Construction on the city’s $8.3 billion plan to replace Rikers Island with new jails in four of the five boroughs has begun.
The first backhoe scoops of dirt were dug up in Kew Gardens, where a parking garage and building that will include community space will be erected.
“Today we move one huge step closer to our goal of a fairer and more equitable jail system for all New Yorkers,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement issued by his office last Friday. “Closing Rikers Island will make our city stronger and more just, and I’m proud to deliver a system that better reflects this city’s values.”
The project began just west of the existing parking lot behind Borough Hall at Union Turnpike between 126th and 132nd streets. It will be 105 feet tall and have a two-level, 25,000-square-foot community space and more than 600 parking spots.
The east side of the parking lot will remain open during construction, providing 140 parking spots to the community until work is complete in 2023.
The Queens Detention Complex, located behind the Queens Criminal Courthouse, will be demolished during construction of the garage and center.
The new jail itself will be up to 195 feet tall and house up to 886 men and women in separate areas. All boroughs but Staten Island will have new jails by 2027, when the city has mandated the closure of the Rikers Island complex.
All projects are being overseen by the city Department of Design and Construction.
The city’s aim was to eliminate the old, antiquated Rikers facilities and build jails close to courthouses, with the stated intent of keeping detained prisoners closer to their homes and families; and to avoid the daily transportation between Rikers and courthouses in all five boroughs.
The controversial move was unpopular in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) told the Chronicle in October 2019 that rather than cast a useless vote against a measure she felt certain to pass, she extracted promises of future community benefits from the administration.
Those were to include the new community space at the complex; a new kitchen at Queens Community House’s Kew Gardens Senior Center; additional officers for the 102nd Precinct — a promise made prior to a $1.5 billion partial defunding of the NYPD budget this fiscal year; renovations and security upgrades at PS 99 and PS 139; and lighting in the Austin Street underpass beneath Union Turnpike.