11 Investigates Exclusive: Controller blasts Shuman Center project for cost overruns, changes

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — Allegheny County Controller Corey O’Connor said the renovation project at the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center has been botched from the beginning.

He said Thursday that cost overruns, change orders and shoddy workmanship have led to delays.

The center was supposed to open in February, but O’Connor said it will now likely open next month, six months later than previously planned.

O’Connor said the biggest problem he discovered was that the county overseeing the renovations and the company hired to run the detention center were not on the same page.

“I don’t believe the county, they didn’t plan to fail, they failed to plan and that’s the biggest problem.  Somebody thought, ‘Okay, here’s what it should look like,’ then the group that runs it says, ‘Well no, that’s not up to standard,’ so a lot of back and forth and too many cooks in the kitchen to do this project properly,” said O’Connor, during an interview in his office Thursday.

In 2023 under the Fitzgerald administration, Allegheny County, with assistance from the Courts and the Fifth Judicial District, awarded Adelphoi, which runs a juvenile facility in Latrobe, Westmoreland County, a $73 million contract to run the new Shuman Juvenile Detention Center for the next five years.

Allegheny County is responsible for the renovations and reconstruction of the facility which has been vacant since 2021, when the county decided to close it after repeated safety violations.

An uptick in juvenile crime led to calls from police across Allegheny County to reopen the center.

Allegheny County had been sending juveniles to Adelphoi, but they had a limited number of beds.

When those were filled, the courts were just sending many juveniles home on house arrest.

11 Investigates documented a number of cases where juveniles cut off or slipped out of ankle monitors and went out and committed other crimes.

The Controller said his inspectors discovered more than 50 change orders adding $1 million to the costs.

For instance, instead of using existing stainless steel toilets and replacing porcelain sinks with stainless, combined units were installed at an additional cost of $150,000.

In addition, O’Connor some of the concrete pads were improperly poured, and there were issues with the types of windows. O’Connor said the existing windows looked fine, but Adelphoi wanted glass block windows.

O'Connor also said there were problems with ordering the locks and doors.

“The locks for doors were supposed to be in and got delayed. Then, they’re shipping issues. now, the doors aren’t in. Then you don’t have locks,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor agreed there were plenty of big-ticket items that needed to be addressed, like a new roof.

The head of Adelphoi talked about those renovations when Chief Investigator Rick Earle interviewed her in March.

“It was built 50 years ago, major renovations, not like insulation, new windows, plumbing, wiring and all kinds of electronic monitoring devices,” said Adelphoi CEO Nancy Kukovich.

The first phase of renovations which includes 12 beds will cost the county $10 million.

The plan to add 48 more beds is expected to cost an additional $30 million.

11 Investigates asked O’Connor if the county would have been better off just building a brand new facility.

“At the end of the day, when you look at it and we’ll see what happens if there is a phase two, what happens with that, and you know were we better off as you said demo, build it, get out.   It might take longer but you know, build something that sustains that, saves us money at the end of the day,” said O’Connor.

In response to the Controller’s comments, Adelphoi sent us the statement below.

“Adelphoi is proud of our partnership with Allegheny County and look forward to the opening of the Shuman Center in a few weeks.   We are proud of the part we have played in bringing this service back to the County. The County has had the difficult task of renovating this 50-year-old building. We are looking forward to providing the kids and courts of Allegheny County with the services they need in an updated, safe and secure environment,” said Adelphoi CEO Nancy Kukovich.

Allegheny County also provided a statement to 11 Investigates.

“When the previous administration and prior judge signed the contract in December, they laid out a timeline for construction that was overly optimistic.  Given the age of the building, number of parties involved, complications of the specifics of construction for a detention facility, and supply chain issues, construction took longer than initially anticipated.  The building is near completion and days away from opening now, and this phase of construction has certainly been instructive about how to approach the next phase of expansion at the facility,” said Abigail Gardner, spokeswoman for Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato.

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