Twenty-Seven Months

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Thurston County hired me and I started work August 1, 2017. That was 27 months ago. Not only that, but as you probably already know, I was hired in a project position, aka temporary. It was a 2.5 year assignment to be project support on a jail expansion project for the ARC, now renamed the Thurston County Corrections Facility.

The last 27 months (or 1,182,600 minutes) have been meetings with stakeholders old and a few new ones. We have met with the architect. We have met with County commissioners and leadership. Many times.

We have discussed stormwater issues on the property. We need to dig up the galleries onsite because the as-builts, the drawings of what was actually installed underground, are wrong. We have discussed adding a courtroom to the expansion in order to have hearings for those in custody. We have toured other jails, including SCORE, the Four Seasons of local jails. Incidentally, its lobby looks more like an airport gate than a waiting room for anxious friends and family.

But I digress.

The square table in the meeting room held commissioners, county leadership, project management, and corrections. Corrections provided a full court press with Sheriff, Chief, captains and later, the Undersheriff. Yesterday, at the third working session meeting with the county commissioners, we discussed options. Again. We could remodel juvie. Only 8 kids in there now. What if we moved all the female inmates there and built another facility for juveniles? What about renovating the old jail in the basement of Building 3? Never mind that all its systems were failing when the old jail closed in 2015.

The architect of record sussed out two options, at leadership’s direction: what can the County get for $12 million, the original project budget, and what would the full buildout of 118 beds cost? The full buildout is something like $50 million. The 40-bed option is $19 million. Both are over budget. Thus, the working sessions. The commissioners had a lot of questions. The biggest problem is holding max female offenders and mentally ill in intake and transfer spaces, a single-cell spaces are full. These temporary spaces have no bathroom nor bed. The guards have to take the inmates to the bathroom and inmates use a sort of a portable bed called a boat. The watchdog group for human rights violations has threatened to sue. The County does not want a lawsuit, nor does it want to send a message that it doesn’t care about those incarcerated. Human dignity matters. The jail has empty beds but only in the dorm spaces for low-level offenders.

I sat in the meeting and took notes. The current chair of the commissioners is my favorite. We’ll call him A. A liked the 40-bed with shell option. He said so. To his left, B couldn’t see spending any money at all.

“It looks irresponsible. We can’t spend taxpayer money when we have empty space at juvie.”

C, on A’s right, had a different take. A former public defender, he cared about balancing the budget and taking care of people.

“I can’t see spending the money when we don’t know where the rest of it will come from. I am terrified. Also, we need to treat people in jail with fairness.” He paused.

“But operating 2 spaces is expensive. Can’t we compromise? We aren’t so far apart.”

And that is where the meeting became rainbows and sunshine. Because C an A did find a compromise…with B. They voted and approved the 40-bed option with shell. Just like that. Just 27 months after starting this whole process, and two project managers later.

I was gobsmacked. The new PM, a former federal employee with loads of project management experience, did it. His experience and straightforward manner earned corrections’ trust, not a small feat. I truly thought we would never go anywhere and the project would get mothballed. Again. But now we have momentum. Next stop: design.