After years of planning, Lynnwood officials gathered Wednesday to mark the beginning of construction on the future Community Justice Center.
The $69 million project includes redeveloping the city’s police department, jail and municipal courts and expanding to partner with the neighboring Community Health Center to provide substance abuse and rehabilitation treatments.
Shovels in hand, Lynnwood’s elected officials, police and health care professionals held a groundbreaking ceremony in the parking lot east of the police department — located at 19321 194th St. S.W. — where the facility will be constructed. Plans for the project have been in the making for years since multiple space study needs determined that the department, jail and municipal court have outgrown their current facility.
“Two decades of space needs examinations have culminated in the last three years of work to bring our city the first purpose-built police department and jail and a remodeled court,” said Police Chief Jim Nelson.
Nelson also said the new facility will improve the department’s infrastructure and allow employees to work better together. The new building will have a community room with space for police training and meetings, which Nelson said will also be available for community meetings.
“We were as efficient as we were with the design and that is one singular space meeting all those needs,” he said.
With a larger building, Nelson said the department will no longer have to contract with Edmonds College to store police evidence offsite. A second misdemeanor court will also be added.
With the Community Justice Center, the city aims to reduce recidivism by partnering with the neighboring Community Health Center (CHC) of Snohomish County to treat underlying behavioral health and substance abuse issues. Through the partnership, inmates will be able to receive substance abuse treatment and receive help meeting court-mandated drug screening.
During her speech, Mayor Nicola Smith praised the mental health services the facility will provide.
“We need to really figure out how to make these services more expansive and bring in all the players across the city who will interact with people who are in crisis and bring them to a place of safety,” she said.
A key feature of the project includes expanding the jail — which currently has 46 beds — to include 120 beds, which the city intends to contract out to other law enforcement agencies to help offset the facility’s cost. Most of the project will be funded by bonds and the rest will come from the city’s criminal justice tax.
The new jail facility became a controversial topic earlier this year after the death of a local woman, Tirhas Tesfatsion, who died in the city’s current jail. Her death was ruled a suicide by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. Since then, dozens of community members — including Tesfatsion’s family and friends — have spoken against the justice center and said the city needs more mental health services instead of a larger jail.
Under pressure from the public, the Lynnwood City Council voted in September to temporarily delay construction for the project and later adopted a resolution committing to reducing the number of jail beds to 84 and using the additional space to build a Community Recovery Center to provide emergency mental health services. Under the proposal, the recovery center would be a separate complex and the jail’s ground floor would also be reconfigured for medical and behavioral health services.
State officials including Rep. Lauren Davis have proposed funding the recovery center through state grants.
During the event, one woman — Lynnwood resident Elizabeth Lunsford — accused the city of supporting white supremacy and lay on the patch of dirt being dug up ceremoniously. Lunsford has spoken against the project during recent city council meetings.
Construction for the Community Justice Center is scheduled to be completed by late summer or early fall of 2023.
–Compiled by Cody Sexton