BLAINE — Public safety representatives from across Anoka County pleaded their case for why the state should dedicate dollars to a proposed Greater Twin Cities Regional Public Safety Training Facility Sept. 4.
The Minnesota House of Representatives Capital Investment Committee made a tour stop at the National Sports Center in Blaine, where they were greeted by police and fire personnel from various departments, including the Anoka County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) and cities including Blaine, Spring Lake Park, Mounds View, Fridley, Coon Rapids and Andover.
“We are asking for funding for the design process to the tune of approximately $1.9 million. The design process will determine the business plan, the location, the scope of the project. This is our critical first phase,” said Spring Lake Park Blaine Mounds View (SBM) Fire Chief Charlie Smith. Smith added that the concept has been discussed since 2013 but was brought up again in 2017 after a fire training area in Fridley was demolished.
Legislation has been introduced both in the Minnesota House (HF 773) and Senate (SF 1317) seeking state funding for the pre-design and design of a public safety training center. HF 773 is authored by Erin Koegel (District 37A) and Nolan West (District 37B), and companion bill SF 1317 was authored by Jerry Newton (District 37), Tom Bakk (District 3) and Ann Rest (District 45). The bill asks for the state to appropriate money for the regional public safety training facility in the city of Blaine or in a city adjoining Blaine and to authorize the sale and issuance of state bonds for the project.
The project leads are the cities of Blaine, Coon Rapids and Andover along with the ACSO. In 2018, a stakeholder survey revealed that the proposal was supported by 21 agencies throughout the county. The Greater Twin Cities Regional Public Safety Training Facility would serve as a multidisciplinary training facility for agencies around the state and include training for law enforcement, fire and public works.
In 2009, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety completed a public safety training facility needs assessment, which found that public safety personnel, especially volunteer-run services like fire departments, are unwilling to travel for training. Furthermore, the report made a list of recommendations, which Smith said have guided the planning for the new regional facility.
The concept is modeled from the Hero Center, a regional state-of-the-art training center for police, fire and emergency management services (EMS). The HERO Center is estimated to cost $20.5 million. The state of Minnesota provided $1.46 million for predesign and design of the building and an additional $9.5 million bonding appropriation to construct, furnish and equip the facility. The South Washington County Telecommunications Commission and South Washington Watershed District also agreed to contribute funding for the project, and Cottage Grove and Woodbury agreed to split the remaining costs. Construction of the Hero Center began in fall of 2018 and should be complete this fall.
Currently, there are only three multidisciplinary training facilities in Minnesota; the closest one is in Edina. Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany said most of the facilities are in the south metro and very few in the north metro, with the exception of a facility in Maple Grove.
“We don't have anything up here that is regional and multidiscipline. All the departments are kind of on their own for training; there is no consistent training area that is safe where we can do the operations that we need to do as far as police, fire and EMS,” Smith said.
Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart said the facility would bring another opportunity for improved efficiencies. “If you are sending fire service, a SWAT team and law enforcement to St. Cloud or other distant training centers, should something erupt within your community you are not able to respond,” he explained. “Just that alone for me, to know that we could actually have full-service training capabilities closer so that we can continue to respond, is huge.”
The ACSO does a lot of its tactile training at Camp Ripley near the city of Little Falls, which is over 90 miles from its home in Andover. In addition to expenses for gas and housing, often the ACSO has to pay overtime to cover shifts during the training, too.
“Most agencies prefer to not go more than 16 miles for training,” Smith explained. “A lot of the existing facilities are at capacity or over capacity and booked up. We go wherever we can.”
The location for the proposed facility is still up in the air, but Smith said it would be in Blaine or an adjacent area. One location under consideration is next to the ACSO, which would bring an opportunity to expand the single-use outdoor range to include other uses.
Smith was clear the proposal will not move forward until the state is willing to invest some dollars into the design process.
“Collaboration and efficiency. Those are two words that Anoka County Public Safety has embraced and already shown a track record of success. It is not like they are taking a chance with us ... they are making an investment in an area that is already committed to success stories. We really do do it right here,” Stuart said. “I'm involved in the National Sheriffs’ Association and the way we do business here isn't done anywhere else, it just isn't.”
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