Marriottsville center brings trainees home

County to dedicate its first police, fire training facility

October 28, 2007|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporter

It covers 38 acres at the edge of a landfill and annoys some of its neighbors.

But Howard County public safety officials are thrilled with the continued progress of the $35 million police and fire training center in Marriottsville. And tomorrow, the facility will be dedicated to state Sen. James N. Robey, the former county executive and police chief who was a strong proponent for the center.

"This is a great time to dedicate it," said Fire Chief Joseph Herr. "It's where we're going to train the people that are going to provide the emergency services."

The dedication is part of Community Readiness Week, an annual county event emphasizing disaster preparedness. The road leading to the center will be renamed Scott Wheeler Drive in honor of the county police officer who was killed while flagging down a speeder on Route 32 in June.

Although the Department of Public Works does not anticipate completion of the multibuilding facility until next summer, some recruits began training in the 45,000-square-foot main building more than a week ago.

"If our community is to be as safe as our citizens expect, we must provide our first responders with the training and equipment necessary," said Police Department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. She said that until now, Howard was the only county in the state without a dedicated public safety training center.

Currently, fire and police travel to other facilities for hands-on training, Herr and Llewellyn said.

An open house at the center is scheduled for Saturday, when the public can watch field training exercises and tour the main building, which is at the western edge of the Alpha Ridge Landfill, just north of Interstate 70.

The nearly completed administration building houses 14 classrooms for police and fire recruits, 16 offices and a 235- person conference room. The classrooms include docking stations for recruits to set up their department-issued laptops, as well as drop-down whiteboards and cameras that allow classes to be videotaped.

Not only does such equipment allow the police and fire departments to monitor classes, but now people who can't attend will be able to take them off-site through the Internet -- something the police and fire departments were not able to do before, said fire Capt. Gary Jones, who manages multimedia for the new center.

"Training for first responders is becoming more technological and demanding," Llewellyn said. "It's not just a matter of sitting in a classroom and learning from a book."

The summer 2008 completion date is ahead of schedule, but the facility will cost about twice what was originally estimated. As the county continued with building plans and enhancements, the costs escalated.

So far, the center has cost more than $28 million, and $6.7 million more is to be spent in the fiscal year starting July 1. Plans for an indoor firing range were cut because of the cost.

Despite much excitement about the facility, after five years of planning, construction and changes, homeowners nearby express a range of feelings about their new neighbor.

Manisha Dave, whose backyard is separated from the facility property by a fence, said her family does not mind the construction and weapons-firing.

"At least I know we are safe," Dave said.

But her neighbor, Bill Kellner, said that the noise from the outdoor firing range bothers him. He said, too, that he is concerned about the Fire Department's simulated fires.

Herr said neighborhood concerns have been taken into consideration and that plans have been amended several times after attending neighborhood meetings.

"We've made significant changes to the layout of the area," Herr said.

Herr said the fire simulators will be built on the lowest part of the property, closest to Interstate 70. He said the Fire Department will use only natural gas or propane to simulate fire rather than burn tires or diesel fuel.

"We'll be as far away from them as we can be," Herr said. "What they may see may be something that will look like steam. I don't think that they're going to see columns of smoke billowing out from down there."


These events are planned as part of Community Readiness Week tomorrow through Nov. 4:

The James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center, 2200 Scott Wheeler Drive, Marriottsville, will be officially dedicated and named at 2 p.m. tomorrow.

The road leading into the facility will be named in honor of Police Cpl. Scott Wheeler, who was killed in the line of duty June 18.

A Volunteer Mobilization Center Workshop for nonprofit and governmental agencies is planned from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the center, 10221 Wincopin Circle, Columbia.

"Emergency Preparedness: Communication is Key," a workshop on developing a family emergency communications plan, creating an emergency document binder and establishing a neighborhood network of support, will be offered from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Historic Oakland, 5430 Vantage Point Road, Columbia. A sample tool kit will be provided. Information: 410-715-0311.

The James N. Robey training center will hold an open house Saturday and field training exercises for the local Civil Air Patrol Unit, the Howard Composite Squadron. The county's new Emergency Services Command Unit will be on hand and the Police Department will demonstrate its helicopter operations and K-9 search team.

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