Bonds to pay for new Queens jail

The cost of building a new jail in Kew Gardens could zoom past initial estimates of $2 billion, it was revealed last week.

Already unpopular in the neighborhoods surrounding the proposed site, the 19-story jail is to be funded by municipal bonds whose interest costs were not figured into the projected $2 billion price, civic leaders said after emerging for their first meeting with city officials since the plan was approved by the City Council last November.

“We are not happy campers,” said Sylvia Hack of Community Board 9, who has led the two-year fight to stop the jail from being built.

Hack, CB 9 Chairman Kenichi Wilson, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Kew Gardens Civic Association President Dominick Pistone were among about a dozen local leaders summoned to a meeting Jan. 16 of a newly formed Queens Advisory Committee in an office building across the street from Borough Hall.

“This is a big deal,” said Wilson, whose board voted unanimously last year to reject the proposal.

“We’re just spinning our wheels trying to get answers,” said Hack.

At the meeting, the group heard presentations from a number of city agencies, including the Department of Correction and the Department of Design and Construction, which is in charge of demolishing the old, unused jail and building a new one.

The purpose of the meeting was to brief the new advisory committee on aspects of the ambitious project.

The construction of four new jails — one in each borough except Staten Island — was approved last November by the City Council on the same day it voted by a commanding margin to shut down Rikers Island by 2026

Qualified contractors were already told last fall the city intends to move quickly on the project.

A timetable issued then shows the city plans to use a streamlined form of contracting — called design-build — that combines design and construction in the same contract.

The timetable shows construction on all four jails beginning by the end of 2021, a quick pace for municipal work.

The Queens jail will be built in three stages, starting with a multistory garage going up behind Borough Hall on the site of a 300-space parking lot that was rebuilt just two years ago.

Another advisory committee meeting is set for Feb. 5 at Borough Hall, an invitation-only “design workshop” with representatives of the DDC and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, which has spearheaded the de Blasio administration’s far-reaching plan to remake the city’s correctional operation.

The DDC is asking committee members to “provide input on the design guidelines that designers of the project will be asked to follow.”

In Queens, the plan to close Rikers did not face widespread opposition. But the proposal to build a new jail behind the Queens County Criminal Courts has been hotly contested from the beginning.

Notably, the new advisory committee is made up in large part of civic leaders, like Hack and Pistone, who bitterly opposed it.

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