Posted by: sweeneyblog | May 21, 2013

New Jail includes Sheriff HQ that is three times the size of Haggen

Recently, I blogged about the latest jail proposal which includes too many beds for our community. However, it is not just the number of beds that is too large. This proposal includes a brand-new sheriff’s headquarters and guess what? It is too large and too expensive too. From the EIS scoping meeting, we have these details about the current proposal.

Details on the proposal

Picture by Lisa McShane

The sheriff’s headquarters and warehouse space add up to 70,000 square feet of buildings, not including the jail. It is difficult to get a grasp on those sorts of numbers so let me put that in perspective for you:

  • It is over three times the size of the Bellingham Farmer’s Market and courtyard.
  • It is more than half the size of our current Costco.
  • It is twice as large as the Lightcatcher Children’s Museum.
  • It is nearly three times as large as the Fairhaven Haggen!

So when I say it is too big for what we need, this is what I am talking about.

Examining just the proposed office space (38,000 SF), it is still an enormous amount of room. Currently, the sheriff’s department has 109 employees. Obviously, the entire workforce would not be located in the office at the same time, with deputies out on patrol, various shifts and the jail staff working in the new jail . . . but let’s say they did.

Let’s say we cram everyone who works for the sheriff’s department into this new office. That would give each person 349 square feet all to themselves. That is an 18ft by 18ft room.  I’ve known studio apartments that are smaller than that. Look around where you are sitting. Imagine 109 of these rooms put side-by-side, and that’s just the office. It does not include the warehouse.

I know the sheriff department has specialized needs, but they already have an office. Now they are asking us for a brand new facility and this is their proposal?  The county needs to hear us loud and clear, this is not a good use of our money. We need a facility that is the right size for our community, not an oversized pipe dream.



  1. I have been saying this for 2 years, that the oversize jail is distraction cover noise for a new Sheriff HQ that nobody would support all by itself.

    • One of the issues that comes up is incarceration of the mentally ill with the prison population because there is no other place for them. Will the larger facility allow for separation of the two groups? Do we expect a smaller prison population in the future? We are expected to grow in the next 20 years and with that there will probably be more prison inmates. Just mulling it over.


    • I’d agree with that.

  2. Well, Sheriff Elfo’s current office is a windowless little room about ten feet square. A man can dream, can’t he? Especially if he can fulfill his dreams with Other Peoples’ Money. Isn’t this how America works?

  3. Has anyone heard rumors that this jail is to be run by a private for profit company?

    • Interesting. Former State Jail Industries Board chair, Marvin Wolff, is one of Elfo’s closest advisors.

  4. Hi Riley,

    Do you mean the Fairhaven Haggen? I think the Ferndale Haggen is around 60,000 square feet.- Dave

  5. SInce a large percentage of imprisonments in the past have been for marijuana possession which has now been legalized, this should result in a reduced requirement for jail cells. I don’t think this been taken into account.

    • Drug-related charges only account for somewhere in the range of 17% of incarcerations in Washington State, however it is often an “add-on” charge. This means that you get arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, for instance, and they find a small amount of marijuana on your person, so you sentence jumps from one month to six months. Consequently, legalization will reduce the burden on our jails, because they will be serving shorter sentences but not the total number of prisoners.

  6. Will the warehouse space be needed for a new fleet of reconnaissance drones?

    • That’s a good question. With the use of domestic drones becoming more common, we should ask the sheriff if he intends to start using them in our community.

  7. @ Bob Burr
    When you get elected to City Council, you should propose ending the City’s contract with the Sheriff’s Office to house non-violent inmates and use the current minimum security facility that they plan to abandon/sale when Elfo’s Rome gets built. That way, Bellingham Police (who book the most inmates) won’t have to drive into the City of Ferndale every time they arrest someone.

  8. […] are working hard to include substance abuse and mental health services there,” said Elfo. No word about his oversized office proposal but he did urge people to comment on the scope of the […]

  9. Riley, just one thought on your sheriff office numbers. 18X18 would be true only if you don’t have to have hallways, closets, alcoves, or common areas. Architects know hallways are “wasted space” but it is hard to do without them.

    • Completely fair point – I was using the 18X18 to help people visualize how large a space this truly is. Obviously a well built office will have those communal areas.

  10. When they built the new courthouse it sure did not look like they upgraded anything but the beauty and why should we give the sheriffs office a bigger space last time i went in there to talk to someone there was plenty of room for all the extra admin people that should be out on the road. Are they going to put in parking so we dont have sheriff cars sitting in front of deputies houses not being used for weeks at a time.
    Waste of money there. I was told it was so they could respond faster. I thought they are suppose to be responding in county and BP city, they dont have there cars at home……….

  11. […] they went into the possible design details of the facility (where the giant Sheriff’s office and warehouse is to be located), Sam Crawford brought up a very good point. “If we are building this jail with modular pods, […]

  12. […] Bill Knutzen stepped up to speak, he was asked about the new over-sized office the Sheriff is requesting. Knutzen ducked the question, “We hired a jail planner to tell us what is the responsible […]

  13. […] project in a decade. You would think after four years of secretive meetings, missing minutes and inflated proposals that the Sheriff might welcome some outside perspective. But once again, the Sheriff has missed […]

  14. […] are still plenty of unanswered questions and issues that the community needs a voice in. No word on Sheriff’s over-sized headquarters or how much time is going to pass between Phase I and Phase II (649 beds – almost identical […]

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