Lynnwood City Council considers ARPA fund spending, reviews blueprints for Community Recovery Center

The Lynnwood City Council started its Monday night work session with another discussion regarding the city’s proposed Community Recovery Center. Police Chief James Nelson shared blueprints of what the facility would look like if approved.

An emergency behavioral health facility, the recovery center would be located adjacent to the already-approved Lynnwood Community Justice Center — a $69 million redevelopment of the city’s police department, jail and municipal courts.

Last year, a woman died by suicide in the Lynnwood jail. Following community pushback regarding the justice center, city officials decided to reduce the number of jail beds to make room for a two-level facility that would provide emergency behavioral health services. Additionally, the ground floor portion of the jail would also be reconfigured for medical and behavioral health services.

During his presentation to the council Monday, Nelson explained that the center’s first floor would consist mostly of staff offices and the second floor would be for short-term patients who are released within 24 hours. The third floor would hold the intake area as well as beds for patients who need to stay a little longer. 

Police Chief James Nelson explains the layout of the floors for the Community Recovery Center.

Nelson went on to say the recovery center would have a “No wrong door” model when it comes to admitting patients, either voluntarily or involuntarily. This approach would lift a major burden from the Swedish Edmonds Hospital emergency room, which is where officers have been taking crisis patients. It would also make the process safer for everyone involved, Nelson said.

“The ER is not built or designed for people in a mental health crisis,” Nelson added.

Jamie Sellar, the Chief Strategy Officer of RI International – which operates similar recovery centers nationwide – told the council that the “No wrong door” model means that everyone who comes through the recovery center doors will be admitted and will be helped, which is something that a hospital emergency room can’t do.

“We’ve said yes 100% of the time,” Sellar said, referring to other recovery center facilities the organization operates in Washington. “Not 50%, not 99.9%. 100% of the time.”

Because of the 100% admittance rate, police officers would be able to leave within five to 10 minutes of dropping off a patient, rather than having to wait with the patient for hours before being admitted. This approach, coupled with reduced use of emergency room resources, has saved other counties around $32 million a year, according to Sellar.

State Rep. Lauren Davis, who has been working with the city on possible sources of state funding for the community recovery center, said the total project will cost around $17 million. Snohomish County has already provided $3 million, the city has applied for a Department of Commerce grant for $2 million, and the remaining $12 million will be requested from the state capital budget, Davis said.

After receiving the presentation, councilmembers did not have much to say in favor or against the Community Recovery Center blueprints.

In other business, the council also discussed options for spending the $10.9 million the city will receive in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Staff Liaison David Mach offered three projects for consideration related to transportation. 

David Mach provides three proposals for using ARPA funds for Lynnwood transportation projects.

First, Mach proposed using a portion of the ARPA funds to pave residential streets in Lynnwood that have been neglected for years. One of the downsides to this project, Mach said, is that the funds would only be able to cover a limited number of streets.

“The need [for repaving] is larger than the funding we have available,” he said. 

However, Mach pointed out there are still some streets in Lynnwood that have never been paved, garnering complaints from residents for years. He suggested that using a small portion of the funds to at least pave the remaining gravel streets might make significant improvements to the city.

Second, Mach proposed building sidewalks around two Lynnwood elementary schools – Lynndale Elementary and Spruce Elementary. Many children are forced to walk to these schools in the roadway because there are not adequate sidewalks, shoulders or walk lanes to keep them safe.

Building sidewalks would require the city to dig into residents’ front yards, however, so Mach suggested the possibility of turning some roads around the schools into one-way streets and using the extra pavement to make walk lanes where children could stay away from traffic. This idea would be the quickest and most cost-effective solution, he added.

Third, Mach suggested using ARPA funds to bring many of the city’s sidewalks up to ADA code, noting there are currently over 1,300 wheelchair ramps in the city that are out of compliance. Each ramp would cost roughly $25,000, so only a few would be able to be addressed with the ARPA funds, he explained.

A majority of the councilmembers said that focusing on using the ARPA funds for repaving roads made the most sense.

“The city has neglected these local roads long enough,” Vice President Jim Smith said. 

Councilmember Shannon Sessions said she was hesitant to agree that any of the transportation proposals deserved ARPA money, stating that those costs should already be covered by city transportation funds, tab fees and the general fund.

“If we did [use ARPA funds], I feel like it would have to be very limited,” added Councilmember Josh Binda. Most councilmembers agreed that if they were to put ARPA money into the roads, the limit should be around $1 million.

Also on Monday night, the council received an overview of the city’s PARC (Parks, Arts, Recreation & Conservation) Plan.

The 2016-2025 PARC Plan aims to establish strategic directions, goals, policies and action items for the Parks, Recreation Cultural Arts Department for 10 years and is due for a 6-year update to maintain state grant funding eligibility.

The current plan was approved in 2016, but the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office requires grant holders to update it every six years.

Lynn Sordel, Lynnwood’s director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts, noted that in the last year, there have been over 600,000 facility visits in Lynnwood, and over a million park visits. The city’s population is expected to grow by roughly 10,000 residents within the next decade, meaning park and facility visits are going to rise as well.

As part of the city’s work to update the plan, Sordel said his team has been sending surveys to residents since 2017 to learn what residents want out of their parks.

Lynn Sordel talks about part 1 of the PARC plan update.

An overwhelming number of those responding to city surveys voiced their concerns for safe, clean and well-maintained parks, Sordel said. In those surveys handed out since the beginning of the pandemic, staff have seen a significant rise in requests for cleanliness at the city’s parks, he added.

Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Sarah Olsen said that on top of maintaining clean and safe parks, the city’s goal for the next six years will focus on accessibility. She said that parks staff will be working to remove the over 2,000 identified ADA barriers throughout the parks that prevent many residents from enjoying them.

The entire PARC plan update is being presented in three parts. Monday night’s presentation was part one, and the last two parts will be presented in the upcoming city council meetings.

The meeting closed with a closed-door executive session that was not available to the public. This session lasted roughly 15 minutes.

— by Lauren Reichenbach

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