By Eric Stevick and Jerry Cornfield Herald Writers
ARLINGTON — The state Department of Corrections is setting free a troubled case with an extensive criminal past.
It’s not an inmate; it’s a prison.
The state plans to raze the former Indian Ridge Correctional Facility, once a 180-bed minimum security camp that provided inmate crews for fighting forest fires and other work in the woods.
“We’re not intending to reopen it,” corrections department spokeswoman Selena Davis said. “We are planning to demolish it within the next year.”
Corrections officials said Indian Ridge was built in the early 1980s to serve as an work camp providing labor on state Department of Natural Resources land. In the 1990s, it was turned into a youth camp for juvenile offenders. Later, it was used to house low-risk county inmates during a Snohomish County Jail construction project.
The leased property will be returned to the Department of Natural Resources.
The site has stood vacant in recent years and became a magnet for vandals, metal thieves and squatters. Law enforcement agencies also have used the abandoned campus for training exercises.
Last year, Indian Ridge was considered — and quickly rejected — as a potential location for a 1,024-bed lockup for offenders making the transition from county jails into the state prison system. The state was looking to build a short-term center where inmates are assessed for physical and mental health as well as security concerns before being placed in other prisons.
State corrections officials said Indian Ridge can’t be expanded because of limits on the water supply and sewage treatment capacity.
It would take $5 million to bring it into usable condition, Davis said.
David Jansen, capital programs director for the corrections department, said the site simply doesn’t work.
“Given its small size and limitations on making it bigger, it’s not going to be cost effective for the state to operate,’ Jansen said.
State workers have removed furniture and other items, but equipment, such as a large generator, has been vandalized. The corrections department also plans to take down and store a story pole that was on the property.
State Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, said on a recent Sunday she went to Indian Ridge where she walked onto the grounds and found unsecured buildings and damaged property. She said she doesn’t object to the demolition. She does question why the site isn’t locked up to prevent anyone from wandering onto the property and stealing things, or worse, getting hurt.
Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said if the buildings are useless “then tear them down” but the state agency should not get rid of the property.
“It’s a valuable asset,” he said. “The population of the state is going to grow. At some point it would be smart to have the property if needed.”
Jim Hinton has spent years helping the state fight forest fires. His company provides equipment, such as tanker trucks, during fires.
Hinton said he always was impressed with the Indian Ridge fire crews and the way the inmates took care of their work camp.
Yards and flower beds were well kept and the buildings were spotless, he said.
“Those guys were really proud of that place,” he said.
The corrections department has been leasing the 20 acres that made up the Indian Ridge campus for $10,000 a year.
It will end its lease at the end of 2012 and the land will go back to the Department of Natural Resources.
“We are basically going to reforest the land,” said Bryan Flint, a spokesman for the natural resources department.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org