If You Thought Cuyahoga County Building New Jail on Toxic Site for $550 Million Was Awesome, You'll Love That They're Doing It for $700+ Million

Gallagher will debate "anybody, anywhere, anytime" about building new jail.

click to enlarge Rally for Justice for Incarcerated Individuals, Cuyahoga County Justice Center, (5/29/20). - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
Rally for Justice for Incarcerated Individuals, Cuyahoga County Justice Center, (5/29/20).

The controversial Cuyahoga County jail project, which until yesterday was estimated to cost roughly $550 million, will now cost anywhere from $700-$750 million. That's according to Jeff Applebaum, the design-build guru from Project Management Consultants whose company has collected more than $2 million from the county for providing sunny financial prognoses such as these.

At a committee of the whole meeting Tuesday afternoon, Applebaum described the unprecedented escalation of construction costs that have caused the projected jail budget to balloon. The war in Ukraine! Covid-19! Supply chain disruptions! Inflation! All have played a factor, Applebaum said, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. He cited similar trends when he informed council recently that the proposed budget for the Global Center for Health Innovation renovation project had also increased by millions.

These increases have long been understood, Applebaum said, noting that since Oct. 2020 he has made the following a mantra: "Every moment of delay in implementation increases cost."  The new estimated budget for the jail would be $700 million on the low end, (if council opts to build a facility rated for 1600 inmates), and $750 million on the high end, (if council instead opts to build a facility rated for 1900, which would accommodate the current population.) 

Council was by and large undeterred by Applebaum's sobering news. Many of them seem to have been persuaded by the idea that they must act with great haste, that dallying any longer, for any reason, will only make the project more expensive, and that additional costs could very well be political as well as financial. Though the idea of renovating the current jail is actively being considered by consultants, it's not treated as a legitimate option.

"There are certain things with a jail population where you can't compromise," Applebaum said. "Given the current conditions, I don't know how you can't move forward [with a new jail]."

Public comments at a Tuesday evening meeting almost universally objected to the jail project. Individual commenters advocated for reducing the jail population, increasing retention of jail staff, and assessing the situation after more fully utilizing bail reform, the diversion center and central booking, all of which could lower the population and lead to safer, more humane conditions at the current jail site. (Overcrowding was a significant factor leading to the spate of deaths at the jail in 2018 and 2019.)

Council took no formal votes at Tuesday's committee meeting as they considered legislation related to the jail project. Among them was a measure to permanently extend the 0.25% sales tax, initially passed in 2007 as a 20-year tax to finance the Convention Center complex, including the Hilton Hotel and Global Center. A portion of those proceeds now also  pays for the Q Deal.  The new legislation would extend the tax indefinitely and generate around $54 million per year to pay for the jail and county courthouse.

Council also considered legislation to acquire property near 2700 Transport Rd., the proposed jail site. Once acquired, it would be transferred to the trucking company that now occupies the jail site.

The need for speed on the project has led some council members into conniption fits. Both Councilmen Scott Tuma and Michael Gallagher erupted Tuesday, maligning activists and others whose pesky democratic participation has caused, in their view, costly delays. Even the executive steering committee on the jail, according to Gallagher, has delayed the inevitable construction. They had all the necessary information to move forward a year and a half ago, he argued. 

Tuma said that "people with agendas" had "muddied the waters with social justice issues" and were distracting from council's simple role: selecting a site for the physical structure.

Gallagher nearly popped a blood vessel as he railed against the Cuyahoga County Executive candidates, whom he accused of having "opinions without information." He said that council has had the wool pulled over its eyes and that it was time to stop pussyfooting.

"If this isn't done now, the obfuscators are going to fade to black and the sun's going to shine on us," he said. "They're going to disappear, and if I were them, I'd start now."

He said those trying to shut down the proposed jail were enemies of "urban development" and said many of the people on the steering committee "didn't have skin in the game." The project had now been stalled by outside voices.

"To have all this noise stopping things and starting things, concerns about this, concerns about that, from the very folks who a year and a half ago voted to move forward?" Gallagher said. "They don't care. Nobody cares. We've got to put blinders on, earmuffs on, read what's in front of us and do the right thing and take the political hits if necessary... I'll debate anybody, anywhere, anytime about building a new jail." 

These animated remarks are worth witnessing in full. They begin with Tuma at about 1:17:00.

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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