City, contractors get ready to begin demolition at Brooklyn Detention Complex

brooklyn detention center before demolition
The infamous 11-story Brooklyn Detention Complex will be demolished starting this summer. Crews are on-site preparing to take down the building and building an interim secure entrance for the courthouse across the street.

Construction workers are set to begin work tearing down the Brooklyn Detention Complex in the borough’s Downtown, which comes as the latest step in the the long-term plan to close Rikers Island.

North Star, the demolition company contracted to tear down the jail and build an interim secure entry point known as a “sally port,” received their notice to proceed and began mobilizing at the 275 Atlantic Ave. lot late last year, and are currently acquiring the necessary permits and planning out the work to be done before the deconstruction begins in earnest in the spring, city representatives said at Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee meeting on Feb. 16.

The closure of the empty 11-story jail is part of then-Mayor de Blasio’s 2017 plan to close Rikers Island and replace it with four new “borough-based” jails in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. Those new facilities, with a total capacity of just over 3,000 detainees — far less than the city’s current capacity of around 11,000 — are slated to open in 2027, as Rikers closes its doors.

The Brooklyn Detention Complex closed in late 2020, nearly 65 years after it opened. Earlier that year, the 815-bed facility held just over 300 male detainees, according to The City.

Currently, the new jail is slated to have space 886 beds in a 295-foot tall building. Per the Points of Agreement negotiated with the New York City Council in 2019, the building will include 30,000 square feet of “community space” and a number of therapeutic units. CB2 rejected the plan in the summer of 2019, but their vote is purely advisory.

map of demolition work at brooklyn jail
Construction fences will close off the site of the Brooklyn Detention Complex as contractors prepare to take the buildings down. An interim sally port will be installed across the street at the courthouse. NYC Department of Corrections

First, though, the existing jail has to come down. Demolition permits were filed last week, Patch reported, but have not yet received approval from the city’s Department of Buildings

In December, the city hired Lucien Allen as the project’s community construction liaison, and has been heading out to residences and businesses in the neighborhood — primarily on Atlantic Avenue between Hoyt to Court streets, so far — letting them know that construction will begin soon and handing out his contact information, he said.

Allen will remain available to the community throughout the construction process, said Lauren Micir, an engineer at consulting firm AECOM who is working on the project. He will have an office nearby and will be available by phone and email to any Brooklynite with questions or concerns about construction.

North Star is expected to start constructing the temporary sally port and officer booth next month, Micir said, and will complete that work by June. The interim port, also called a “swing space,” will allow officers to safely bring detainees to and from the Kings County Criminal Court across the street. The current sally port is located at the jail, and detainees are brought to the courthouse via a tunnel beneath state street —but that tunnel will be inaccessible for the next few years as the new jail is built.

“We’re going through permit application, design implementation, the things that we need to do to in order to get the building and the site ready for the work at hand,” said Roy Johnson, a North Star representative. “We’re modifying some of the existing structures, some of the existing safety features, electrical, plumbing, life safety. Putting the sheds up, and basically getting our site control measures in place.”

The sidewalk on the south side of State Street will be covered and closed entirely to pedestrians starting next month, which Johnson said the city’s Department of Transportation and DOB had agreed was “safer and cleaner” than keeping the sidewalk operational. Two oil tanks will be removed from beneath the sidewalk during construction, and a new one will be installed on the north side of the street.

City agencies and North Star are trying to disrupt the neighborhood as little as possible, Johnson said. Construction will be going on on the site for eight to ten hours a day, five days a week, within the DOB’s normal time constraints — between 7am and 6pm on weekdays. Work on the weekends is a possibility, he said, but not a plan.

Large amounts of water will be used to keep dust production to a minimum, and North Star uses sound-muffling blankets and modified, quieter backup alarms on their equipment in an attempt to keep noise to a minimum, Johnson said. 

Demolition will start once the interim sally port is finished and the site is fully prepared, with scaffolding and safety netting installed on the tower. They’ll begin by taking down the building at the site’s northwest corner, at the corner of State Street and Boerum Place, which will provide a space for construction trucks and other vehicles so they won’t be parked or idling on the street.

the brooklyn detention complex will be demolished this year
Contractors are preparing to begin demolishing the Brooklyn Detention Complex starting this spring. The 11-story building will be razed to make way for a new jail as part of the plan to close Rikers Island. File photo by Zoe Freilich

From there, the complex will be demolished “counterclockwise,” Johnson said, starting with the smaller buildings. The tower will be taken down floor-by-floor, manually, until they’ve reached the fourth or fifth floor.

“At this point, we’re going to use large mechanical pieces of equipment, long-reach excavators with processor jaws and crushers, and they will complete the demolition of the structure, bringing it down to grade,” Johnson said. “Our scope includes, at grade level, we’ll do some backfill activities on the existing foundation, provide some drainage capability and dewatering capability. And you’ll have a clean slate ready for reconstruction.”

Testing has uncovered a “considerable amount of asbestos,” at the site, and North Star is creating an abatement plan that conforms to DOB and Department of Environmental Protection standards. A licensed asbestos abatement firm must abate the material and receive department approval before work can move forward, a DEP representative told Brooklyn Paper.

Construction notices will be posted online and around the neighborhood 72 hours before large projects begin, Micir said, and regular updates are available online.

The city is expected to select a contractor to design and build the new jail this summer, and construction should begin next summer, according to current plans.

Lucien Allen, the Community Construction Liaison for the demolition of the Brooklyn Detention Complex, can be reached for questions or concerns at (917) 320 2370 or at [email protected]