Children and Family Justice Center would replace dilapidated juvenile court buildings and inefficient detention facility at 12th and Alder
Metropolitan King County Councilmembers Bob Ferguson, Kathy Lambert, Larry Gossett, and Joe McDermott introduced legislation today that would ask voters to fund construction of a new Children and Family Justice Center to replace the decaying County Youth Services Center.
“Providing justice for our children and our families is a core County responsibility, and our current facilities are in a state of crisis,” said Councilmember Ferguson, prime sponsor of the legislation. “The facilities must be replaced. We’ve examined all of the options, and it is time to send the best possible proposal forward to the ballot.”
“On behalf of King County’s children and families, on behalf of the caseworkers, attorneys, and staff who must work there, we are grateful for the opportunity to place this measure before the voters,” said King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Richard McDermott. “We firmly believe that the well-being of our children and families requires this action.”
The legislation would place a measure on the August primary ballot for approval of a nine-year property tax levy lid lift of seven cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which would raise approximately $200 million for construction of the Children and Family Justice Center. The cost to the median homeowner in King County would be less than $25 per year.
“We have done extensive work on several proposals for a replacement juvenile justice facility, and this appears to be the best option for kids, for families, and for the neighborhood,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine, whose Facilities Management Division would oversee design and construction of the facility.
“Asking voters for the funding of large capital facilities on a project-by-project basis is what the Legislature envisioned when it limited counties to revenue increases of one percent a year,” he added.
The proposal would replace the three buildings on site—the aging Alder Tower, Alder Wing, and Youth Detention Facility. Five judges and 2 commissioners at the juvenile court handle 3,700 cases a year in the facility. About 65 youth are housed in the detention facility.
The Center is the County’s central facility for cases involving children, which are among the most stressful for families—juvenile offender cases, child abandonment, abuse and neglect cases, and cases involving runaways. Here, court officers must decide whether a child should be removed from their home or whether a minor should be detained for committing an offense. Emotions can run high, and the Center provides support for families navigating the juvenile justice system.
“Children from all over King County who have suffered abuse and neglect should not have to deal with safety risks or be further victimized by the conditions they encounter in going to court,” said Councilmember Lambert, chair of the Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “As a state legislator, I worked on legislation to establish a new model for family court. This proposed facility will allow us to be able finally to implement this proven model. Juvenile crime and detention numbers are down, thanks in large part to alternative programs and strategies we have put in place. The transformation of our juvenile justice system now focuses on restoring youth to healthy and productive lives, and that means we need facilities that support these procedures and timely interventions.”
“By building a new Children and Family Justice Center, we can provide the best and safest conditions for our valued employees and Judges. By doing so, we most importantly enable our staff to provide the services needed by the youth and families that come to the Center every day in crisis,” said Council Chair Gossett. “In addition, we want this Center to enhance the neighborhood and we intend to continue working closely with them to ensure that open space, housing and commercial space will be considered in the development of this property owned by King County.”
“The County continues to be increasingly efficient and lean in our operations. Now we ask the voters to invest in public safety by funding this critical facility,” said Councilmember McDermott, Chair of the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee, whose district includes the 12th and Alder site. “The average homeowner cost of less than $25 a year is a small investment in dignity and justice.”
Replacement of the Youth Services Center has been King County’s highest-priority capital project since 2008. The County has already spent millions addressing ongoing mold and moisture lingering from a flood in 2006. In 2010, Court operations at the facility were suspended when a water main broke outside the building. Additionally, the discovery of toxic PCBs in the window caulking of the Alder Tower required the relocation of employees and court services while the County remediated the hazardous materials.
Most of the complex’s major systems have decayed well beyond the end of their useful life. The Alder Wing was built in 1952 and renovated in 1972. The Alder Tower was built in 1972. The electrical, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems are deemed beyond repair and alone would cost more than $20 million to replace:
• Brown water comes out of the cold water line, while the hot water had to be shut off on lower floors due to leakage, and water seeps through the exterior walls.
• The heating and air conditioning do not work on the top floors of the building.
• Sewer gases permeate the lower levels due to plumbing problems.
On a day-by-day basis, the current complex fails to provide adequate safety and privacy:
• It is not designed to address the safety concerns that arise from emotional cases involving families and children, which pose the greatest threat of violence among all types of court cases.
• Courtrooms and waiting areas are too small and overcrowded, creating a noisy, hectic and confusing environment.
• With no private meeting rooms, families must meet with their attorneys and case workers in the lobby and public hallways to discuss the most sensitive of private matters.
The Youth Detention Facility was built in 1991 and needs major repairs and upgrades. Replacing the detention facility will avoid the costs of repairs to a deteriorating building and provide:
• Improved safety for youth, visitors, and staff and a more habitable environment.
• Elimination of current facility problems such as water leaks and cold temperatures in the living areas.
• A more flexible layout to create operational efficiencies and cost savings.
By replacing all three of the buildings, the County also has the opportunity to reduce the size of its foot print on the 9.1 acre site located in the urban core of Seattle. By doing so, the County would create an opportunity for urban redevelopment that reflects the vision of the neighboring community.
The legislation is expected to be referred to the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee for its initial review.