A rendering of the proposed Community Justice Center in Lynnwood, which would house a new jail, a misdemeanor court, the police department and behavioral health services. (City of Lynnwood)

A rendering of the proposed Community Justice Center in Lynnwood, which would house a new jail, a misdemeanor court, the police department and behavioral health services. (City of Lynnwood)

Lynnwood council approves construction contract for new jail

Despite criticism, the proposal for a new jail, police department and mental health wing passed the council 6-1.

LYNNWOOD — The City Council here has approved a more than $56 million construction contract to build a new jail, police station and misdemeanor court.

The contract for the Community Justice Center passed the council 6-1 Monday night. Councilmember Ruth Ross was the only vote against the contract.

The center’s original price tag, including construction, inspections and other costs, was $64 million, but bids to build it came in high. The price jumped to $69 million. The vast majority of that money will come from bonds, and the rest will be from an existing criminal justice sales tax.

The council voted two months to the day after a woman died by suicide in the city’s current jail. Tirhas Tesfatsion’s death sparked a rethinking of the development, leading to the addition of a mental health wing.

The space, known as the Community Recovery Center, will include behavioral health urgent care, a crisis stabilization unit and a social services hub.

That component is funded separately from what was passed Monday night. So the council passed a resolution stating its support for the idea. Ross was the only council member against that legislation, as well.

“With the incorporation of improved in-custody services and community behavioral health services, the Community Justice Center and Community Recovery Center will be a regional and national model for integrated criminal legal and behavioral health services,” the resolution reads.

The council was to vote on the Community Justice Center last month, but calls from Tesfatsion’s family and others to reevaluate the project put it on pause. Over the ensuing five weeks, a task force headed by state Rep. Lauren Davis, a Democrat from Shoreline, and police Chief Jim Nelson met to develop the plan. What they came up with reduced the proposed new jail’s size from 120 beds to 84.

The reduction in jail beds means the city will take in less money making beds in the new jail available to nearby cities, Lynnwood finance director Michelle Meyer said last week. One bed for a day would cost another city $175. Lynnwood planned to make over $1.8 million annually from contracting the center’s beds. The new facility would bring in under $1.1 million.

The current jail, which opened in 1994, has 46 beds.

“Between building this updated facility as well as looking at possibilities for better servicing our community, I think it truly will be — I know a lot of people won’t understand this or won’t agree with it, I should say — but I do think it’s in the best interest of all people,” council Vice President Jim Smith said Monday. Smith is running for mayor.

Despite the changes, almost all those who spoke at Monday’s council meeting urged officials to vote against the contract.

“It’s just going to be more victims — people that have alcohol problems, drug problems — are going to be going to jail,” Tesfatsion’s sister, Genet, told the council Monday.

“You’re heading us down the wrong path,” said Riall Johnson of the Snohomish County NAACP.

The public comment session was marred by several anonymous people, who did not appear on camera, using their time to repeatedly hurl racial slurs or play explicit music. They were cut off.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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