City to scrutinize Ballard’s contenders for justice center site

The Criminal Justice Reform Task Force that Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett formed in May has spent the past seven months on a plan to reform Marion County’s criminal justice system, including the construction of a campus for housing jail inmates and other criminal justice functions.

“Our current jail facilities are inefficient, inadequate and in some cases unsafe,” Thomas Cook, Hogsett’s chief of staff, said Monday.

On Monday morning, members of both the task force and Hogsett’s staff met with reporters for a briefing on the mayor's proposed criminal justice reforms.

The facility likely would cost $500 million to $600 million to construct, although elements of the project are still up in the air. Among the other big questions still awaiting an answer is where to locate the facility, but the contenders are no mystery.

Hogsett’s predecessor, Mayor Greg Ballard, also had proposed building a criminal justice center, but that plan failed due to concerns over its cost and its public-private financing model.

Elements of the groundwork laid by Ballard are back in play. For example, Ballard had identified 13 sites where the complex might be built. (Click here to access the market survey conducted for the city on the potential sites.)

The current plan, Cook said, will consider all of those sites except for the former General Motors stamping plant south of the Indianapolis Zoo. The GM plant is off the table, Cook said, because other plans are in the works for that site.

Ballard’s administration did “some very good work” identifying possible sites, Cook said. The location for the new facility is expected to come from that list, said Timothy Moriarty, special counsel to Hogsett.

The dozen remaining sites are:

— 35 acres at Indianapolis International Airport, near West Washington Street east of Raceway Road

— Lafayette Square Mall north of West 38th Street on Lafayette Road, along with a strip mall site south of Lafayette Square Mall at 3749 Commercial Dr.

— City-owned South Grove Golf Course at 1800 W. 18th St.

— The former Indiana Women’s Prison at East New York and Randolph streets

— The former RCA/Thomson Consumer Electronics site at 604 N. Sherman Dr.

— The Citizen’s Coke Plant at 2900 Prospect St.

— Various commercial properties at Interstate 465 and Pendleton Pike

— The former Eastgate Mall site at 401 N. Shadeland Dr.

— The former Ford Visteon plant at 6900 English Ave.

— 60 acres near the Marion County Fairgrounds at the northeast corner of Southeastern Avenue and Five Points Road

— 153 acres north of Southeastern Avenue, east of Arlington Avenue

Under Hogsett's timeline, the task force would make a site recommendation on or before Jan. 31.

The airport property received the top rating from the analysis commissioned by Ballard's administration, and the GM site had the second-highest score. The airport property received a perfect 10 on size, suitability for use and speed to development, and a 9 on highway and bus access. But lawyers and judges lambasted that choice because it was inconvenient to them and most Marion County residents.

Whichever site is selected for the latest project, the task force recommends that a new criminal justice campus include multiple components: a 2,600- to 3,000-bed jail; an assessment and intervention center focusing on mental health and substance abuse treatment needs; acute health care and mental health units; and a consolidated civil/criminal courthouse. 

The Marion County Judiciary has the final decision on which of its courts will be part of the new facility. That decision should happen by May 1, Cook said.

The task force has already identified $35 million per year in current spending that could be reallocated to cover construction, operating and programming expenses at the new facility, Cook said. More than $27 million of that figure comes from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office alone.

There’s currently a gap between that $35 million and the annual amount needed to pay for the project, Cook said. He said work is ongoing to bridge that gap, which is less than $10 million per year.

“We’ve got a bunch of ideas we’re discussing,” he said. 

Both public-only and public-private funding options will be considered. Officials say they don’t expect to raise taxes to pay for the project. 

A cost estimate for the project is expected from the task force by Feb. 28. A finance and construction plan would be announced by March 31. After that would come the solicitation of project bids.

The selected bid would come before the City-County Council by January 2018.

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