Price of new Cuyahoga County jail jumped to at least $700 million
The estimated cost of a new county jail has risen dramatically over the past two years, from the October 2020 estimate of $550 million to at least $700 million today.
That’s what Cuyahoga County Board members heard from Jeffrey Appelbaum, the consultant hired to oversee planning for the jail project on behalf of the county.
“Together, these numbers are pretty extraordinary,” Appelbaum said, describing annual increases in construction costs due to inflation, supply chain disruptions, the war in Ukraine and other factors at the time. over the past two years.
Appelbaum said construction project prices are expected to continue to rise 8% per year.
“I think if we can get this project, move it forward, we might be able to control that over the next few months so it doesn’t go any higher,” Appelbaum said.
The initial cost of $550 million has always been presented as a rough estimate, depending on the site the county chooses to build on and the final plan for the new jail. And from the start, Appelbaum warned officials that construction prices were likely to rise, but he told the board that such a large increase came as a surprise.
Appelbaum made his presentation as the council began considering several ordinances that would purchase the land for the jail for $20 million and extend a quarter percent sales tax created to pay primarily for the convention center.
No vote was taken on this legislation, the full committee meets again next week. Appelbaum has established a preferred timeline moving forward.
“That’s assuming we can get our design team back up and running literally in early October,” Appelbaum said. This would require the purchase of land by then.
He added that the schedule would allow the county to begin construction by August 2023.
County officials began planning for the future of the downtown Cleveland jail and adjoining courts building, known collectively as the Justice Center, in 2019.
A Justice Center Executive Steering Committee was created to include law enforcement and court officials from the county, city of Cleveland. In November 2020, this group voted 12-0 to build a new, low-rise jail outside of downtown Cleveland, and to keep the courts somewhere in downtown Cleveland.
All final decisions still have to be made by the county council. Six months ago the county announced that it had chosen a site to develop. It is a former oil refinery near downtown Cleveland, currently owned by a trucking company.
The steering committee has yet to vote on this site, after fierce public opposition and skepticism about the costs of environmental remediation led officials to delay the vote and order a new environmental review.
This study revealed what the project’s backers expected – there is still contamination on the site, but it can be repaired to make the land safe for residential use.
At Tuesday’s County Council Committee of the Whole meeting, Kareem Henton of Black Lives Matter Cleveland spoke out during public comments against the jail, describing the decision to build on the proposed site as environmental racism.
“I ask you all – what makes this risk acceptable?” Henton said. “This shouldn’t be a done deal. People shouldn’t talk like it’s done. We should consider renovating the current prison.
Council members did not seem discouraged by the increased construction costs or conditions at the site at 2700 Transport Road. A further review of the conditions and cost of refurbishing the current prison, also requested by the steering committee, is expected to be released later this month.
A report filed with this committee from 2014 found that the existing prison would need $305 million to $428 million in repairs to be usable for the next 20 to 30 years. The building has serious plumbing, roofing, HVAC and technology issues. Extensive repairs would also create major logistical obstacles. Those detained there should be moved to allow for reparations.
Councilor Michael Gallagher sits on the Steering Committee and chairs the Council’s Justice Committee. He urged members to move forward, despite opposition.
“They’re pissing off the community about the toxic waste in the ground,” said Gallagher, who argued that Cleveland and other cities are full of projects built on former industrial land. “You stop this project because of this, you stop urban development.”
Several other board members echoed Gallagher’s preference to move the project forward. Councilwoman Meredith Turner said she had visited the prison twice recently.
“I’m scared and nervous about the state of our current prison. It’s stilted up,” Turner said. “I think we really need to move on.”
The county estimates the sales tax will bring in $54 million a year. Between $50 million and $54 million per year would be used to pay off the prison’s debt for 40 years.
In September, when County Executive Armond Budish first proposed the planthe estimate was that $35 million per year would be used to pay off the prison’s debt.
Budish said at the time that there would be money left over each year to help pay for a new or renovated justice tower or other capital projects.