A critical shortage of juvenile detention cells in Eastern Washington may be resolved next week.
The state House and Senate are scheduled to vote on capital budget proposals that would provide a $4 million low-interest loan to create a regional detention center in a vacant building in Medical Lake.
A coalition of at least 13 Eastern and Central Washington counties would use the 10-year, 3 percent loan to establish a detention center in Martin Hall on the Eastern State Hospital campus.
“This is a recognition that we have an emergency in Eastern Washington, where 14 counties are without a juvenile facility,” said state Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Kettle Falls.
McMorris had unanimous support in the House Capital Budget Committee last week when she moved to tack the loan onto the capital budget. She is confident the measure will clear the House early next week.
State Sen. Valoria Loveland, D-Pasco, who heads the Senate capital budget subcommittee, predicted the loan also will be included in the Senate capital budget that is expected to be approved next week.
“It looks like it is going to take place, and it is so greatly needed,” said state Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient. “It will help Spokane County’s problem, too.”
Stevens County Commissioner Allan Mack said he would prefer the center be operated by the 13 rural counties that have agreed to participate. Those counties include Stevens, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Ferry, Adams, Whitman, Columbia, Garfield, Asotin, Walla Walla, Douglas, Kittitas and Klickitat.
“If we can pull it off on a 13-county basis, our desire is to make beds available to Spokane County on an as-available basis in the same way that they have done for us,” Mack said.
The rural counties have been squeezed out of the Spokane County detention center in recent years.
Spokane County commissioners agreed recently to take five of 64 cells planned for the regional detention center, according to Medical Lake Mayor Sharie Stearns, who got the project started. However, Spokane County continues to focus on a plan to create cells for day use only in the basement of its existing detention center.
Other counties also are moving to establish limited-purpose cells at home. Pend Oreille County opened three weekend-only cells earlier this month, and Stevens County officials are considering putting a few such cells in the basement of a new emergency dispatching center.
The Spokane County Juvenile Department was unable last fall to convince voters to spend $11 million to add 48 regular cells. In comparison, the Martin Hall proposal is a bargain, even though the estimated cost has doubled to almost $4.5 million for 64 beds.
The higher cost estimate reflects the need for a new roof as well as a decision to meet costly new guidelines of the American Correctional Association, including a requirement that each cell have a sink and toilet.
A preliminary report, based on advice from three architectural firms, indicates 42 cells could be developed initially for $3 million.
Martin Hall was built in 1934 as a 200-bed men’s ward for the state mental hospital.