Prison begins renovation work on chapel, plans summer reopening
MONROE - Work begins this month to renovate and add security upgrades inside the chapel at the Washington State Reformatory, a unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
Corrections officer Jayme Biendl was murdered inside the chapel one year ago.
The work should be done sometime in June, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Selena Davis said.
The chapel will reopen in July after being closed for about a year and a half, and the prison is planning to have a reopening dedication, Davis said.
The chapel was originally closed for the murder investigation. After the crime scene was cleared, the chapel remained closed while decisions were being made about the chapel’s future use, said Angela Loresch, a prison administrative assistant.
“In the wake of what happened in the chapel, we thought it would be nice to have a fresh start and make some renovations to the chapel,” Davis said.
After deciding to continue to use it as a Religious Activities Center, the prison leadership began exploring options for remodeling and security enhancements and determined that no structural changes could occur without significant code upgrades, which would be prohibitively expensive, Loresch said.
“The allowable changes include improved lighting, lighter paint colors and new flooring,” she said. “The camera system will be significantly upgraded as part of security system enhancements.”
Part of the reopening includes renaming the approximately 5,000-square-foot chapel.
“When constructed as a chapel in 1968-69 the community funding came from mainstream Christian religious sources, and religious programming was primarily Christian based,” Loresch said. “Today we provide services to offenders representing most every religious belief, and the building must be non-denominational.”
The chapel serves as a place for offenders to worship, study and learn.
Religious activities have been relocated to another activities building on the prison campus during the closure.
Reopening the chapel this summer will free up valuable programming space in the other building, Loresch said.
Biendl was proud of the work she did guarding the chapel, Monroe prison chaplain Linda Haptonstall said. Biendl also enjoyed listening in on the different services, she said.
Biendl told Haptonstall that making sure everyone had fair access was part of her job, and making sure the chapel was safe for everyone was important to her.
“The fact that she was not affiliated with any particular religious tradition actually made this aspect of her job easier for her,” Haptonstall said.
Biendl was proud of her ability to keep the chapel running smoothly so that all inmates who truly wanted to participate in chapel programs could, she said.
Inmate Byron Scherf has been charged in Biendl’s death and may face the death penalty if convicted. Scherf’s trial is scheduled to start in September.
By STEPHANIE KOSONEN
Published Feb. 8, 2012