Macomb County commissioners seal the deal for massive jail project

The Macomb County Board of Commissioners on Thursday gave final approval of the long-awaited “monumental” jail project that officials hope will help transform the county’s criminal-justice system, reduce crime and improve treatment for those with mental-health and substance-abuse issues.

The 11-2 vote came after the same commissioners voted in the same way to grant preliminary approval Tuesday in a committee meeting. Both meetings were held in the board chambers at the county Administration Building in Mount Clemens.

County Executive Mark Hackel, in a rare appearance in front of the board, thanked commissioners for their support and promised the facility will become a model in the state and nation.

“This is a monumental occasion,” Hackel said. “You did something that is monumental and critical.

“It’s going to be sustainable and transformational so that we can look at this in the future and say, ‘What an incredible thing we did here in the county to really change some things.’ There’s no question, the jail, an aging facility, has always been a priority and a topic of conversation for this board, for this county. … I think we are going to set the tone for not just the state of Michigan but I think throughout the country. This will be an example.”

Above is a rendering of what the entire Macomb County Jail and Sheriff's Office complex will look like following completionof construction in 2028, with the jail intake-and-assessment center on the left and tower to the right.MACOMB COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE ILLUSTRATION
Above is a rendering of what the entire Macomb County Jail and Sheriff’s Office complex will look like following completion of construction in 2028, with the jail intake-and-assessment center on the left and tower to the right.MACOMB COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE ILLUSTRATION

The $229 million, five-year project will including a new, four-level Central Intake and Assessment Center that officials say will address the needs of those who come into contact with the criminal justice system and lay the foundation for a diversion program for those with mental-health and substance-abuse challenges, and prevent recidivism.

Hackel emphasized the “brick and mortar” part of the project will facilitate closer integration between the facility, Community Mental Health, Community Corrections and other entities to enhance the rehabilitation efforts for criminal offenders.

This decision is the culmination of years of efforts, discussions and prior attempts to address the facility’s pressing decades-long infrastructure needs and support the evolving needs of the community and the criminal justice system.

This was the second major jail proposal in recent years. The board in spring 2020 was about to place a 0.64 mill request on the election ballot to issue bonds to build a $300-million jail but it was thwarted by the onset of COVID-19.

Thursday’s collection of votes committed $172 million in funding, with $2.2 million allocated as the first expenditure, and approved deals worth a total of $16.2 million for the architectural firm, a management firm and technology services.

The county will pay for the project by using $130 million of its $170 million windfall in federal American Rescue Plan dollars, $40 million from the state and $59 million in general-fund dollars. But officials are lobbying state and federal officials for more funds for the project.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel speaks to the county Board of Commissioners on Thursday during the second public- comment agenda item following the board's approval of the $229 million jail project that was approved.(JAMESON COOK -- THE MACOMB DAILY)
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel speaks to the county Board of Commissioners on Thursday during the second public- comment agenda item following the board’s approval of the $229 million jail project that was approved.(JAMESON COOK — THE MACOMB DAILY)

Hackel cited board Chairman Don Brown of Washington Township and Commissioner Harold Haugh of Roseville, also the vice chair, have been the two staunchest proponents of the project. Hackel also mentioned Commissioner Phil Kraft of Chesterfield Township, who chairs the county Community Mental Health Board, for his support.

Hackel, whose staff along with Sheriff Anthony Wickersham and his department put together the proposal, embraced and greeted Brown and other commissioners.

Wickersham, who attended Tuesday’s meeting and had sheriff’s Capt. Lori Misch attend Thursday, has pushed for a project to upgrade the jail the past several years as the facility has been subject of many lawsuits for death or injury.

“This decision marks a crucial milestone in enhancing the safety and well-being of both inmates and staff,” Wickersham said in a news release. “The proposed central intake and assessment center will enable us to better address the mental health and substance abuse needs of our inmates, and we commend the Board of Commissioners for recognizing the need through their approval of the funding to move this transformational project forward.”

Brown said the approval “was not an easy vote to cast” due to the high cost. It’s the largest project he has approved in his over 30 years on the board, he said.

“However, the urgency of the problem that this program addresses can no longer be ignored,” Brown said. “We are facing a mental health crisis both nationally and here at home in Macomb County. I am proud of the fact that the Board of Commissioners was able to work with County Executive Mark Hackel to approve funding to address this critical issue. This shows that the elected officials here in Macomb County are willing to tackle an issue that for far too long has been ignored.”

Commissioner Joe Sabatini of Macomb Township noted county taxpayers will not have to dig into their wallet or pocketbook to pay for it.

“As numerous commissioners have previously highlighted, we are achieving this milestone without increasing taxes. I believe we are heading in the right direction and this decision is both justified and promising,” Sabatini said. “I am optimistic that Macomb County will have an inspiring success story to share.”

The jail’s condition has been deteroiorating for years, forcing the county to spend millions of dollars in ongoing repairs over the past many years.  Haugh called it is unrealistic to continue to ask jail corrections officers to work extended hours in an environment where their safety is compromised by falling cement and leaking pipes. “For me, this is a no-brainer,” he said.

Voting against the project were commissioners Mai Xiong of Warren and Antoinette Wallace of Mount Clemens.

Wallace on Tuesday expressed concern along with some other commissioners about the $35 million built-in contingency but voted for the vendor contracts because she supports the concept of the project and didn’t want to hold it up.

Xiong said the project is too large and some funds should be funneled to other programs.

The work will involve demolishing some of the oldest parts of the facility at Groesbeck Highway and Elizabeth Road, about 78,000-square-feet, which has been built piecemeal over the past 70 years but will leave the relatively newer jail tower mostly intact. It would consist of constructing a 177,000-square-foot, four-level central assessment center for new inmates and more space and cells for inmates with mental and physical health issues and substance abuse disorders. About 28,000-square-feet of the existing facility would be renovated.

The jail’s capacity would go from 1,034 to 1,218.

Construction could begin late next year after the design is developed and approved over the next 15 months or so.

The board also gave final approval to allocating the remaining $40 million in ARP funds to county Public Works for three underground infrastructure projects that have a total price tag of $70 million. The projects are expected to improve sewage flow in the south end and enhance the quality of Lake St. Clair by reducing sewage overflow.

The Macomb County Board of Commissioners meetings Thursday in its chambers in the Administration Building in Mount Clemens.(MACOMB DAILY PHOTO)
The Macomb County Board of Commissioners meets Thursday in its chambers in the Administration Building in Mount Clemens.(MACOMB DAILY PHOTO)
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