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New Cuyahoga County Jail Moves Ahead, Slowly, With Hiring Of Design Firm

The Justice Center seen here from across Lakeside Avenue. On the left is the courthouse tower, on the right one of two jail buildings. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
The Cuyahoga County Justice Center in Downtown Cleveland

Design firm H-O-K has been selected as the criteria architect for the new Cuyahoga County Jail.

The global design firm will implement the 300-page report full of ideas for the new facility into something that may one day actually be built.

Early estimates put the cost of building the new jail at around $400 million. The county executive’s office has yet to offer any details on how to pay for the project.

Project Manager Jeffrey Appelbaum told members of the Justice Center Steering Committee Thursday that for plans to work as intended and achieve expected savings on daily operations, the jail population has to be brought down.

“Tremendous cost savings if we can just build for 1,600, and there is a lot of other reasons to do that,” Applebaum said. “It’s expandable, but we don’t want to expand that unless necessary and that implies a jail population of 1,350.”

The population in the Downtown Cleveland jail recently has hovered around 1,500.

According to Applebaum, the initial phase of the project will take three months. The county still has to find a firm to handle designing and building the jail and produce detailed estimates of construction costs.

Overall, it will be close to two more years before planning is completed, based on Applebaum’s presentation.

The Cuyahoga County government is currently searching for up to 40 acres of land to build a low-rise corrections center.

Justice Center Steering Committee members received an update on the search Thursday during an executive session. Cuyahoga County Councilman Mike Gallagher, chairman of the county’s Public Safety and Justice Affairs Committee and member of the steering committee, asked to take the unusual step of excluding staff, including high-ranking officials from the county public safety department, and only have committee members present.

“We’re moving into a very delicate area,” Gallagher said. “I think the last thing we need right now is any potential missteps. We’re going to probably hear things that we certainly don’t want out in public, we don’t want potential slips of information.”

The committee is also planning for the future of the rest of the Justice Center and county courts in Downtown Cleveland, though the group has put off planning for the courthouse’s future until at least the fall.

Cleveland police are acquiring land on the city’s East Side to build a new headquarters.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.