New regional jail opens in South King County

At the ribbon cutting, from left, Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest; Burien Councilmember Rose Clark; Renton Mayor Denis Law; Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis; Des Moines Mayor Bob Scheckler; Seatac City Manager Todd Cutts and Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton.  - Photo by Robert Whale
At the ribbon cutting, from left, Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest; Burien Councilmember Rose Clark; Renton Mayor Denis Law; Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis; Des Moines Mayor Bob Scheckler; Seatac City Manager Todd Cutts and Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton.
— image credit: Photo by Robert Whale

By ROBERT WHALE, Auburn Reporter

Big jets roared overhead on their way to nearby Sea-Tac Airport once every seven minutes, jarring molars and rendering all attempts at conversation outside the walls of the new concrete and glass building momentarily futile.

Inside the structure, things were different. There, 21st century technology and a blanket of soundproofing smothered the din of engines. Save for the footfalls of guards, inmates and the clanking shut of metal gates, all was quiet.

To borrow a saying, the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) — the new jail for misdemeanant inmates — might be interesting to visit, but one definitely wouldn’t want to live there.

Last week the cities that pooled their money to build the $98 million, 163,830-square-foot jail — Auburn, Renton, Tukwila, Federal Way, Seatac, Burien and host city Des Moines — got together to celebrate its opening, two years and a month from the Aug. 10, 2009, groundbreaking.

“We had many naysayers; people told us that we could never do this, we could never build it on the time schedule we had, we could never build it for the budget we had,” according to Director Penny Bartley. “In fact, people told me a couple weeks ago, ‘You’ll never get that project completed.’ And here we are today.”

After the ribbon cutting, some of the taxpayers who helped pay for the new jail took a guided tour down the 394-foot long main hall, walking along a sober white floor that glows at night to cover for the unlikely event of a power outage. Outside the booking area, an inmate, dressed in the standard, black-and-white striped, jail-issued uniform, waited quietly with an escort for processing.

“Every inmate is issued the standard, one-size-fits-all underwear,” said former Auburn police chief Jim Kelly, now Deputy Director of the new jail. “Think about that … think about that.”

Surely, one man said aghast, that’s asking too much of a pair of drawers. What about severely overweight inmates?

“They’ll stretch,” Kelly replied with a smile.

Building a jail

Seven years ago, King County first notified South King County cities that they would have to build their own misdemeanant jail because the county would no longer accept inmates from the cities after 2012. The cities also had a jail contract with Yakima County, but the rising costs ultimately made that unsustainable.

The cities took the problem seriously and began planning. The cities transported their inmates to the jail Sept. 2, three weeks short of the construction completion date. As of the grand opening day, the project — still not completed — was more than $5 million under budget.

The facility bristles with new technology, including advanced security measures and a video court system that allows inmates to appear before a judge without leaving the jail, eliminating the expense of vehicle transport.

The misdemeanant jail, which houses male and female inmates, will accept felony bookings from member city police departments. These are investigatory holds that allow an inmate to be held for no more than 72 hours.

“I must say,” said Des Moines Mayor Bob Scheckler, “this is the best use of noise-impacted land this city has. Once upon a time, this land was slated to be — nothing. Nobody was going to use it for anything, and look what we’ve got.”

“The south county cities come together in times of need. The mayors have a working relationship, the staffs have a working relationship, we were able to coalesce into a group far quicker than most of the rest of the region,” said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis, presiding officer of SCORE’s administrative board. “We moved quickly, we found a site, we came together as a group of cities and said that we would go forward and create a new entity that became SCORE.

“Right here, right now, in concrete is living proof of what cities operating in partnership can achieve,” Lewis added.

Also present were Burien Councilmember Rose Clark, Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest, Renton Mayor Denis Law, the Seatac City Manager Todd Cutts and Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton.

SCORE jail by the numbers

• Location: 20817 17th Avenue South, Des Moines, WA 98198

• Total project funding: $97,861,342

• Estimated phase 1 and 2 construction cost: $61,468,474

• Site acreage: 15.44 acres

• Bed capacity: 813

• Number of housing pods: 14

• Skylights: 127

• Security cameras: 477

• Cubic yards of concrete on the roof: 1,102

• Length of main hallway: 394 feet

• Average stay: About 14, though can be sentenced to 364

• Site contractor: Scarsella Brothers

• General contractor: Lydig Construction

• Architect: DLR Group

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