WALLA WALLA -- About $42.5 million for new facilities at Washington State Penitentiary are in the operating budget the state Legislature passed last month.
The money in the budget, which Gov. Chris Gregoire still has to approve, will build two housing units at the prison as well as expand the West Complex kitchen facilities.
The new construction is seen as key to replacing the prison's aging main institution. A state-funded study in 2009 identified closure of the main institution as a top option on how to reduce surplus beds in the Department of Corrections, but only if money could be found to build new housing units at the penitentiary and expand the West Complex kitchen so it can serve the entire prison.
Legislators last year approved $6.8 million to pay for design and engineering work on the project. Specifications called for a 198-bed close-custody living unit, a 256-bed medium-custody living unit and a 4,800-square-foot addition to the West Complex kitchen.
The state legislators who represent Walla Walla County said Thursday there was no certainty the funds would stay in the budget as lawmakers struggled to slash expenditures over the next two years.
"We had it in the Senate budget, but not in the House budget," said Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla. The governor also wanted the construction money to remain, he said. Ultimately, the funds were kept in place.
Lawmakers approved the budget on May 25 after months of negotiations capped by a 30-day overtime session.
Jim Kuntz, Port of Walla Walla executive director, said in an email that hearing the funds escaped the budget ax was "great news in a very tough budget environment."
Andy Porter can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8318.