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SMART Center may throw wrench in HERO Center plans

HERO Center plans currently consist of a gun range, classrooms, an outdoor training area, a training room with moveable walls and more. Courtesy of Cottage Grove Public Safety1 / 2
Dakota County's proposed SMART (Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training) Center would be built in Inver Grove Heights. Courtesy of Dakota County 2 / 2

As the legislative bonding session looms, the HERO Center faces new obstacles, including competition for state funding with a Dakota County law enforcement facility.

The Health and Emergency Response Occupations Center, long planned by Cottage Grove and Woodbury Public Safety, is seeking bonding dollars from the 2018 Legislature.

The facility was not included in Gov. Mark Dayton's bonding proposal he released in early January.

Woodbury and Cottage Grove are asking for $9.7 million, half the cost of the facility. The rest of the cost would be split between the two cities.

The building proposed by Dakota County, the Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training Center, may fracture bonding spending this session, Cottage Grove, Woodbury and Dakota County officials fear.

The SMART Center's price tag is $13.2, and the county is asking for half from state bonding. The other $6.6 million is already in their county budget plan.

Dakota County Sheriff and the Cottage Grove and Woodbury public safety teams both say the need exists for both: the snag is the Legislature may not see a the different uses for the building, and choose one over the other.

"I don't think we're in conflict in our concepts, but we may be in conflict with our messaging when it gets down to our state Legislature," Woodbury Public Safety Director Lee Vague said.

Woodbury and Cottage Grove have made the HERO Center their No. 1 Legislative priority; Dakota County has made the SMART Center their No. 1.

The HERO Center may could still falter even is bonding is received. The project is feasible in part from the bonding money, but also from future membership fees from neighboring agencies.

"The real key at this point is securing those regional partnerships," Cottage Grove City Administrator Charlene Stevens said.

If they can't get enough commitments to make the project a go, Woodbury City Administrator Clint Gridley said they may not be able to move forward.

"We have to be prepared to walk away," Gridley said "... or (build) a very stripped down facility."

There are some options to pare down the building, with current plans cutting less than $1 million by leaving off classrooms or part of the shooting range.

If funded in the bonding session, construction on the HERO Center could start in September.

SMART Center

Dakota County's proposed SMART Center came in part due to space needs and new training requirements.

The electronic crimes task force started three years ago after the Dakota County Sheriff's Office received grant money continues to grow. The task force focuses on finding electronic forensic evidence in domestic and sexual violence cases.

A Dakota County drug task force made up of sheriff's deputies and cities' officers would use space in the SMART Center.

Sheriff Tim Leslie said the building would house crisis intervention and mental health training for several local public safety departments. An omnibus public safety bill passed during the last state Legislative session added funding for law enforcement agencies to add more crisis response, conflict management, and cultural diversity training.

"When is enough training on mental illness or crisis enough ... is there a saturation point, I don't think there is," Leslie said.

Sue Abderholden with Minnesota National Alliance for Mental Illness, said a facility like this is one solution to a multi-faceted problem.

While there needs to be emergency rooms, dispatchers and mobile mental health units with mental health-trained staff, there also needs to be more training for law enforcement and first responders, she said.

Leslie said placing the building in Inver Grove Heights gives them greater access to the metro, and better opportunities to fold in other communities.

The county has listed Inver Hills Community College, Minnesota Crisis Intervention Training,

11 Dakota County cities, Criminal Justice Network, Dakota Communication Center, 360 Communities, Casa De Esperanza, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women and the Minnesota Alliance on Crime as potential supporters of the facility.

The SMART Center does not have gun ranges or reality-based training rooms like the HERO Center is proposing. Leslie said Dakota County already has the facilities they need for that kind of training.

"There's concern over (bonding) and I don't know what that means (for us)," he said. "Wouldn't it be great if they could come and join us, but I don't think that meets their needs of the range."

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