Publisher’s note: Here’s another in our series of updates on future Lynnwood housing, mixed-use, commercial and city developments. This series will also include updates on citywide transportation improvements.
Construction is underway on Lynnwood’s future Community Justice Center, which aims to address space issues in the city’s police department, municipal courts and jail.
Since breaking ground on the $72 million project in October 2021, crews have excavated the site and laid most of the foundation for the first levels of the planned multi-level building. A majority of the concrete skeleton for the future housing area of the jail is up along with exterior portions of the future medical wing and Community Recovery Center, which will provide emergency mental health services.
Crews will continue concrete work for the next six weeks and ironworkers will arrive within the next couple of weeks, which is when construction on the project “really takes off,” said Lynnwood Deputy Police Chief Chuck Steichen, who is serving as project manager.
The new facility comes after two decades of space study needs, which concluded that Lynnwood’s existing police department, courts and jail have outgrown their current facility. Prior to housing the police and courts, the existing structure held office spaces including a dentist office. According to Steichen, the department has had to create makeshift office spaces in a hallway or closet. Use of the existing facility was always meant to be temporary, he added.
“It was a Band-Aid. It wasn’t an official solution,” Steichen said. “(The Community Justice Center) is an actual purpose-built building. It’s designed specifically for the needs of all of the entities there.”
Steichen said the new facility couldn’t come at a better time as the department prepares to hire more officers over the next couple of years after experiencing recent “significant” staffing reductions.
Since construction began, Steichen said some police units – like traffic and special operations – have relocated to a temporary off-site facility but the move has not affected their daily operations. The previous jail has been demolished and for the last year, inmates have been housed at other detention centers in Snohomish County, as well as in Kirkland and the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) in Des Moines, Washington.
The new jail will have space for 84 inmate beds – an increase from the former jail’s 46 beds but fewer than the initial plans, which included 120 beds. The number of jail beds was reduced in response to community criticism after Tirhas Tesfatsion, a Black woman, died in the jail in July 2021. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death was by suicide.
In response to the calls from community members to completely shut down the project, city leaders partnered with state officials to incorporate the Community Recovery Center – a 1,500-square-foot complex separate from the justice center with its own entrance and address. Both projects have separate contracts with the city building the recovery center which will be leased to and operated by Recovery Innovations International, Steichen said.
“They are independent facilities,” he said.
In the new jail, Steichen said inmates will have access to monitors to attend court hearings virtually as well as internet and electronic devices to attend online classes and courses. From an upper level, custody officers will be able to observe inmates through windows and with security monitors.
The new facility will include secure multi-level parking for officers and employees. Steichen said the garage is also designed to be outfitted with charging stations for when the department begins phasing in electric vehicles. Initial plans for the justice center included shared parking with the neighboring Community Health Center, which provided some medical services for inmates at the jail, but those plans were scrapped for being too costly, Steichen said.
The municipal courts will remain in the existing building, overtaking space previously occupied by the police department. In addition to a second courtroom, the space will be renovated to include areas for defense, a prosecutor’s office and a room for jurors, as well as a new security entrance. Steichen added that there will also be space for a possible future community court. He added that the construction will not impact the municipal court’s daily operations.
Other plans for the justice center include a place to keep evidence, which is currently held off site in a rented space.
Steichen said construction on the new police department and jail is scheduled to be completed in October 2023 but added that work on the municipal courts and recovery center is expected to last into early 2024.
“My hope is that the Community Recovery Center is finished at the same time the court is,” he said.
— By Cody Sexton