Boondoggled scaffold

Whenever News Hits passes the Wayne County Building in downtown Detroit, we can’t help but wonder why the historic structure has been flanked with scaffolding since last summer. It’s not surprising that the place needs repair. The former courthouse, built at the end of the 19th century, has certainly seen better days. (Like when it made the big screen for a fleeting second in the 1990 Harrison Ford movie, Presumed Innocent.)

After wandering past the place for the better part of a year and continuing to wonder what the hell’s going on, we decided to punctuate our meandering musings with an actual question. (Hey, that’s why we make the big bucks.)

To our dismay and perhaps yours — that is, if you are a Wayne County taxpayer — we learned that the county has so far paid more than $230,000 to lease the scaffolding, though no one has set foot on the maze of bars and boards since it was erected last July.

“It certainly has been a waste of time and taxpayer dollars to have it up this long,” says Sharon Banks, spokesperson for Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, who took office in January. The scaffolding went up under the watchful eye of former honcho Ed McNamara. It’s not clear why the structure, which the county leases from The Farbman Group, was installed months before it was needed, says Banks.

What she does know is that the building’s roof is in dire disrepair. However, the county has yet to hire the construction company to fix the roof and do other maintenance work, says Banks. In fact, the whole selection process has yet to be worked out, so it could be some time before hammer and nail touch the troubled structure, Banks says.

In the meantime, as county officials struggle to deal with a projected budget deficit of $54 million, the public is stuck shelling out wads of cash for an idle scaffold. The bill was $30,000 a month for the first seven months; the deal is now being renegotiated, with Farbman suggesting a monthly fee of around $20,000.

“We could have bought the scaffolding for that,” says Wayne County Commissioner Ilona Varga about all the moola wasted thus far.

“No doubt this has gone on way too long,” says Banks. “This is one that is on the front burner to bring to closure.”

Or we could just buy the damn thing outright and call it modern art.

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