West Seattle jail-sites fight: “Low rise vs. high rise” study out

At last Saturday’s city-organized forum focused on the two southeastern West Seattle sites under consideration for a possible jail for Seattle’s misdemeanor offenders (WSB coverage here), city reps mentioned this study was about to be released – and now it’s out: Whether a high-rise jail would be more efficient and cost-effective than a low-rise jail (which is what the city has been pursuing, and why it’s been focused on 7-acre sites like the two in this area). We’ve just started reviewing it – but it appears the answer is “no” – a high-rise jail would cost more. Read the full study here. ADDED 1:05 PM: Here are the main points, excerpted from the report, followed by (added at 2:42 pm) a comment from the city on “what’s next”:

From the report’s overview:

The analysis of the difference in cost between a low and high-rise jail that follows is based upon 440 beds on either a seven acre or one acre downtown site. As will be demonstrated in text and tables, the high-rise facility requires 10.4 more staff; is $906,000 more costly to operate on an annual basis; and (without parking) costs $17 million more to construct. With parking cost considered, the high-rise facility could cost $26.0 million more than a low rise jail. Factoring in land acquisition costs difference between a low and high-rise facility adds another $11 to $25 million in costs to the high-rise option.

From page 7:

While a number of the factors are obvious, such as the difference in the site square footage and the total building
square footage, other factors that impact either operations and/or costs are worthy of note.

1. A one acre site can only accommodate three, 64-bed housing units per floor while a seven acre low-rise site
can accommodate all seven housing units on a single floor. As noted in the operational cost analysis,
approximately 10 more staff is required for the multi-level option.

2. With three housing units per floor stacked on top of a two level support core, the one acre high-rise option is
seven levels or 98 feet high while the low-rise option on seven acres is 28 feet high.

3. The ideal configuration for a jail site is a square or a rectangle where the length of the site is no more than 2
to 3 times the width (i.e., a rectangle). If the building within these parameters exceeds this aspect ratio (1:2-
3), the building becomes so elongated that the distances from one end to the other can generate movement
and staffing inefficiencies.

4. The low-rise option has 30,000 less square feet of building façade than the high-rise, but the high-rise has
only 20% of the roof area as the low rise. Both have capital and operational cost implications.



Using the 440-bed facility as a test case, the one-time capital and project cost difference without parking included is
$17 million greater for the high-rise option. In staff parking is included, this one-time construction cost difference
increases to $26 million. Annual operating cost increases by approximately $906,000 for the high-rise option. Finally,
the land acquisition difference is significantly higher for the high-rise option, ranging from $11 – 25 million in
additional costs to acquire land in the Central Business District (CBD) than in non-CBD locations.

We’ve got messages out to the city to find out what happens next with the study, and to the Highland Park Action Committee, which is leading the local fight against the West Seattle sites and has expressed support for a high-rise jail. 2:42 PM UPDATE: We heard from the city regarding “what’s next, now that this study is out” — here’s the response from policy adviser Catherine Cornwall (who spoke at last Saturday’s forum):

The next steps are for staff to study the report — it contains a lot of information — and share it with City policymakers. They’ll need to weigh the cost differences along with all the other information we’re collecting, such as community input, environmental information that will come from the SEPA process, etc. We’re almost a year away from a decision, and we have many balls in the air — a possible joint venture with other cities, a possible regional solution led by King County, or
a Seattle-only jail. It’s too soon to say where we’ll end up.

8 Replies to "West Seattle jail-sites fight: "Low rise vs. high rise" study out"

  • Dorsol Plants July 30, 2008 (1:43 pm)

    I must admit not being shocked that when you have already drawn your conclusion you mold your facts into what they need to be. That being said I saw that the study only briefly touched on the fact that transportation from the sites to downtown Seattle will drive up the annual running costs of the facility. Not to mention since the study was none specific the city can slide right past answering any questions on what to do about the Viaduct coming down and that being the only true option for transportation for the two southern sites.

    I also failed to see anywhere mentioned in the study the estimated cost in lost business revenue. Taking away from the already depleted finite resource of industrial land from the community that thrives on it will do harm to the economy of the area, which cannot be balanced out by the presence of the jail.

    Finally, I saw no mention of the cost of increasing the amount of police in the jail’s area. Not just to make the neighborhood feel safer in the shadow of a jail, but because our dedicated patrol officers will now be serving as taxi-drivers on a regular basis and be unable to answer the call in their sectors.

