stoppage. 

"It could take several months to wrap our arms around (the cost)," said Guziewicz. "There's so many variables: the dynamics of the labor market, the costs of materials and supplies."

The county and Bedrock will have to work to adjust their contract as it concerns timing, officials from both sides said. Wayne County is paying $380 million into the project, while Bedrock is managing the work and will pay the remainder, including any overruns. Dan Gilbert has personally guaranteed Bedrock's contribution.

The jail will be completed, Guziewicz assured: "Yes. Absolutely. One hundred percent."

The justice center, off Interstate 75 and East Warren on Detroit's east side, is Wayne County's second attempt to build a new jail that would consolidate its footprint, which is spread out at multiple facilities downtown and one in Hamtramck. County officials feel it will be safer and more cost-effective — and require less transport to and from court — to have people housed on a single campus.

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

Construction on what would become known as the "fail jail" at Gratiot and St. Antoine began in 2011, under then-County Executive Bob Ficano. The 2,000-bed project near the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice was later halted in June 2013 after $100 million in overruns and charges of corruption.

About $151 million was spent in construction, acquisition and design of the jail, with much of the work done underground. 

After years of discussion on whether to build out the Gratiot site or start new, Wayne County in March 2018 signed Bedrock as its partner in building a new justice center, away from downtown while Gilbert would get the land, the county's Detroit jails, and the courthouse.

More:3-way deal big step toward jail land swap in Detroit

When the Detroit jail properties and the justice hall are cleared out, the University of Michigan is expected to build a $300 million "innovation center" on the land Gilbert owns.

It will provide master's level instruction and certificate education in technology-related fields for current and future businesses across the region.

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

Last month, in neighboring Macomb County, the economic impact of the lockdown led county officials to drop plans to request a millage to build a new, $300 million, 1,100-bed jail.

That proposal was a scaled-down version of an earlier plan to build a 1,516-inmate jail costing $400 million. 

Macomb had hoped to get the millage on the August ballot, County Executive Mark Hackel said previously, but came to believe the request was inappropriate, considering the circumstances.

More:Macomb County shelves plan for new jail, cites pandemic

“There’s no question we need a new facility but we will make do with what we have for now,” Hackel said at the time. “With people losing their jobs and budgets from local to state under review, this is not a good time to be planning any major building projects. It doesn’t make fiscal sense and would be in bad taste.”

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