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Bremerton to compete for state corrections center in SKIA

The City of Bremerton hopes to bring nearly 600 jobs to the area and more development to the South Kitsap Industrial Area with a transitional center that would house sentenced felons while awaiting prison placement.

The Bremerton City Council voted 7-2 Jan. 5 to put Bremerton in the running for a Westside Reception Center run by the state Department of Corrections. The Department of Corrections is collecting applications from cities and counties to build a 356,000 square foot, 1,024-bed center in anticipation of a projected statewide bed shortage for male offenders by 2016. The department will narrow applications down to three finalists and select a site by December. Construction could begin in 2013.

The reception center will be the first place offenders arrive after they are given sentences longer than one year. Their physical and mental health and security needs will be evaluated and long term placement will be decided within four weeks.

The project’s construction would cost about $167 million and the center, which Bremerton hopes to locate in the South Kitsap Industrial Area, would employ about 586 people, including corrections officers and health care workers. The department indicated it seeks to hire locally.

“I think it’s a good fit,” Mayor Patty Lent said. “It will do a lot for our economic growth.”

The center would also provide a $100 million annual economic boost to the region, said City Councilman Roy Runyon, citing a Kitsap Economic Development Alliance analysis. Runyon was among the council members voting in favor of the city’s application.

Runyon and Lent said the center’s construction would additionally provide much-needed infrastructure to the industrial center, adding that extending water and sewer lines will make the area more attractive to manufacturers who may locate there.

City Councilman Greg Wheeler voted against the application because there was not enough outreach done or public input collected. He said the vote happened too quickly, adding that he found out about the measure the day before the vote.

“Really this is the kind of decision that should not be made that quickly,” he said. “I think we chose a path and a direction without enough analysis and without enough information. There’s just quite a bit we don’t know.”

Runyon said quick action was necessary. He discussed the idea with the mayor’s office in early December and found out just before the holidays that City Council sponsorship of the application was required. The due date was Jan. 6, the day after the Council’s vote. The city’s application is non-binding and the public can still offer opinions, he said.

Runyon also said there is a perception problem among some members of the public, hearing people refer to the center as a “prison,” but people need to understand its function as a short-term processing center.

“I think for some people there’s an initial concern about having a quote, ‘prison,’ but it’s not a prison,” he said.

Wheeler said it’s possible the center could have a bad image attached to it, but those feelings are valid.

“There could be a misperception, but with a project like this, most of it is feelings-based, it’s emotion-based,” Wheeler said, noting the center’s capacity for more than 1,000 people. “Operating in full capacity, I see that’s quite a cycle of folks coming in and out of there. That’s a busy place.”

Councilman Cecil McConnell also voted against the measure.

Bremerton must follow its expression of interest with more information about the South Kitsap Industrial Area site, due to the Department of Corrections Jan. 21.

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