Plans to build a police, fire and emergency training center to serve the southeast metro are moving ahead, though the question of how to split the bulk of the project’s $20 million tab remains unresolved.
The project inched closer to reality last week when the Legislature allocated $1.46 million for pre-design work on the state-of-the-art HERO (Health and Emergency Response Occupations) Center, which will include classrooms, labs, a driving simulator and an indoor shooting range in Cottage Grove.
The money was part of the $846 million bonding bill that Gov. Mark Dayton signed on Tuesday.
Construction of the facility on a 9-acre site adjacent to City Hall and the Washington County South Government Center could begin sometime after 2017, said Craig Woolery, the city’s police chief. Project officials plan to seek additional state funding for the building phase during the next legislative session, Woolery said.
Although the Cottage Grove Police Department has formed a joint venture with Inver Hills Community College and Regions Hospital Emergency Medical Services to run the new center, project officials still haven’t worked out how they will pay the $18.54 million cost of construction, said state Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport.
“How those dollars are going to be split up among the different partners and the state is not yet clear,” said Sieben, who lobbied hard for the program during the legislative session.
Several police departments from Washington and Dakota counties, including Woodbury, Hastings, Newport and St. Paul Park, have signed a letter of intent to use the facility for training and education. Under the agreement, the departments pledged their support for the project, said Cottage Grove City Administrator Ryan Schroeder. “When I say supporting, I’m talking about moral support, I’m not talking about money,” Schroeder said.
The $1.46 million will be used for a space-needs analysis of the proposed 75,000-square-foot training center, Woolery said. The design phase will last about 18 months, he said.
Opponents of the project have pointed to its cost, but officials insist that such a facility is critical for police, fire and emergency agencies that increasingly provide interdisciplinary training to their employees.
“The only pushback has been really understanding what we’re trying to accomplish,” Woolery said. “I guess we’re coloring outside the lines, but we’re also trying to be good stewards of tax dollars.”
He said there is a need “for this virtual, flexible training space that actually could handle training a number of different disciplines, whether it be police, fire or EMS.”