After 5 years, unused $48 million Thurston County jail to finally open

TUMWATER, Wash. -- After years of delays, Thurston County commissioners and the county sheriff said they are ready to open the new jail on Ferguson Street.

The recession, safety concerns and budget issues are all reasons why the building sat empty since 2010, according to commissioners.

“It’s really been a dance, it’s been a difficult dance but we’re here,” said Thurston County Commission Chairwoman Cathy Wolfe. “Money has been a huge part of this problem.”

“We were one time promised about $2 million in something called streamlined sales tax money -- that never came through,” said Wolfe.

Further disagreements between the commission and Sheriff John Snaza over how to pay to operate the new facility kept negotiations at a stalemate.

“It might at times appeared that it was adversarial. I would to say it was more about passion,” he said.

Snaza said he needed nearly $500,000 added to his budget to cover move-in costs and other expenses. But his biggest sticking point was making sure he had enough jailers to run the building safely.

“Safety of my deputies and the safety of the inmates,” he said. “That was the most important (item) that had been discussed and is still being discussed.”

Until the jailer’s union agreed to a new contract, the Accountability and Restitution Center was destined to stay mothballed.

“If they had not negotiated the 12-hour modified schedule, I don’t think we’d be here today,” said Commissioner Sandra Romero.

The new facility is more than twice the size of the county’s current jail. Commissioners promised the new building will be better for inmates, offering more education opportunities, job readiness programs and drug and alcohol treatment.

Now that the ink is dry on the new agreement, Snaza hopes to get the place up and running by the end of summer.

“It’s a pretty great day to be able to say that we’ve been able to work together, come to a conclusion, and say this is what we need to do,” he said.