New York City has issued contracts for two jail replacement projects totaling nearly $7 billion amid controversy over the mandatory 2027 deadline to close the Rikers Island jail facility. 

Leon De DeMattis was awarded the $3.9-billion Queens jail project, while Transformative Reform Group, led by SLSCO and Sciame, was awarded the $2.9-billion Bronx facility by the city Dept. of Design and Construction, which will manage both projects, according to a May 6 city notice.

“The borough-based jail program is a complex project and when completed will meet the needs of the city’s criminal justice system, providing more humane jail sites,” says Denisse Moreno, a DDC spokesperson. “Using design-build alternative delivery, DDC will build four smaller, new facilities that will prioritize the safety and wellbeing of detainees, visitors and staff.” 

The Queens and Bronx proposed jail contracts are two of the four design-build contracts for four facilities, not including early works packages for a total of nine contracts, according to the city. "The estimated total cost of the entire borough-based jail program is $15.6 billion, which includes the four main jails and site preparation at all four sites, including demolition of previous structures," Moreno says.

Each facility will have 1,040 beds for a total of 4,160 beds, but this is still not enough to house the current 6,000 people detained at Rikers Island where at least 31 people have died. 

Design of both the Queens and Bronx jails is expected to begin in August with construction completion in 2031—four years after the legally binding deadline.

The Queens jail will be built at the site of the former Queens Detention Complex, according to a city report. It is the only jail that will include 126 beds for women in custody, with dedicated intake, visiting spaces and medical facilities for pregnant women and mothers. It will also have 305 accessory parking spaces below grade for staff. The facility must connect to the Queens County Criminal Court and the team must allow the court to operate during construction and transition to use of the new facility. 

The Bronx facility will be built at the site of the former Lincoln Hospital and New York Police Dept. tow pound, the city's report says. In addition to its 1,040 beds, it will provide 295 accessory parking spaces below grade for staff and service providers and 40,000 sq ft of commercial and community space.

Both the Queens and the Bronx contracts are active through 2031. The previous expectation about the budget and timeline were “unrealistic,” says Liz Garcia, deputy press secretary for NYC Mayor Eric Adams.

The independent 42-member Rikers Commission, known as the Lippman Commission, seeks to help the city of New York with its plan to safely close Rikers Island. 

"It has become painfully clear that the plan approved under the last administration leaves open serious questions about the city's ability to keep New Yorkers safe," Garcia says, "and we look forward to reviewing the Lippman Commission's recommendations on how to move this plan forward once they are released."

Garcia added that the administration will "always follow the law, and we remain committed to completing the borough-based jails, which is what we must do to protect public safety, provide humane conditions for those in custody, and close the jails on Rikers Island – there is simply no other path forward."

The current contracts are considered better grounded in reality for what builders are facing today with more expensive post-pandemic costs, supply chain challenges and higher labor and material costs. The contracts will also focus on the legal requirement for smaller housing, larger cells and the provision of services in each housing unit.

The project team for the Queens jail in addition to De DeMattis includes STV and Michael Graves Architecture. Hunter Construction Group is currently doing demolition work for the project.

Los Angeles-based Tutor Perini was awarded a $2.95-billion contract last May by the DDC to build a jail facility in Brooklyn. It was the first of four main design-build jails contracts that will allow for closing Rikers Island and replacing it with a smaller network of jails.  After a tough demolition phase, the project is reportedly two years behind schedule with a completion date of 2029. 

The Manhattan jail contract has not been awarded yet, a city spokesperson says.

ENR was unable to reach De DeMattis and Transformative Reform Group in time for publication.