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Cottage Grove, Woodbury eye joint law enforcement training facility

Washington County law enforcement and emergency responders say finding adequate gun range time and a training facility for the classes is becoming more of a challenge.

With the nearest public safety training facilities located in Burnsville, Brooklyn Park and Hudson, Wis., Cottage Grove Police Chief Craig Woolery said the southeast metro is due for its own facility.

"We know firsthand what a challenge it is to find available range time," Woolery said. "We're seeing that everyone from northern Dakota County all the way over to Mendota Heights is running out of space. With Woodbury and Cottage Grove developing into each other, we're having a lot of issues."

Woolery briefed the Cottage Grove City Council last month on potential plans to build a $7 million multi-use training facility and gun range and garnered unanimous support for the project.

Woodbury Public Safety Director Lee Vague said that while the proposal is just in its infancy, "we just want to be planful and look to the future."

In an attempt to get the proposed project on the desks of lawmakers, the Cottage Grove department has also been in talks with Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, who is a Cottage Grove police officer.

"The plan is for next session to work through a bonding proposal to assist us in building a training facility for safety use," Schoen said. "The southeast metro has a significant deficit and I think we here in the southeast get a little forgotten about. We need to be able to serve the public safety departments and keep them trained without them having to drive 20 or 30 minutes to get that training."

With Woodbury and Cottage Grove recently entering into a collaborative services agreement, a move that Woolery said "beefed up the mutual aid program," staff and equipment are being shared during heavy call times. And, because both departments have several officers cross-trained in paramedic and fire safety, the police chief said a training facility would allow the cities to foster its unique skill sets.

"This facility would have multi-use classrooms with dividable walls, simulation devices to simulate search and rescue scenarios, and a clean burn facility for fire fighters to train," Woolery explained. "Both cities would benefit greatly from this building."

Vague said the facility could also provide training space for EMTs.

Also proposed in the plan is allowing law enforcement students from area colleges to participate in training seminars at the facility as part of their coursework. By partnering with local higher education, Woolery said it would get students hands-on training earlier in their education and closer to home.

"Firearms training is required as part of their law enforcement training," Woolery said. "Those students are hoofing it over to Brooklyn Park to get trained in those educational courses. This is just one opportunity to offset the expenses of the building."

Another opportunity Woolery said is to open the facility up to the general public and offer conceal and carry classes and a safe environment to sport shoot indoors

"It would definitely be a community asset because there aren't many opportunities for local citizens to practice sport shooting in a safe, indoor environment," he said.

Woolery said the training facility would be completely different from Cottage Grove's nearly $15 million city hall and public safety building.

In the coming year, the two departments will be soliciting support from public and private partners in the area and narrowing down locations to build the facility. The departments have looked at land near Newport, northern Dakota County, the Cottage Grove Business Park, and a plot of about five acres near the southeast border of Woodbury.

The project's timetable remains unclear. Woodbury's capital improvement plan extends five years, and the training facility project isn't even part of it yet.

"We're not at a crisis point in our training right now, but that's when you start planning," Vague said.

While the proposed project is still in early stages of discussion, Woolery said he is optimistic it will come to fruition.

"I've got interest from Hastings and many other cities in northern Dakota County," he said. "I think there is an opportunity for partnership in this project but it all depends on the scale of that partnership. Our big thing this year is to identify those. But, we do know that having a facility like this would be a great opportunity for everyone."

--Woodbury Bulletin Editor Mike Longaecker contributed to this story