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Cities agree to advance HERO Center

The HERO Center is proposed to be built next to Cottage Grove City Hall. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
The HERO Center would be built on an undeveloped 9-acre lot next to Cottage Grove City Hall. (Submitted photo) 2 / 2

Cottage Grove

The Cottage Grove and Woodbury city councils agreed to move forward with the HERO (health and emergency response occupations) Center, but the earliest it could be operational is fall 2019.

The estimated 41,000-square-foot facility proposed for a 9-acre undeveloped site next to the Cottage Grove City Hall on Ravine Parkway.

The HERO Center has $1.46 million in funding from a 2015 state bonding bill, earmarked for design and pre-design. Design firm Leo A. Daly has been working on pre-design for the facility, which has included studies on space needs, training and regional training facilities.

All similar training facilities in the Twin Cities are in the west metro, including the North Metro Law Enforcement Training Facility in Maple Grove, Hennepin Technical College, South Metro Public Safety Training Facility in Edina and SCALE (Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency) in Jordan.

Those facilities largely were unfunded by the state. SCALE received approximately $4 million, and Hennepin Technical College was fully funded by MNSCU (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System).

Cottage Grove and Woodbury, whose leaders met in a joint workshop Feb. 9, are expecting 50 percent state funding for the $18.5 to $19.8 million 2019 buildout.

If their bonding request in the Legislature moves forward, occupancy could be October 2019.

Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, said the odds of getting the funds are good.

"Right now the storm at the Legislature is looking good," he said. "There's a lot of appetites to put money toward training ... All of us in the room here, the senators and the representatives are willing to push for it."

Franke is on the House Capital Investment Committee, where bonding bills originate. Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, also is on the committee. Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, is on the Senate Capital Investment Committee.

The remaining 50 percent of construction costs will be split between Cottage Grove and Woodbury.

Cindy McCleary with Leo A. Daly also reported last week that public safety departments in Maplewood, Inver Grove Heights, Rosemount and Hastings could be potential users of the facility, as well as Rasmussen College, a National Guard chapter, Century College, Inver Hills Community College, the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the Dakota County Sheriff's Office.

Design dreams

McCleary presented what they expect the facility to need, including several different training areas.

Reality based, virtual reality, firearm, response to resistance and classroom training spaces are all expected in the HERO Center. Those various training methods all prepare public safety workers for different field conditions.

The reality-based training space will be set up like a two-story open warehouse, with moveable walls to create different setups each time they train.

"It allows officers to make real-time decisions," McCleary said.

Virtual simulation will include a 180-degree screen showing a video that officers will respond to and interact with, and the simulation reacts to an officer's actions.

Crisis intervention, negotiation, communication and de-escalation training will be done in the response-to-resistance training space, which will be set up with wall-to-wall mats to allow for takedown training.

The varied training techniques align with many of the new national trends in law enforcement, McCleary said, that can be based on "real life, dynamic encounters and real-time decision making."

The facility also will include a canine training area, firearms proficiency training area and a paved training area.

While Cottage Grove and Woodbury's training needs will take up about 50 or 60 percent of useable hours, McCleary said, there will be opportunities to rent out to other public safety facilities or to local residents for shooting practice.

A need-based build

Changes in law enforcement and public safety in recent years have not gone unnoticed by Cottage Grove and Woodbury's public safety directors, Craig Woolery and Lee Vague. They see the HERO Center as an opportunity to adapt to current changes and prepare for the future.

"It's an interesting time to be providing public safety," Woolery said. "We have an obligation to meet those training needs ... Training expectations are going to change, and we can't just do what we've always done."

Public safety officials not only need more training, but are running out of places to get it.

"We're training our officers and our staff as best as we can (but) it's just getting more and more challenging, and then when you start adding more and more expectations on top of that ... We just don't have the space for that," Vague said. "The question is, will it hurt the level of training (to not have the HERO Center)? It will."

The other facilities the departments use, such as the Ramsey County facility, are steadily becoming infeasible options for training. Even though St. Paul is building a similar facility, the east metro departments won't have much access to it.

"They don't have room for us, is the bottom line," Vague said.

Woolery said they have to book time a year in advance with Ramsey County, and the outdoor areas they used as shooting ranges are no longer available due to encroaching development.

Cottage Grove police Capt. Greg Rinzel said they are on their seventh training location.

"It's getting so competitive and difficult," Woolery said.

"We're doing it OK today, but what are we going to do 15 to 20 years from now ... when all the available areas are developed and there's nothing left?" he added.