After opposition from both community members and the City of Muskegon, Muskegon County’s Jail and Juvenile Transition Center Committee (JJTCC) has new options to consider regarding the location of a new jail and juvenile transition center.
After proposing the final recommendations for both the jail and juvenile center, the members of the JJTCC met with the City of Muskegon’s Planning Commission last week, when they were told the city did not want to vacate Pine Street, as was discussed with the jail plan. Instead of voting to not vacate the street, the city voted to table the discussion hoping that the county and city could come up with a different plan. The city was in favor of keeping the jail adjacent to the current Hall of Justice.
Members of the JJTCC also met with the Nelson Neighborhood Association and neighbors to discuss placing the juvenile transition center in the now closed Craig School. According to Muskegon County Sheriff Dean Roesler, “very, very few people were in favor of locating the juvenile transition center in Craig School.”
Because of the opposition from both the city and the Nelson Neighborhood Association, the committee asked RQAW and Byce Engineering (the engineering firms tasked with planning and designing the jail and juvenile transition center) to come up with new plans that will please the groups.
At the JJTCC meeting on Thursday (Jan. 31), Joseph Mrak, senior vice president of RQAW, presented a new plan.
Mrak’s new plan includes moving the new portion of the jail further to the east than the original plan, which would locate it in the existing county staff parking lot. This would require either a tunnel under the street or an overhead connector from the proposed new part of the jail to the current jail and Hall of Justice.
Mrak stated that a tunnel would cost roughly $1.6-$1.7 million, but an additional $500,000-$550,000 to relocate the existing utilities. An overhead connector would cost $2.1-$2.2 million.
While he said both ideas were feasible, he favors the tunnel more because of a few reasons. The first being the cost savings. He said a tunnel, even with re-routing the utilities, will cost around $100,000-$200,000 less than an overhead walkway. Another reason is the tunnel decreases the amount of vertical movements the inmates must do. With a walkway, staff must be in an elevator or stairway with the inmates more than they would with a tunnel, which impacts the staff’s safety.
The downfall of this new plan, besides the additional cost, is that there is limited space to expand the jail in the future. The first plan made space in the back staff parking lot for two expansions, while this new plan only has space for one.
Multiple committee members brought up that the staff parking lot will be far away for employees to walk, and also there will less parking space. Mrak responded that the county would have to look at purchasing land for parking sometime in the future, but doesn’t see it as an immediate concern.
The second part of Mrak’s presentation was his new plan for the juvenile transition center. While the plan to move it to an existing school would save roughly $1.6-$1.8 million over building new, he found that the schools in Muskegon are all located in neighborhoods, which creates too much opposition from the neighbors. Instead, he proposes building a new facility on the county’s South Campus.
The juvenile center would be located on the corner of Pine Street and Delaware Avenue, behind the Muskegon VA Outpatient Clinic and the Muskegon County MSU Extension. The building’s front would face Delaware Avenue.
The advantages of placing the facility at that location are many, including the fact that the county already owns this land and even though the block is vacant, the utilities are still active.
Building the facility here places it closer to services, which pleased some of the audience members including Gloria White-Gardner, member of the Citizens Review Committee for the JJTC, and Lea Markowski, member of the City of Muskegon Planning Commission.
Building a new facility and locating it on Delaware Avenue will cost $1.2-$1.5 more than the original plan.
The current juvenile transition center is located on White Lake Drive, near the US-31 interchange in Whitehall Township.
District 6 County Commissioner Charles Nash, who is new to the JJTCC, stated his concern for the thoughts of the community members.
“I like the project, but we also liked the Craig School project,” Nash stated. “I would hate to see this delayed again.”
The committee agreed to contact surrounding business owners and community members to gain their input into the two new plans.
The previous plans had a price range of $23.5-$37 million for both facilities, but final numbers for the new proposed plans have not been stated because RQAW and Byce wanted to know if the committee sees the plans as possible options. The engineering firms will now gather details for the plans to be presented. The JJTCC will now rescind the request to the City of Muskegon to close Pine Street. They also passed a resolution to further study the new options presented including cost, parking and community response.
RQAW and Byce will present their findings at the next JJTCC meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, which will be held at 1 p.m. in the board room at the Hall of Justice.