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Woodbury delays bonding request for joint shooting range

Woodbury City Council put the brakes on a proposal to request state bonding money to build an indoor gun range and firefighter training facility.

Woodbury and Cottage Grove are considering partnering on the estimated $10 million project that would give the two growing public safety departments a place to perform mandated training. The 28,000-square foot facility would include an indoor firearm range, a clean-burn building for fire and a simulation lab for emergency responders.

To get in line for the next bonding bill, the two cities must go through a formal application process that included a key deadline in June. If approved by lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton, the state would pay half the cost.

Cottage Grove had already submitted its proposal, but Woodbury officials said Wednesday they didn’t want to rush into supporting a resolution to request $5 million without knowing full details of the facility.

“We’re asking for money on the bonding bill for a project that’s conceptual,” Council Member Paul Rebholz said, adding that it may give Woodbury a better chance of receiving money if the proposal included a more firm and detailed plan.

At this point, the city is not sure it will move forward with building a facility since everything is still in the early stages. Woodbury would use funds budgeted in a five-year Capital Improvement Plan to fund its share of the project.

“I think there definitely needs to be a lot more conversation with a lot more stakeholders,” Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens said.

Todd Johnson, public safety deputy director and fire chief, said the department anticipated it would get to this point 10 years ago when the city began experiencing rapid growth.

The department has privileges to use the Ramsey County firearm training facility as part of an agreement with Washington County.

However, there are not enough hours available for all the cities in both counties to perform their required firearm, defense tactic and firefighter trainings, Johnson said.

Officers and firefighters also looked at partnering with private shooting ranges in Oakdale, Hudson and Burnsville, but ran into the same logistical problems when 67 officers go through training all at the same time, for multiple days.

“Those facilities aren’t able to support that large of a footprint,” he said. “We have gone down that path with very little success.”

City Administrator Clint Gridley said he thought that given the deadline and the support of Cottage Grove officials, it was an opportunity to send the proposal knowing Woodbury has the option to pull its request later on this year or even early next year.

“If we don’t find it suits, we can withdraw,” he said.

Gridley added Woodbury projects haven’t been included in recent bonding bills and “it seems worthwhile from a taxpayer perspective.”

Cottage Grove and Woodbury public safety already collaborate on a number of training and educational opportunities, Gridley said, and building the facility will allow for even more partners with the potential for schools and other agencies to use it as well.

“But in the same regard, we don’t want it to get too big,” Woodbury police Cmdr. Kris Mienert said.

It’s not unusual for Woodbury to make a grant request for projects that haven’t reached their full development stage, Gridley said.

Requesting state bonding money this early on gives Woodbury a chance to compete for 2014, otherwise it would have to wait until 2016.

“There is no commitment if you decide to vote for the resolution,” he told council members Wednesday, noting that they would simply be keeping their options open. “There are times when opportunities present themselves.”

But Rebholz wondered about other projects for which the city would want to compete for funds.

“It’s not as simple, as robust, as easy as it may seem,” he said.

Council members did not take an official vote at the workshop. However, members agreed to wait for a more detailed presentation on the project in September before deciding to move forward with a request to the state.

“We’re not saying we’re against the idea,” Council Member Amy Scoggins said. “We just want to have a process like we normally do.”

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.