St. Paul debuted its new police training center Tuesday, which features virtual training equipment, an expanded gun range and more space for officers to practice their responses to different scenarios.
"This facility will make it easier for all of us to provide the kind of training that helps our officers keep the community, and themselves, safe," Chief Todd Axtell said, adding that everything from crisis intervention to de-escalation to firearms training will occur at the Richard H. Rowan Public Safety Training Center.
The $18 million training facility was named after a former police chief who led the department from 1970 to 1980. It was largely funded by the city, plus a $3 million donation from St. Paul residents John Nasseff and Helene Houle.
There's a "night and day" difference between the new 40,000-square-foot building, located in the Railroad Island neighborhood and only a half-mile from police headquarters, and the old downtown public safety annex where officers previously trained, said officer Seth Snedden, who works with the St. Paul police academy.
"It was to the point there where you didn't want to bring other agencies in," Snedden said of the annex.
The training center has twice as many lanes in the gun range as the annex did, and virtual equipment that tests officers' responses to different scenarios. There is also a large room filled with movable walls that can be configured in different shapes — to resemble hallways or homes — allowing police to practice how they respond to various scenarios.
"When we are trying to recruit the best to serve in this department, we know that we need to continually make sure that we are investing in them and making sure they have the best training," Mayor Chris Coleman said at a ribbon-cutting event Tuesday.
St. Paul previously planned to demolish the downtown annex next to Pedro Park as officers shifted to the new facility. The city has long planned to expand Pedro Park once the building was removed. But earlier this year, Coleman proposed selling the annex instead and allowing companies to use it as office space — an idea that upset many residents in the area who were counting on a park by their homes.
Next week, the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority will consider a private development proposal by the Ackerberg Group, which would add 219 jobs at the former public safety annex.
"It's not a vote to sell the property," said Mollie Scozzari, spokeswoman for the city's department of Planning and Economic Development.
Instead, city leaders will vote next week on whether to give Ackerberg "tentative developer status."
City officials would vote later on whether to sell the building to Ackerberg.