The planned 75,000-square-foot center would serve police, fire and emergency services in southeast metro.
With a scarcity of training facilities in south Washington County, authorities have had to get creative in scheduling time to hone their skills.
Police often have to compete with gun owners for time at private shooting ranges or drive to a firearms facility in Maplewood. Paramedics have to travel to the northwest suburbs a few times a year to train. And abandoned warehouses often double as makeshift training grounds for firefighters trying to simulate the intensity of a house fire.
But that could all change with a plan proposed by Cottage Grove officials to build a 75,000-square-foot training complex, which combines fire, law enforcement and emergency medical services under one roof. Officials say the center would serve all public-safety agencies in the southeast metro area.
“The level of service that’s expected by the public and what we can provide has to be trained and simulated at some point in a controlled environment,” said Craig Woolery, Cottage Grove’s director of public safety. Woolery said he envisions Cottage Grove partnering with other jurisdictions, including Woodbury, to build such a facility, which authorities estimate would cost between $20 million and $25 million.
For its part, the Cottage Grove City Council has given the project a green light and gone to the state seeking permission to sell bonds to finance the new facility.
Woodbury police have twice asked the City Council to approve a resolution of support for the planned facility, but both votes were tabled because “they’re going to challenge us to have a plan and to have more details than we were ready to do,” said Lee Vague, the city’s director of public safety.
“There’s a lot of discussion to be done on our end, because of what this is and what our involvement in this is,” Vague said. “On one hand, I’m frustrated there’s a lot of pieces that haven’t been figured out yet, but on the other hand that’s where it’s at.”
Vague attributed council members’ reluctance to move forward with the project at least in part to Cottage Grove’s “really tight deadlines when it came to the state bonding requests.”
City Administrator Clinton Gridley said in an e-mail that there was “no specific timetable” for when the issue would be revisited.
Both departments have been renting space from a firearms facility in Maplewood, operated by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, and the Hideaway Shooting Range in Denmark Township, which is located near an apple orchard and is closed during apple-picking season. And with law enforcement agencies in Washington County expected to add officers to keep pace with projected population growth, officials fear that current facilities will be strained beyond capacity, underscoring the need for a new facility, they say.
A 2009 report produced by the state Department of Public Safety, titled “Public Safety Training Facility Needs Assessment,” said: “The Metro East and Northwest regions have a disproportionate number (of training facilities) with poor access or future needs not met.”
Woolery said the departments would save money by building their own facility, because they wouldn’t have to pay for the use of other ranges and abandoned warehouses or pay officers to travel to Ramsey County when they are off duty, which costs his department about $12,000 a year.
Woolery said the complex would be built on a “shovel-ready” 9½-acre parcel just north of Cottage Grove’s gleaming new Public Safety/City Hall building. It would include a firing range, fire training tower, classrooms and a mock street designed to help police officers and firefighters prepare for real-life scenarios.
Officials said the center could also serve students studying law enforcement at nearby Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights.
Ryan Schroeder, Cottage Grove city administrator, said of building the training center, “We continue to speak with area cities and others to refine our focus and try to figure how best to end up with something in the east metro.”
“The more partners that we can bring on … that have similar needs to our own, we’ll be better off,” he said.