It started as a simple request, simple at least for a charitable organization that distributes several hundred thousand dollars or more each year to various causes.
When the City of Dothan realized it would need to expand the Omussee Wastewater Treatment plant to meet the demands of a growing city, Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish realized the police department would lose its nearby shooting range and modest training area.
Wiregrass Foundation President Barbara Alford began to explore the possibility of the Foundation helping fund a similar facility at another place.
“We started having a broader conversation.” Alford said. “We started to think bigger, much bigger.”
“Through all of this research, as we started looking at this, I began to understand public safety in a much different way than before,” Alford said. “Because, at the core, if you don’t have a safe community, nothing else matters.”
The broader conversation led to a lot of questions. Instead of a modest police training facility, why not a comprehensive police training facility? Instead of a comprehensive police training facility, why not a comprehensive police and fire training facility? Why not make this training facility comprehensive enough to allow for regional training for agencies throughout the Wiregrass? Why not allow community access for citizen training?
By the end of the months-long conversation, Alford and the Foundation conceptualized the Dothan Regional Public Safety Training Center.
An investment that may have amounted to $1 million, more or less, would now be more. Much more. Now, the Foundation would need to contribute more than $20 million.
“It took the team six months to wrestle with the design. It took our board that same amount of time to come to a decision on funding. You are talking about 25 percent of our outlay for the next 20 years. You think about what can be accomplished, but you also think about what you are going to have to say no to,” Alford said.
Ultimately, Alford said the board decided to fund the project because it met the Foundation’s mission statement. Agencies that train better, police better. Agencies that police better provide safer communities. Safer communities improve the overall quality of life.
“I believe that 10 years from now, law enforcement agencies throughout the entire country will be looking to do what Dothan is looking to do right now,” Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish said.
The commission unanimously agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding for construction of the Dothan Regional Public Safety Training Center, a comprehensive complex of buildings and other training areas designed to provide training for local police and fire departments and create opportunities for joint training with other law enforcement, volunteer fire departments and other agencies. The center will also have a community training component.
“This is not only going to be a model for professional and volunteer training, but also a model for community engagement,” said Alford
The estimated cost of the facility itself is $22 million, which increases to about $27 million when interest payments on an anticipated bond issue are calculated. The Wiregrass Foundation will essentially fund the project minus a City of Dothan investment of $1.875 million.
The facility will be located on 23 acres of city-owned property on Ennis Road, in Dothan.
“Our (public safety) members need this, our citizens need this and our community needs this,” Dothan Fire Chief Larry Williams said.
Williams and Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish told members of the Dothan City Commission that the police and fire departments have been relying on a hodgepodge of cobbled-together training opportunities that often do not meet the expanding needs of the departments
“We need real smoke, real fire, real heat in order to train the way we really need to train,” Williams said. “We haven’t been able to do that in a comprehensive way since 2004. Since then, we have had to rely on a mobile trailer that gets brought in.”
The Dothan Police Department lost its firing range and training center recently. Parrish said the regional training facility will allow the police department to meet almost all of its training needs at one location, which will save the department the cost of sending officers elsewhere for some of the training that can be done at the new facility.
Parrish lauded the regional training opportunities as well as the citizen training opportunities the new center would create. “This hits right at two of our three core values, which are education and training as well as community policing and relations,” Parrish said. “This has always been an important part of policing but it has never been more critical than it is today.”
The icing on the cake is a $20 million commitment from the Wiregrass Foundation that will fund the overwhelming majority of the project. The city would be required to kick in only $1.87 million over 10 years and budget approximately $130,000 per year to help maintain the facility.
The center would be located on 23 acres of city-owned land off Ennis Road, not far from the City of Dothan landfill. Site design details include
A 25,000-square-foot classroom and administration building will anchor the training site with a five-story computer-controlled burn drill tower, Class A burn building, 25-lane outdoor gun range, truck drafting area, tactical/simunitions house, live fire shoot house, 3.7-acre driving skills pad, tactical village, and a K-9 training and kennel facility. The training site also includes props for urban search and rescue, confined space, collapsed trench, vehicle extrication, and hazardous materials containment training. The site is master planned for future training environments that will include rail car, residential house, and additional tactical village buildings.
RDG Planning & Design teamed with Interact Business Group to complete the comprehensive business plan and master plan. This process assessed city-wide and regional training requirements and estimated capital costs, ongoing future operations, and maintenance funding. RDG is now continuing with design, and construction is planned to commence in late 2017. The estimated open date is the summer of 2019.
Contributions to this article were made by:
- Interact Business Group
- RDG Planning and Design
- Dothan Eagle – https://goo.gl/MSQF7A
- Wiregrass Foundation
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