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Cottage Grove City Administrator Ryan Schroeder (right) and Police Capt. Greg Rinzel appeal to the House Capital Investment Committee for funding for a proposed $20 million public safety training and education center. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)

City seeks up to $20M for HERO center

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The city of Cottage Grove is moving forward with plans to seek state aid for an all-inclusive public safety training and education facility.

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Last week city officials appealed to the House Capital Investment Committee for full funding of the $20 million project dubbed HERO, a proposition the city is asking be included in the Legislature’s 2014 bonding bill.

The multi-disciplinary Health and Emergency Response Occupations facility would be the first of its kind in the southeast metro to offer both public safety officials and students training in all three facets of law enforcement —EMS, firefighter and police.

The city has partnered with Inver Hills Community College, which was also in the market for a training and education facility to serve its rapidly growing law enforcement program. With the nearest training facility located in Brooklyn Park, Cottage Grove City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said the HERO center would fill a void south of the river.

“There is definitely a deficit in the southeast metro” said Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, who is also a Cottage Grove police officer. “A health-related and emergency response training and education facility is greatly needed.”

In an interview days after the city made its pitch to the House committee, City Council member Justin Olsen said Cottage Grove ultimately could ask for less than $20 million. The council will discuss the issue further before a bill is introduced for the project next year, he said.

In May, the city of Cottage Grove began talking with surrounding cities, counties and higher education entities to form cost-sharing partnerships. Craig Woolery, director of public safety, spoke with both Ramsey and Dakota counties, and Hastings and Woodbury, all who showed interest.

However, no partnerships were formed, and last month Woodbury backed off of supporting a request for state aid after the City Council expressed uncertainty about the conceptual plans.

But with a letter of intent in hand from Inver Hills Community College, Cottage Grove wants to move forward.

The proposed 60,000- to 70,000-square-foot facility is slated to be built on shovel-ready ground adjacent to the new Cottage Grove City Hall. Schroeder said the HERO center would be the third and final building in the East Ravine campus.

“Currently, students in the metro who are training in law enforcement skills are relegated to Brooklyn Park because it’s the only facility in the metro that does similar training to what we’re proposing,” Schroeder said. “This would be a second facility on the other end of the metro and it will be well located within the heart of the fast growing south east metro.”

Schroeder added that building the HERO center in Cottage Grove would provide easy access to Inver Hills Community College students and would serve the growing community, which plans to build roughly 6,000 new homes in the East Ravine area in the next few years.

“Most importantly,” Schroeder added, “all the infrastructure is already there – water, sewer, storm, street and the pad is in. And it’s already paved.”

Roughly $4 million of the project would be dedicated to technology and equipment to outfit the facility with a virtual 360-degree gun range, virtual driving simulator for interactive training, an EMS simulation lab, and other cooperative training modules.

Other project costs include $13 million in capital and $3 million in design work.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee, said in a recent interview that the state has historically supported public safety endeavors but added Cottage Grove officials still need to fine tune the details of the HERO center.

Hausman said while the city’s request for the state to pick up the entire cost of the project isn’t a deal breaker, she suggested finding more interested parties to be cost-sharing partners.

“It’s a good project, it’s a worthy project, but I encourage the collaboration among a variety of cities,” she said.

The 2014 legislative session begins Feb. 25 when more than $2 billion in state funding requests will hit the desks of lawmakers. Hausman said she is hoping for a significant size bill. However, she added that if a smaller bonding bill is discussed, Cottage Grove could have a compelling argument in favor of the project.

“A smaller bill is harder to pass and everyone in the state expects to benefit from it,” she explained. “Cottage Grove could say that they don’t think much money was invested in the community and that’s an argument I need to hear. So I think the motivation would be to pass a bill that is fair to all.”

Schoen said despite the uncertainty of knowing whether or not the HERO center will be part of the 2014 bonding bill, he is confident in the project’s merit.

“I can’t say for sure what will impress people and I don’t know what will happen,” he said. “But we know we have a good project and it will serve not just our police and students, but the public as well. There is a demand in this area that we need to fill.”

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Emily Buss
Emily Buss joined the South Washington County Bulletin in February 2013. She covers local government in Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park and Newport, along with other general assignment reporting. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communications from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
(651) 459-4629
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