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City makes progress on HERO Center

After five years of talking about a combined public safety training facility, the time has come to find out just what it may look like, and how much it may cost to build and operate.

At the April 27 meeting, Woodbury City Council members are expected to give the go-ahead to two crucial steps in developing the pre-design and budget development of the proposed Health and Emergency Response Occupations (HERO) Center, which is planned for future construction in Cottage Grove.

One action is to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Cottage Grove for the project, the other is to approve entering into a contract with Cottage Grove and the Leo A. Daly firm. The latter will be hired to do the pre-design and design of the proposed HERO Center.

A project concept first proposed by the City of Cottage Grove and City of Woodbury public safety departments in 2011, the HERO Center would be a training facility to benefit both communities. In 2013, Cottage Grove passed a resolution to ask the state for bonding funds to design and plan the facility. Those funds, in the amount of $1.46 million, were approved by the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton in June 2015.

The state's allocation is unique for this project, Woodbury Public Safety Director Lee Vague told Woodbury councilmembers at a April 20 workshop, because it does not require any kind of matching funds.

However, it does require that Woodbury and Cottage Grove enter into a MOU, that spells out the partnership between the two public safety departments in regards to the HERO Center's maintenance and operations.

"We've got the grant to do the analysis," City Administrator Clint Gridley said. "Let's do the work and we'll be able to put a budget together, and get a better idea of what it will cost down the road."

Since the HERO Center will be constructed in Cottage Grove if it is approved, the City of Cottage Grove will enter into a general obligation bond proceeds grant agreement with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety in order to access the funding.

The two cities will make the initial payment for the pre-design and design work on a 50/50 split. When the grant funds are acquired, the funds will be used to reimburse both communities for the dollars initially spent. As Cottage Grove is the fiscal agent for the grant, the funds from the state will go to Cottage Grove; accordingly, Cottage Grove will reimburse Woodbury for its portion of the funding. Woodbury will draw its portion of the funding from the city's fund balance in the xapital improvement fund.

The state bonding appropriation doesn't require any financial contributions from non-state sources for the pre-design and design work. If the project moves into the construction phase, the city would again request bonding funds and Woodbury and Cottage Grove's financial contributions would be determined then, according to a Cottage Grove staff report.

An opportunity

The proposed HERO Center is a much-needed facility, Vague told Woodbury councilmembers. In the past, Woodbury has benefitted from training space through Ramsey County, but that space is no longer available.

The HERO Center would fill a void in training for public safety personnel including police officers, firefighters and EMS staff needed in the southeast metro area, Public Safety Director Craig Woolery told the Cottage Grove City Council.

Training for public safety is a little different than it was in the past, Vague said. Police officers, especially, are put in challenging positions daily. Training is more than standing at a gun range and taking shooting practice, he said. Instead, officers train for possible scenarios, and that is what they were able to do with Ramsey County. That's also what they would do locally, if the HERO Center is constructed.

"Scenario based training is really at the base of everything we do," Vague said.

"This is an investment in the training and long-term development of our people," councilmember Justin Olsen said at a Cottage Grove City Council meeting.

While Cottage Grove and Woodbury public safety departments would be the primary users of the HERO Center, there is possibility that the facility can and will be used for by other municipalities or organizations. Another possibility, Gridley said, is that the two cities might find other partners to also participate and help to defray some of the cost.

However, not all of the councilmembers are on board with the idea. Councilmember Christopher Burns said he is "just not inclined to get the city into another business." Instead, he asked whether there are other locations where public safety might rent to do training, or if there are privately-held locations available. While there are some sites around, Vague said, the problem is that most are not equipped for the type of training officers need.

"Certainly, we want you trained, all of you, as well as you can be," Burns said, "but I just haven't been sold on this yet."

Timeline

Cottage Grove approved submitting the necessary materials for the state funding along with the MOU with Woodbury outlining operation and management of the HERO Center, and authorized working with Leo A. Daly for the design process.

Once the MOU is approved by the Woodbury council, the pre-design and project budget development is scheduled to begin in May. Under a timeline included for the workshop, the pre-design would come back to the city council for review in the first quarter of 2017. A public comment period would follow during the second quarter. The cities would also submit consideration for a 2018 governor's bond request.

Design development and completion would happen in the latter half 2017. A legislative bonding request would be submitted in the first quarter of 2018. A construction document development would be planned for the third quarter of 2018, and the project bid by the end of the year.

Construction of the HERO Center would begin during the second quarter of 2019, with a opening date near the end of the year.

Danielle Killey contributed to this report.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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