Commentary: What will the Community Justice Center actually cost us?

For the last six years I have dedicated my time to serving on the City of Lynnwood’s boards and commissions in attempts to build a safe, welcoming and vibrant city. During this time, I have come to understand and appreciate the city’s protocol of outreach for projects, such as sending out emails, creating surveys and hosting round tables. So when I found out about the plans for the Community Justice Center only a year ago, I was surprised to learn that the community had not been consulted on the creation of the Community Justice Center – none of the outreach practices were implemented for this project. 

In addition to the lack of citizen engagement, the presentation of the construction bids also broke protocol. In most circumstances, three contract bids are presented to council for comparison, whereas for this contract only one of six submitted bids were presented. The explanation provided was that the other bids were too high to consider, so imagine my surprise when I learned that the initial base bid from Lydig was a little less than the chosen FORMA bid of $54,895,295. Out of the six received bids, there was a third bid just slightly over FORMA’s quote, hence my concern and confusion as to why these other options were never presented to the council.

This upcoming Monday, council is not just set to award a bid for $56,380,704.52 to FORMA, along with providing blanket approval for change orders up to 10% of the contract amount, essentially a blank check of an additional $5.6 million. This current community justice center plan without the behavioral health center is currently advertised as costing the city $69 million. With the city total cap of incurring $119 million debt without voter approval, the current bid will be close to maxing out this debt cap leaving the city not having the ability to approve necessary projects without voter approval.

But the dollars allocated to the Community Justice Center aren’t even the most concerning numbers of the project. The main focus of this building is to increase the number of jail beds in Lynnwood, with the intent to rent these beds out to other cities to increase revenue. Increasing incarceration under the same supervision that was unable to prevent the death of Tirhas Tesfatsion in a jail with less than half the capacity. However, over the past year, less than 10 beds have been used because of COVID safety precautions. The likelihood of filling up the proposed 100 jail beds in the next few years is highly unlikely as we continue to live with COVID.

This brings me to the title of my piece – what will the Community Justice Center actually cost us? So far community engagement has been neglected, transparency in the selection process sacrificed, and ethics called into question. Despite growing community concern about the project, the city is rushing to approve the current bid, as it is set to expire soon. Given the concern expressed from our community, I would like to think that the city would at least address the possibility of letting the current bid expire so the project could incorporate feedback from Friday night’s task force town hall about the incorporation of the behavioral health center — a town hall that did not allow Tirhas’ family to speak freely about the loss of their beloved family member whose death was recently ruled as suicide.

We are at a key moment for our city; with a new social justice coordinator and engaged residents from the task force, there is an opportunity for a real center that is focused on equitable justice and community education to be designed. I implore the city council to vote no to the current Community Justice Center bid, and hear the message from your constituents that are outside of the police community of asking you go back to the drawing board to create a financially responsible, community engaged, and community-enriching project. 

– By Elizabeth Lunsford

  1. I strongly suggest that the soon to be empty Monroe Reformatory facility be used instead! It is already there, and has facilities for kitchens and medical trmt. Just do some rehabilitation of that place and save Taxpayer money.

    1. Sunday: 09/12/2021

      Gosh Janet. Monroe was not a well planned facility. In addition I don’t want to spend a night in the Monroe Facility only to have to walk back to Lynnwood in the Morning. How Far from Lynnwood is Monroe?

      However if the State of Washington will foot the bill $$ rather than Lynnwood, I will do my part and walk back to Lynnwood.. I’ve walked across entire countries. I can make it.

  2. I hope the city council reads this and listens to all the comments to reject this contract and start the process over with either the newly elected council voting on a new bid or lynnwood residents voting. The process should be more transparent than it was and it should not be a unelected council member in Patrick Decker being a decided vote. Lynnwood should not be putting it’s unvoted dept in reactionary police and instead should put it in proactive safety and health solutions.

    1. Sunday: 09/12/2021

      Thank you Elizabeth for your Commentary. Your Commentary was well written! Your a “Word- Smith”.

      I see two primary problems with the Justice Center Project.

      1. The project has not been well thought out or planned. Provision for behavioral health facilities should have been considered in the planning before it came to a vote. Our City Council consists of 7 very competent members each of which is skilled and proficient in their respective trades, professions and careers. 3 Are veteran council members. The Justice Center Project needs a “rethink.” This Council can do it!

