Trending Topics

New Washington jail could cost over $200M

Whatcom County’s current jail, which is 40 years old, is considered too small for current needs and requires millions of dollars in safety renovations


It was built to hold 148 offenders and was remodeled to a capacity of 212.

Whatcom County Jail

Robert Mittendorf
The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

May 23—A new Whatcom County Jail could cost between $137 million and $207 million, the County Council learned in a presentation Tuesday on the possible cost, location, design and scope of a new facility.

It’s the first public discussion of cost after more than a year of meetings to develop plans for a new jail, along with associated services that could include diversion programs and mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities.

Funding could come from a sales tax that would go before voters and pay for a construction bond, according to a memo sent Tuesday to the County Council from County Executive Satpal Sidhu.

Any plan should consider facilities, service and oversight of spending and results, he said.

A .2% sales tax could collect $13.8 million annually, with $8.3 million to Whatcom County and $5.5 million split among Bellingham and its other cities based on population, Sidhu said in his memo.

A 30-year bond issue with annual payments of $8.3 million could raise $143 million, he said.

Choosing a jail location is the next step in the process because nearly every other decision about cost and services revolves around where the jail will be located, Deputy County Executive Tyler Schroeder told the council’s Committee of the Whole on Tuesday.

“The first thing we need is a new jail. It’s the largest and most costly facility,” Schroeder said.

Once the location is decided, other facilities can be planned, Schroeder said.

Three locations have emerged, all on land now owned by the county, with cost estimates based on a jail size of 400 to 440 beds, according to Tuesday’s presentation:

— The parking lot south of the Whatcom County Courthouse, location of the current jail in downtown Bellingham. It would be at least seven stories tall on 1.3 acres, with three stories of underground parking and cost $207 million. Opportunities for expansion and nearby location of other services would be limited.

— A location on Deemer Road in the Irongate industrial area, near the Jail Work Center and the Anne Deacon Crisis Triage Center. It would be four to five stories tall with underground parking and cost $170 million. Its five buildable acres allow for some possibility of adding additional services nearby. Driving time would be about nine to 12 minutes from the downtown courthouse.

— A site on LaBounty Drive in Ferndale, where plans for a jail were scrapped after ballot measures to fund it with a .2% sales tax failed in 2015 and 2017. Cost is estimated at $137 million. Its layout on 16 acres of buildable land would be horizontal and no more than two stories tall. It has the greatest potential for adding nearby services. Because it is near Interstate 5, driving time would be about nine to 15 minutes from the downtown courthouse.

In addition to a new jail, more behavioral health facilities and staff are needed, and also more housing for people who are released from jail, according to reports from the Whatcom County Justice Project over the past year. It has also focused on ways to reduce time in jail, such as electronic home monitoring and programs that treat substance abuse.

Whatcom County’s current jail, which is 40 years old, is considered too small for current needs and requires millions of dollars in safety renovations.

It’s under booking restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was built to hold 148 offenders and was remodeled to a capacity of 212.

The Work Center in Irongate has 150 beds for full-custody, lower-security offenders and those on a work crew or work-release programs.

On Monday, the jail population was 175 at the main jail and 104 at the work center, said Wendy Jones, chief corrections deputy.


(c)2023 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)
Visit The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.) at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The warden has said building a new facility is crucial to improving and expanding how the county delivers programs and services in education, addiction recovery and mental health
The multiple phase $77M project includes housing renovations, a new intake and booking facility, and staff locker rooms and meeting facilities
The prison board approved the up to $3.5 million project to add walls and a roof to Chester County prison’s eight exercise yards
Howard Holland, acting warden of Chester County Prison, proposed new fencing, ankle monitors for high-risk inmates, more cameras in the facility and establishing a K-9 unit to enhance security