LYNNWOOD, Wash., September 9, 2021 — The Lynnwood City Council held a work session Tuesday night to update the public on the latest developments of the Justice Center Project Task Force. The vote to award the construction contract of the $69 million Community Justice Center (CJC) to FORMA Construction Company was delayed until September 13 following the in-custody suicide of Tirhas Tesfatsion in July.
A Justice Center Project Task Force was established by Mayor Nicola Smith to reexamine the CJC’s programs and purpose. The task force is comprised of local leaders and medical experts with Chief Jim Nelson and Rep. Lauren Davis (LD-32) as its co-chairs.
“We were tasked with determining a way to reconfigure the design of the jail portion of the Community Justice Center in light of the feedback we have received regarding the desire that space be used for human services rather than incarceration,” said Rep. Davis. She also noted that the goal was to reconfigure the space without altering the existing design’s footprint or changing the layout.
Over a six-week period, the task force met twice a week for two hours at a time. In addition to these meetings, the task force held three focus groups: one which included people who have lived experience with substance abuse and behavioral health issues, another with behavioral health providers, and a third with BIPOC.
According to Rep. Davis, the focus groups allowed the task force to “engage in some deep listening with our community.” One of the key takeaways from the focus groups was prioritizing treatment and resources over jail space and treating patients with dignity.
The Proposed Changes: A Community Recovery Center
The task force met with the architect who helped design the original CJC to discuss how the space could be redesigned to include a “Community Recovery Center” on the northeast portion of the building.
To create space for the 12,750-sqft Community Recovery Center (CRC), the bottom floor will be reconfigured and two more floors — 5,000 sq. ft. each — added above that same portion to dedicate more space to the new center. This reconfiguration is a noticeable change from the original draft as it relocates the kitchen, laundry, and medical rooms. A task force member emphasized how the design will provide plenty of natural light.
Below is a snapshot of the reconfigured design of the first floor.
According to the task force, each floor of the CRC will serve a different purpose. The first floor will function as a service center, which will provide similar services as the nearby Carnegie Building in Everett. Emergency behavioral health services will be provided on the second floor, and a third floor will serve as a crisis stabilization unit.
The third floor of the space will be accessible to inmates as well as the general public and connect to 40 more parking spots in a multi-level lot.
The redesign will decrease the number of jail beds from 120 to 84, which is still more than the jail’s current 46-bed capacity. Increasing the number of beds at the CJC was a focal point of the original proposal. With more jail beds, Lynnwood would eliminate spending to house inmates in other facilities while also bringing revenue in by accepting inmates from surrounding jurisdictions.
Dr. Marc Stern, an affiliate Assistant Health Professor at the University of Washington, consulted with the task force on the redesign. Dr. Stern noted how prioritizing continuity of care not only decreases the mortality rate of patients but is also a smart investment for the community.
“If you invest one dollar in substance abuse treatment while somebody’s incarcerated and continue that treatment, you get back five dollars as a community,” he explained during the work session. “You get it back in reduced crime, in reduced policing costs, in reduced court costs, and that’s huge.”
Building Phases, Costs, and County Support
The task force presented a three-phase buildout procedure for the center to the city council. The first will include building the first floor during the initial construction of the jail. The second phase will involve adding the second and third floors, and the third phase will be the build-out and tenant improvements of the center so that it is ready to facilitate service.
Total cost for both projects is estimated somewhere around $79 million of which $69 million will be for the Community Justice Center and an estimated $10 million (according to sources) for the Community Recovery Center (CRC). Final estimates are expected by Monday’s city council meeting.
Chief Nelson indicated during the session that no additional costs to the CJC project resulted from the redesign as it will be budgeted separately from the CRC. Deputy Chief of Police Chuck Steichen said that “it’s a three-phase process.”
“We have to do a change order on the existing contract to reorganize the jail. We then have to do a separate contract to do the — essentially the skin on the two floors and the upper deck to the garage. And then ultimately the last phase will be the tentative improvements to the space, which we still have to figure out,” he explained. “We’re still trying to figure out how we want to organize that space and then what the costs associated with that would be.”
Shannon Sessions of the Lynnwood City Council offered her concluding comments on the subject. “As you know, the city council has moved the current project of the new Community Justice Center forward unanimously for nearly three years,” she said. “We’ve believed and expressed unanimously that a new CJC is a worthy undertaking. It is more than needed and is the right timing with the proper funding that doesn’t include any new taxes.”
On Wednesday, September 8, the Snohomish County Council pledged to contribute $3 million towards the Community Recovery Center project. During its meeting, it was disclosed that the proposed $3 million will be coming from revenue from the County’s Cathcart Way Facility Recycling and Transfer Station (CWRTS).
“Executive Somers has expressed that he is committed to collaborating on this project through recommending $3,000,000 in his 2022 budget proposal, which will be delivered to the Snohomish County Council later this month,” stated in the letter to Mayor Nicola Smith and Lynnwood Councilmembers signed by the Snohomish County Council.