      2. Cost $$$ Wow! $69,000.00 is a lot of $$. The cost will increase as the project proceeds. it can easily hit the City total Cap of $119,000.00 prior to completion. The cost of a Capital project in the United States now exceeds costs in any other country.

      3. Patrick Decker is a legitimate Council Member. He was Elected and Appointed by the current council following the rules for the appointment to a vacant position.. Patrick was a good choice, he is very competent in his profession. He knows his # $’s.

      Two better uses for the $ may be:

      1. The Establishment of a “Permanent Fund” Similar to Alaska’s.. I’m forecasting about 10 additional years of Financial, Social and Medical Disruptions.. A Permanent or Emergency Fund will be important.
      2. An Emergency transportation fund. The Light Rail is almost “but not quite” in Lynnwood. The light rail costs are excessive and continue to increase. Lynnwood may end up paying some light rail costs.

      A Justice center may or may not be a $ maker? However the 8 or 9 new high rise apartment buildings will be.
      About 3000 new sales tax paying residents will be sitting next to Lynnwood’s businesses. $$$

      1. Thank you for the kinds words this was my first ever commentary but I could have done better. Let me help explain the debt cap better because I left out how the city has already incurred debt mostly from the building the recreational center. Our current debt plus this project will sum up about of 110 million out of the 118 alloted cap. It appears the budgetting of this project slides under our allotted amount to avoid having people have to vote for it. As you mentioned, this project will mostly likely cost more then the remaining 80 million remaining allotment of non-voting approved debt. It just doesn’t look good to have such a large project max out this alloted debt without even having a public hearing about it. Thank you again for the kind words and your dedication to paying attention of whats happening to our city. Hope my explanation clears things up, have a wonderful night!

        1. Monday: 09/13/2021


          Who is the Driving force behind the Justice Center Project?? The Current Mayor?

    2. Sunday: 09/12/2021

      Whoa!! Patrick Decker is a Valid & Legitimate Position holder in the Lynnwood City Council. He was duly appointed following an Application, Review and Council Election Process. Were you in Patrick’s position, I’m sure you would have voted also.

      Patrick cast the vote based on his position in the voting sequence.

      1. If appointed city council right before a election I would vote to reject the bid. I don’t think voting no is the same as voting yes and that a yes vote should only come after getting majority voter approval, not / majority of 6 council members. If I lost a primary a no vote could become a yes vote after winning a general but at this point there is no indication of enough support for a yes vote.

        1. Monday: 09/13/2021

          No Votes! Yes Votes! Your argument is lost on me! You are apparently to quick for me! Being too quick for me does not put you in a Select group. Is it kind of like being taller than I am. I’m 5.4″ or Younger than I am,. I am age 76. YOU belong of a LARGE group of tall, young and “quick people!” Enjoy it while it lasts!

          OK Colin No offense! I owe you a Coffee! Set a time and date. I will meet you at a Starbucks.

          However; I want to take this opportunity to “Stress” the Importance of Voting. The Lynnwood Voter Turn out in the Primary was dismal! The Turn out was “Bad News”. The Good News is, because so few voted my one vote counted for -3- votes. Less than 30% of eligible voters voted!! Hey! my -3- Votes probably swung the Primary. My “Twisted Math” indicates I made the voting decisions for -3- to -5- Eligible voters. Only -1- of the Primary Winners has Thanked me.

          OK this is how it works! If you are Eligible and don’t vote you are “Just a Consumer!” If you Vote you graduate to becoming a CITIZEN! However the Real Penalty is “If you don’t vote you don’t have the right to complain!!” Complaining is a Valued Tradition in our Culture.

          OK Folks I’ll see you at the Ballot Drop Box Tuesday November 2nd.

          1. My vote for this contract bid be no to write it more simply.

            Higher voter turnout would be great.

  3. Making money off incarceration seems to be the sort of thing that dying communities rely on as a last resort for job creation. Over the years, a lot of effort has gone into thinking about what kind of city Lynnwood is and what kind of city we want to be, and we’ve had great progress. It’s disappointing that we’d use this strategy to balance the budget when we could be thinking more positively about ourselves as a thriving, vibrant community. Thank you, Elizabeth, for keeping this conversation going.

  4. Monday: 09/13/2021

    Thanks for the Reply Colin. I see your point! Thanks.

    I owe you a cup of Coffee.



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