When considering funding for a new public safety training facility there are at least TWO colors of money: money for construction and money for operations. Both are important, but many times the latter is the color overlooked or misunderstood.
Today I will discuss the latter. What will it cost to operate your training center on an annual basis? This is often difficult for departments to determine. For example, how many staff members or sub-contractors are needed to keep a training center operational and running efficiently? What are the estimated yearly expenses for necessities such as electricity, water, janitorial services, maintenance and other elements necessary for a smooth-running operation? Or more specifically, what are the true costs of fuel for the live-burn fire props or the cost to run the air ventilation system at the indoor shooting range?
New Police and Fire Training Trends Emerge
Over the past couple of years I have assisted with several newly constructed training centers that were built with taxpayer approved bond initiatives or projects that received CIP approval prior to the 2008 economic downturn that are now facing great budget challenges for monthly and annual operations expenses. In these cases money for construction was the easy part. Now faced with budget cutbacks and layoffs, departments are faced with finding creative ways of maintaining training mandates and at the same time trying to pay the utility bills, and keep training equipment operational. We have helped training center managers re-think and modify their daily operational activities and policies. There is no one solution or “silver bullet” that can be applied to all training center sustainability challenges. As with most things it comes down to hard work and commitment. Based on a national perspective, I see some key trends emerging.
- Police/Fire Partnerships– The most obvious relationships are those forged between police and fire within their own city. Usually both department chiefs report to the same city manager or county administrator. Budget pressure for cuts and economizing are usually coming down from the manager or administrator, so cooperation between departments within the same city/county is a no brainer. Pre-2008 thinking was often driven by entirely different factors than today (status quo, tradition, non-monetary-driven agendas and yes, even ego). With the extraordinary budget pressures of 2012, I see many of these old-school ways fading very quickly. Many parts of the training facilities, such as classrooms, drill ground and multi-story drill towers can be jointly used by both departments. Whereby operational costs can be shared.
- Community College/Public Safety Partnerships – Following similarly as above, Community College/Public Safety Partnerships are rapidly becoming another trend. Here in California a community college paid for the construction of a new multimillion dollar training center on land owned by the local fire district. In exchange for the land, the district will receive priority access to a state-on-the art facility.
- Community College/Public Safety Partnerships – TAKE 2 – In exchange for user fees, departments are recruiting colleges to bring their fire and police science programs to their city/county-owned training center. The college is charged a fee for access and use, thereby off-setting the training center annual operations cost. This is certainly a win-win for both parties.
- Non Public Safety Partnerships. – Another trend in partnering is the joining of public safety agencies (police/fire) with “civilian departments.” For example, a metropolitan city in the northwest has a training center that is shared by the fire department and city public works. Both entities can share in the use and maintenance of the classroom and training props.
- Bartering for Time, Space and Access – In California a police agency needed an expansion of its EVOC track. They had land available but no capital improvement funding. The departments created an agreement with the local heavy equipment earth moving union. In exchange for space to train new apprentice workers the union graded land for the new driving track.
- Public Private Partnerships (P3) – This is an arrangement whereby a government (city, county or state) enters into a business venture with a private business. A P3 can take several forms. For a training center project the private business may take the responsibility for construction of the center in exchange for the government entity’s commitment to use and pay fees over a set period of time, say 25-to-30 years. An example of a training center P3 is underway in Fort Worth, Texas. The city has released a P3, Request for Proposal, which includes indoor and outdoor firing ranges, indoor tactical training, classrooms, administrative offices, an emergency vehicle operators course, gym, fitness area, dive training, K-9 training, and a two-story and eight-story burn building. A decision on the project is expected later this year.
Sustainability seems to be on everyone’s mind. The big economic shift of 2008 has forced all areas of government to rethink and re-evaluate their methods of operation. Amid this “reset” of policies, procedures, budgeting, and planning many changes to tradition and functionality have been reconfigured. In the course of so much change, however, the core mission of police and firefighters has not changed. Law enforcement and firefighting are still very dangerous occupations. Going forward some things are likely guaranteed: 1) Costs will go up. 2) Budgets will go down 3) Training delivery can never be compromised 4) Job risks will never diminish 5) Challenges never cease.
From my experience I have listed six methods for creative training center sustainability. No doubt, there are many others. I look forward to any comment or unique ways you have seen or used.
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