By Nick Castele
Posted January 10th 2019
(PHOTO: CUYAHOGA COUNCILMAN DALE MILLER FINANCE AND BUDGET CHAIRPERSON)
Cuyahoga County will hire a consultant to study whether to refurbish or replace the downtown Justice Center, reviving a plan that had stalled for a year.
County council approved an $800,000 contract Tuesday night for Project Management Consultants, who will advise the county for the next two years.
About a year from now, county officials said, PMC will recommend whether to fix up the complex, rebuild it or build a new Justice Center somewhere else.
“Nothing is decided as of today,” Michael Dever, the county’s director of public works, said at a Tuesday council committee meeting. “It’s going to be a blank sheet of paper, and let’s come up with the best plan possible.”
Council approved the contract with 10 votes in favor and one abstention. But there was some discomfort with the cost.
“It just seems like a lot of money, and I’m asking about it,” Democratic Councilman Dale Miller, who chairs the finance and budgeting committee, said Tuesday. “But I don’t think we have much of a choice but to proceed.”
The contract had been introduced into council a year ago, but lost momentum until public officials negotiated a way to include the numerous offices and agencies that make up the local justice system.
“There was a request by the court and stakeholders to have a more active role in the overall process,” Dever said.
A memorandum of understanding signed last week resurrected the plan. City, county and court officials agreed to work together throughout the planning process, establishing a 12-member committee to make decisions.
PMC, led by Thompson Hine attorney Jeffrey Appelbaum, has advised local leaders on a number of big projects, such as the convention center, Global Center for Health Innovation and the downtown Hilton Hotel.
An earlier round of discussions several years ago pegged the costs of a revamped courts complex at $369 million to $429 million, Dever told council.
“It’s a big project,” Republican Councilman Michael Gallagher, who chairs the public safety and justice affairs committee, said after the meeting. “It’s going to be the biggest in the history of Cuyahoga County as far as we can tell. The free flow of information is important. We’re going to make sure it gets to the public, as well as all the users of the justice system.”
Council members asked for regular updates on the planning process over the next year.
County and court leaders will consider the Justice Center project as they face new pressure to address failures at the Cuyahoga County Jail. A U.S. Marshals Service report released in November detailed a vast list of problems at the facility.
“I think the Marshals’ report clearly gives us an indicator that we don’t have an argument anymore against building a new jail,” Gallagher said.