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Cottage Grove makes second pitch for $20M public safety training center

A preliminary rendering of the proposed $20 million HERO Center depicts a facility that would provide an all-inclusive education and training module for EMS, police, fire, law enforcement students and private citizens. (Submitted graphic)1 / 2
A full rendition of the facility. (Submitted graphic)2 / 2

The city of Cottage Grove is hoping a new partnership and some of its own money will persuade the Legislature to assist in funding the construction of a $20 million public safety training and education facility.

With a letter of intent from Regions Hospital and roughly $5 million potentially available through a revenue bond, the city appealed to the Senate Capital Investment Committee during its visit last week.

Cottage Grove Police Capt. Greg Rinzel said the southeast metro is lacking adequate training and education facilities, adding that an all-inclusive center would benefit not just public safety personnel but also students and private citizens.

“We all have a common need,” Cottage Grove Public Safety Director Craig Woolery said. “We all want to provide jobs, provide the opportunity to students and provide adequate training for our first responders.”

The department first presented the project, dubbed HERO (Health and Emergency Response Occupations), to the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee in November but was forced back to the drawing board after the city of Woodbury rescinded its support citing the lack of a firm plan.

Since then, Regions Hospital in St. Paul has signed on as a second partner, alongside Inver Hills Community College, which has been an interested partner since the project’s inception.

“We’re very interested in this project because we too have physical space needs,” said Pat McCauley, administrative director of EMS at Regions Hospital.

Growing interest in EMS training and education courses at its Oakdale location, McCauley said, is causing the organization to re-evaluate its facilities.

Rinzel said after Cottage Grove fine-tuned the proposal and found a private partner, the city of Woodbury is talking about re-joining the effort.

Woodbury Public Safety Director Lee Vague, who attended the Senate committee meeting last week, said he was encouraged to see the progress made since November.

“This is going to be a facility where you know students will have the same training that our seasoned medics will have,” Vague said. “This multi-disciplinary approach brings everyone together from the very start.”

With a more solid plan in place, Rinzel said he is optimistic about the project moving forward.

Funding needs

An early rendering of the proposed 60,000- to 70,000-square-foot, two-story facility depicts a center similar in appearance to Cottage Grove City Hall.

City Administrator Ryan Schroeder told the Senate committee that phase 1 of designing the HERO Center is about half-way complete, but would require roughly $1.46 million to finish the blueprints.

Phase 2 of the project requires another $14.5 million to construct the facility on the nine-acre site adjacent to City Hall.

The project estimated nearly $4 million worth of technology needed to outfit the facility, which includes virtual firearms and driving courses, EMS simulation lab, realistic scenario-based spaces and a live firearms range.

“We think this is a smart project because of the multi-use aspect and the technology that it brings,” McCauley said.

Schroeder said the city would front about $5 million of the total cost, which would most likely come from the issuance of a revenue bond, similar to the process used to fund the city’s ice arena.

The rental income collected from the HERO Center’s users — Inver Hills students, Regions Hospital and private citizens — would cover the cost of the debt and operating costs, Schroeder said.

Rinzel said he understood that asking for nearly $15 million from the state was a large undertaking, but said he was optimistic that the project would see the $1.46 million in design money come through either during the upcoming legislative session or next year.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, shared the enthusiasm and said she and Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, who is also a Cottage Grove police officer, will advocate on the project’s behalf during the 2014 session.

“I really appreciate the Cottage Grove Public Safety Department taking the lead on working to build this facility,” Sieben said. “It’s great to see a partnership between so many entities.”

The HERO Center was not included in Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s 2014 bonding proposal.

If funded, the multi-disciplinary HERO Center would be the first of its kind in the east metro to offer both safety personnel and students training in all three facets of public safety — EMS, firefighter and police.

“I think this is a very good project,” Rinzel said. “It’s more than just a public safety project; it’s education, pre-employment education, continued education. It’s well worth the investment.”