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Woodbury, Cottage Grove discuss future of HERO Center

City leaders in Cottage Grove and Woodbury will be discussing the proposed law enforcement and emergency medical services (EMS) training facility Thursday.

Council members for Woodbury and Cottage Grove will meet Feb. 9 at Central Park to discuss updates to the proposed Health and Emergency Response Occupations (HERO) Center.

The neighboring cities for years have been working on a joint training facility to be built in Cottage Grove after proposing the HERO Center.

The center would mainly serve as a training facility for both cities' police and emergency medical service departments. City officials are also exploring how the center could fill training needs for other agencies in the east metro.

In 2015, the Minnesota Legislature approved $1.46 million in bonding to go toward hiring an architect to draw out preliminary designs for the HERO Center.

This year, the cities plan to return to the State Capitol asking for additional bonding funds ahead of next year's legislative session.

City leaders estimated the cost of building the facility would be close to $15 million in 2014. That price tag would likely be shared between Cottage Grove and Woodbury unless the cities receive additional funding.

Woodbury Police Chief Lee Vague said at a recent Woodbury City Council meeting that officials envision the center will serve as a regional training facility for other public safety agencies.

In past months, Vague said he's contacted other law enforcement agencies, colleges with law enforcement programs and the U.S. military for potential partnerships.

Because the facility would be used by more than just Woodbury and Cottage Grove, city leaders will be asking the state to cover more than half of the construction and other capital costs.

Woodbury police officers train in Ramsey County, but Vague said the facility sometimes doesn't allow for more specialized drills.

The HERO Center, he said, would allow officers to, for example, use moveable walls to simulate officers entering an apartment building, as well as a number of other scenarios.

"That's kind of what this center is evolving into," Vague said. "The days of standing up at the shooting range and putting holes in the target and going home are long gone."

Still, some Woodbury council members expressed concerns with the possible costs, asking whether the cities could explore private partnerships or partnerships with agencies in western Wisconsin.

"There's still a lot of work left to be done," Vague said.

Both cities plan to unveil plans to the public later this year.

Woodbury and Cottage Grove councils will meet at 6:30 Thursday at Central Park to further discuss the HERO Center.