Wayne County Building Authority considers completing or selling new county jail

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Wayne County has decided to hire a consultant to get to the bottom of why the new jail project is $91 million over-budget.

The $300 million Wayne County Jail project is now $91 million over-budget, and construction is on hold.  Wednesday the county's Building Authority agreed to spend up to $150,000 on a consultant to research the construction contract with Walbridge.  The goal:  figure out what went wrong and determine why there have been so many cost over-runs.

The Building Authority also approved an independent investigation by Wayne County's Auditor General.  He'll be digging into the $100 million that have already been spent on the project.

Building Authority officials tell 7 Action News that the consultant will explore ideas on how to reduce the scale of the 2000-bed jail if construction resumes.  But the Building Authority is also pursuing private development of the jail site, along with two existing nearby jail buildings, the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, as well as the juvenile detention facility.

The county has also hired an appraisal firm to evaluate those five properties in case of a sale.

The 7 Action News Investigators reported earlier this month that Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert was interested in possibly developing the jail property – but so far no firm offers have been made.

"Does it make sense to pay somebody to look into more cost overruns," 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo asked Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

"I was not part of that decision.  But I am a part of moving forward. And if we need to find some expert to tell us how to get out of this, in a way that's going to be more cost effective, I'm not opposed to that," said Napoleon.

Napoleon says the location of the jail isn't that significant, as long as the facility is close to the courts to reduce prisoner transportation costs.  The county has been in discussions with the state of Michigan to possibly lease the old Mound Road Facility on Detroit's East Side for $1 a year.

"I'm hoping that moving forward, we're going to figure out a way to salvage whatever we have to do in the most economical way to the advantage of the taxpayers," said Napoleon.

The county is in the middle of a 60 day work stoppage on the jail.

The building authority agreed to form a committee to hire the consultant… but if that advisor scales back the project, that likely means the county won't be able to close all of the other jails, which was originally planned to save money.


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