Timeline material on the delinquent proposed life safety renovations for the Whatcom County Jail / Noisy Waters Northwest

October 9, 2019 Dena Jensen

As Whatcom County moves forward with the beginning phases of their Public Health and Public Safety Initiative regarding behavioral health services, incarceration, and justice reform needs in Whatcom County — discussed in a September 19, 2019 post here on Noisy Waters Northwest — I thought it would be good for us to have some historical background and a list of materials related to the County’s progress in addressing critical life safety renovations at the existing downtown Whatcom County Jail.

September 12, 2017

I am starting with a September 12, 2017 Finance and Administrative Services Committee meeting agenda that stated there would be a “presentation by Design2Last of findings included in the Building Assessment Studies and Cost Estimates Phase 1-B Report for capital improvements at the jail (AB2017-047A).” 

You can click on this link to access a copy of the July 17, 2017 Building Assessment Study, complete with cost estimates of priority repairs and improvements to the current jail facility: http://wa-whatcomcounty.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/30244

On the New Jail Project page (now labeled “SUSPENDED”) on the Whatcom County website , there are a couple paragraphs at the end of the page that describe the County’s work with the design2 LAST firm that provides some links to documentation:

“Whatcom County has contracted with Design2LAST, Inc., to design the necessary renovations to the existing jail facility. The assessments in Phase 1A were completed in December 2016 and addressed the physical conditions and operations of the existing jail and work center. Phase 1B which anticipates the renovations needed to keep the jail as safe and secure as possible until a new jail can be built, is currently under development. 
 
“Extensive maintenance and renewal work is projected to cost more than $32M as outlined in the Design2LAST report.  According to that report due to the existing jail configuration and footprint this work will not provide any meaningful or permanent answers to space related issues such as medical, booking, classification and programs. Currently, Whatcom County budgets and spends approximately $1.2M per year on general repair and maintenance of current jail facilities, and in recent years completed a $2.5M upgrade to the electronic jail controls.  Major renovations will be undertaken as many systems reach the end of their lifecycles. ”   

Here is a link to my notes and perspective on that September 12, 2017 presentation to County Council Members at their Finance and Administrative Services meeting from representatives of design2 LAST: https://noisywatersnw.com/2017/09/15/notes-and-perspective-the-91217-design2-last-presentation-on-renovation-of-the-whatcom-county-jail-noisy-waters-northwest/

Click the graphic to access the Noisy Waters Northwest blog post, “Notes and perspective: The 9/12/17 design2 LAST presentation on renovation of the Whatcom County Jail”

Besides that report in September 2017, design2 LAST met with Council Members, later that year in November and held what they called a charrette, a meeting that went over the scope of work suggested in that July 2017 report in light of the fact that the jail sales tax measure on the November 2017 ballot had been defeated. Here is a link to details on the design charrette: http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/32394/ab2018-042?bidId=

Click the graphic to access the full 1/17/18 memo from Rob Ney of Whatcom County Facilities Management to the Whatcom County Executive and County Council

The following links to agenda bill material contains a January 17, 2018 letter from design2 LAST to the County letting them know what their understanding is of the scope of work for which they had been contracted. That letter starts on the fourth page in the digital material: http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/32394/ab2018-042?bidId=http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/32394/ab2018-042?bidId=http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/32394/ab2018-042?bidId=

That letter also talks about what work had already been performed as of January 17, 2018.

Here is a link to the January 17, 2017 contract for services with design2 LAST: http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/30147/Design2Last-Cont-Amend-201607005-1?bidId=

March 12, 2019

On March 12, 2019, the Whatcom County Council meeting and Council’s daytime Finance and Administrative Services Committee meeting held a discussion on the first phase of jail renovations that were out for bid — replacing jail doors and hardware — on the downtown Whatcom County Jail. Here is a link to a blog post about that meeting: https://noisywatersnw.com/2019/03/22/26000-bucks-a-door-is-just-a-hard-pill-to-swallow-delinquent-renovations-of-the-whatcom-county-jail-noisy-waters-northwest/

Click the graphic to access the Noisy Waters Northwest blog post, “‘26,000 bucks a door is just a hard pill to swallow’: delinquent renovations of the Whatcom County Jail”

Here’s a link to the minutes of the jail doors pre-bid meeting held on February 22, 2019: http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/39712/19-11-Addendum-3

August 7, 2019

More recently, the Council spoke with representatives of design2 LAST this year at their August 7, 2019 Finance and Administrative Services Committee meeting when they were evaluating various issues originally identified in the July 2017 design2 LAST study and it was stated once again by the design2 LAST representatives that the original July 2017 building assessment study was done with the firm’s representatives being under the impression that there would be a new Jail in 5-7 years.

Here is a portion of what design2 LAST’s CEO, Lauri Strauss said at that August 7, 2019 Finance meeting:

“I was just going to offer that we’re here at your request, we’ve given you kind of the  background and some information [indistinguishable].

“Just let me preface it. So the contract originally was, we had a Phase 1A, a Phase 1B, a Phase 2, and a Phase 3. So, Phase 1A was our first, sort of, feasibility facility commission assessment. It was a very high level overview look at the jail. And this was all back, pending that there was going to be a new jail, you know, bond issue on the ballots. And you know, you were awaiting that and assuming that that was going to pass and would be getting a new jail.

“In January of 2017, the team was given notice to proceed with Phase 1B. The objective of this phase was to complete a more detailed, yet non-invasive, study of each of the tasks for the Jail only, and propose corrective actions (scope options) as well as total estimated costs. This evaluation includes visual observation of each piece of equipment, area, or material, analysis of the operation of those units, documentation of the existing condition, and recommendation (scope option) for repairs, or removal and replacement, as required to maintain the equipment in continued operation until the new jail facility can be occupied. In addition, the costs are further refined with the estimate in this phase to obtain a more detailed cost analysis to implement each task.” 

Here is the link for the audio of that August 7, 2019 meeting covering, “AB2019-394 Review and update on the Design2Last Scope of work for the Existing Whatcom County Jail and discussion and feasibility of a smoke evacuation system in the Jail; discussion with Whatcom County Facilities and the Design2Last consultant team”: http://whatcom.granicus.com/player/clip/173?view_id=1

September 24, 2019

A September 24, 2019 KGMI Facebook post and news brief with Sheriff Bill Elfo had mentioned jail renovations that were set to occur in January 2020, indicating that the first phase of renovations — replacement of the jail doors and hardware — has not yet begun.


I will try to keep this list of materials updated as more Whatcom County activities occur regarding the life safety renovations on the existing downtown Whatcom County Jail.

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