*UPDATED* Story adjusted to show property being considered for the center. *UPDATED*
The Grays Harbor County Commissioners announced this week preliminary planning on a proposed new Grays Harbor Justice Center that could be relocated from its current location in Montesano to another site on the east side of town.
At their regular meeting, Commissioner Vickie Raines provided an overview of the discussion so far, but did announce that the county has begun negotiations with a Montesano property owner for land that could eventually be used for such a facility.
This preferred site is located on the east side of Montesano near the Beacon Elementary school. On January 11, the Commissioners approved the purchase of land directly next to the school.
Raines has stated that there also is no certainty on it being used for a jail facility or other county use such as a park.
Raines stated that as part of an ongoing effort to find a new Grays Harbor Jail, the conversation has included a number of locations. This discussion was exacerbated following the lawsuit by local judges to provide a new courtroom, and it amplified the need for an updated facility. Since that time, discussions have included a possible joint Grays Harbor/Mason County location outside of McCleary for easy access to both counties. Those discussions ended after it was found the costs and location were outside of the needs of both counties.
Since then, ongoing planning has occurred.
According to Raines, the land needed would need to be approximately 5 acres. Site selection began over the summer of 2021 to look at multiple locations that met the needs of the building. Raines said that after looking at 6-7 different sites, narrowing down to a preferred choice.
“One of the things that made this property attractive is that we could have the Sheriff’s office next to it, which is great. It would give us a Community Justice Center…” said Raines.
This new center could include the corrections facility as well as the Sheriff’s Office, Department of Emergency Management, as well as possibly the Grays Harbor E-911 and Montesano Police Department included into the footprint. Raines added that at this time there is no plan to relocate the juvenile justice facility on the property.
Concerns from residents seemed to be based primarily on the proximity of inmates to the elementary school. Raines noted that the current jail is approximately 1000 feet from the Montesano Jr/Sr High School. If the new facility were built on the property under consideration, the distance to Beacon Elementary would be similar.
Raines added that, “This is our first step. This really is the first step that we’ve taken.” and the discussion is only beginning. Further planning will need to be done to locate total funding.
According to Raines, the purchase of land is only the first step, and there are no plans drawn up for the site or finalized plans of any sort for the magnitude of the project. She discouraged rumors within the community of the plans being further along than where they are, and said that as the process moves forward there would be public outreach and comment opportunities.
She added, “We’ll continue to go through our checklist. We’ve got probably 400-500 things to see come to fruition before anything really takes place, and we’re probably at number six on the list.”
Sheriff Scott also spoke on the project, saying that he feels the need for a new facility is well known and that the current conditions continue to deteriorate. Scott had talked about the need for an update on Cop Talk recently, stating that some parts of the building are so old that parts to fix them are not readily available and need to be custom manufactured.
Commissioner Pine said that he agreed that the first step would be to buy a piece of property and then move forward with community outreach for such a project.
“If it works, great. If not, we’ll look for something else. That’s down the road though.” said Pine.
Raines said that at the earliest construction could begin in 2023 or 2024, although also stated that would be a quick turnaround to be able to do public outreach and secure funding.
“We’re going to have additional community meetings and hopefully people will be interested to attend. Not just those that live around the area that have an interest in county government and the services that the Sheriff’s Office and corrections divisions provide.” said Raines.