By Mckayla Hull
Gilbert’s police officers and firefighters travel to other cities in the Valley for training because the town doesn’t have a specialized facility of its own.
It fritters away time and money and is often wrought with scheduling challenges.
The town is planning to construct its own public safety training center on 50 acres of land it owns on the northeast corner of Power and Pecos roads, north of the railroad tracks, Gilbert Police Chief Mike Soelberg said.
The state-of-the-art public safety training center will cost $84.6 million and the majority of its funding is expected to come from bonds of about $56 million or less, which voters would have to approve, according to Soelberg.
The request for a bond election is expected to go before the Gilbert Town Council in June, he also said.
In a setting mimicking the structures in Gilbert, the training center will include 11 features to help train both the fire and police departments.
Among them, a shooting range and driving tracks for police to practice pursuits and hone driving skills. The shooting range will allow 50 people to train at once, more than the current range in Gilbert, which can take only eight people at a time, Soelberg said.
For firefighters, there will be an apartment complex, strip mall and houses to practice putting out fires in burning buildings. The strip mall’s structure could be set up to look like a barber shop, a bank or any other establishment the training dictated.
One of the houses will even have a basement because more basement homes are being built in Gilbert.
The structures will allow police officers to practice building searches, hostage/barricade and domestic violence situations, for example, Soelberg said.
“The way this is designed for both PD and fire, it allows that versatility,” he said.
Classrooms will also be an integral part of the facility.
Although the training center is mainly for police and fire use, it will be available to the community as well, Soelberg said. Schools in the Higley Unified School District and the East Valley Institute of Technology will be able to use the facility’s open meeting room when available, he said.
Chandler-Gilbert Community College’s police academy at the Williams Gateway Campus will also be able to use the facility.
The need for a public safety training facility was identified many years ago. An initial needs assessment was completed in 2005, but the plan stalled because of the recession that followed.
Going to other cities to use their training facilities adds up costs because the department needs extra funds for fuel and for overtime, according to Gilbert Fire Chief Jim Jobusch.
In 2016, police trained 115 personnel at Central Arizona College for 16 training sessions and paid $300 per day at a total cost of $4,800.
Gilbert also uses Tempe, Chandler and Mesa fire training centers, although they didn’t charge for some use in 2016, the costs for fuel and overtime drive up training costs.
Prior to 2018, Soelberg said, the police department used Apache Junction’s outdoor firearms range for rifle training, but the facility has no classrooms or bathrooms.
“We needed a location that could provide a better training environment and one that was closer to Gilbert. We just started using the Mesa PD firearms range and will continue to do so until our new training facility is complete,” he said.
The department pays $100 per person a year to use Mesa’s fire range for training, and the new facility would bring savings of about $10,000, he added.
Once the bonds are approved by voters, the entire project will take three years to complete. The 21 months of construction is planned to begin by end 2019.
The facility will help attract new recruits with what it offers, the officials said. Besides, the training will take place in Gilbert.
Soelberg said that Gilbert is thriving because it’s a safe community.
“We have a training gap that we’re trying to fill with this facility that we don’t want to turn into an operational gap, which means we have failures out in the community when we’re doing our jobs and they could cost lives and cost money,” Jobusch said.