  • Roger July 30, 2008 (4:34 pm)

    Excellent points, DP!

    Perhaps if enough WS citizens speak loudly, consistently the city, or at least the media will hear us. A little like Horton and the Whos.

    Seriously, though, the transportation costs (for all the city, police, administration, jail staff, ancillary services) would be tantamount to a small fortune at todays gas prices.

    Is it just me or does it seem remarkably ironic that the city is making such a big deal about a car-free Alki day/weekend (in an effort to lessen our global warming contribution)…when they are proposing such enormous burdens on the individual driver-model of transportation by locating the jail away from ANY mass transit!!!!!

    If West Seattle ends up with the jail, we should only accept it if we get light rail at the same time!!! Then, at least, released offenders riding the rail back into town could be monitored by a Rail-Rider policeperson on each train from the jail to the main line. (I maintain no secrets about wanting light rail into WS and see no reason why WS should be excluded from the initial expansion, but we only get a jail and a potential ‘study’ from our taxes.)

  • Seattleite July 30, 2008 (4:46 pm)

    Yes. So, I guess they would have to figure out how to express impacts to neighborhood quality of life in monetary terms if they wanted to honestly assess the “cost”.

  • CB July 30, 2008 (9:48 pm)

    Or, we could just make drunk driving legal and not build a new jail. You can’t have laws without jails.

    Come on folks, we’re not talking about a penitentiary here… it’s a jail for misdemeanor offenders. We all have to make sacrifices… you can’t always be a NIMBY. The proposed site is in an industrial zone. Stop whining and get over it.

  • Dorsol Plants July 30, 2008 (10:19 pm)

    CB, not to get into a debate but if you were to research the statements made by both HPAC and the general public you would see that no one is advocating not building a jail. What we are advocating is the city make the best decision and serve as proper stewards of the money entrusted to them by the taxpayers. One of the ways they could do this is by following their own land use codes placed into law by the city which states that the only legal place for a jail is downtown. The logic behind that requirement was to not take land; a very finite resource, necessary to supply communities with jobs

    You should also note that in a city with a reputation for being green it is surprising just how little the environment is being played into this whole process. Such as the existing wetlands on the Myer’s Way site. The answer isn’t to just suck it up and do what the city says, but to make informed and educated decisions as a member of the voting public is supposed to do.

  • Ken Knoke July 30, 2008 (11:42 pm)

    CB, perhaps you should educate yourself before making such a statement. If you don’t think that a felon is bargaining their way down to a misdemeanor you very naive. Ignorance is bliss. Look at the map on highlandpk.net and then tell me it’s a good location to put a jail. Would you want to tell people “go past the jail and up the hill halfway, my house is the first left”? Dorsol is right; the stance is that it should be sited downtown where all the services are including the courts. It’s not being NIMBY; it’s just plain being educated on the situation. Taking away industrial zones takes away jobs and paves over an area that can never be reclaimed as raw land. If that’s being NIMBY in a city that is “green”, then I guess I am one. Shame on you. Get the facts.

  • DET July 31, 2008 (10:50 am)

    It’s a jail for misdemeanor offenders. Like the Mental Hospital on Holden was only going to be for suicidal people. We have them all now, not just suicidal. So, the jail is being put up for misdemeanors until they have no room for the felon’s downtown. They will be sent our way.

  • Vicki July 31, 2008 (11:18 pm)

    Yet another flawed presentation of information. I don’t think this one gets better than a “C” for critical evaluation and presentation of information.

    I am disappointed that the study only looked at 1-acre high rise in the downtown core vs. 7 acre anywhere else. The cost difference in the two options can almost wholly be accounted for by the difference in land costs.

    While I realize that there is not enough time to study every possible permituation, but why not something in-between these two extremes. What about a moderate rise (3-4 story) on a medium footprint (3-4 acre)? What is the impact to cost of siting a 7 story building or medium-rise just outside of core downtown (e.g. SODO)? What was the definition of downtown core business district? Does that include SODO where land prices are definitely cheaper than the center of downtown?

    The costs for escorting prisoners from the proposed 7 acre sites also appears to be grossly underestimated “When transporting inmates, most of the lapsed time is spent staging the inmates rather than the actual trip time which represents is a small percentage of the total time involved.” Have these people ever driven in Seattle traffic? In particular, the bridges from the either end of Seattle can be problematic at all times of day.

Sorry, comment time is over.