CUYAHOGA FALLS — The police department wants to construct a $2.3 million indoor firing range and training facility on 5.8 acres of land behind Fire Station 5 on Wyoga Lake Road.
The issue was discussed during a budget hearing at the City Council meeting on Monday. The proposal is part of the police department's planned capital projects in 2018, according to Police Chief Jack Davis.
Davis said his department would like to build a 5,600 square foot facility on the property that the city already owns. The department will use $300,000 that they secured in a drug bust to help cover the cost of building the facility, according to City Council member Carol Klinger (R-At Large). Davis said the range equipment and the filtration system are the main drivers of the $2.3 million price tag.
Currently, Davis said his department uses the firing range in Munroe Falls, and then provides SWAT services to Munroe Falls in exchange for range use. Davis noted residents complain about the noise generated by the discharge of the weapons. He added the police used to shoot on land along Hardy Road, but the lease was not renewed after the property owner passed away.
“We've been kind of nomads, looking for places to shoot,” he said.
Davis said his department has 72 officers and needs 10 weeks to run all of the officers through the shooting qualification exercises.
The facility that the department wants to build would be both a firing range and a training center, which would include a simulator in which officers can practice dealing with a situation where they decide between shooting and not shooting, according to Davis. The chief said he would offer to rent the facility out to other area police departments. He estimated he would charge $400 a day for rental of the range and then an additional fee if the departments also wished to use the simulator. Davis added he hoped these rentals would cover the cost of operating the facility.
After the meeting, Davis said departments that have sent letters of interest expressing interest in using the proposed facility are: Kent State, Metro Swat, OPOTA, Akron, Reminderville, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Peninsula, New Franklin, Boston Heights, Summa, Sagamore Hills, Northfield Village, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Macedonia, Barberton, Bath, Hudson, Tallmadge, and Copley. Davis emphasized that these departments sent these letters of interest “only at the time we started looking into this project.”
Klinger, who noted she will not be on Council in 2018 when Davis returns with more specific plans, raised her concerns about the project.
“It’s another building,” said Klinger. “It’s another property for us to maintain.”
Klinger noted there will be mechanical items in the facility that will need to be replaced using general fund capital money and added the cost to train officers at other facilities was “minimal” compared to the expense of the proposed building.
“I understand our officers need trained,” said Klinger. “It's exciting that we're going to have a state-of-the art facility … but I also realize the implications that come along with it and the long-term liabilities for the city and the fiscal constraints that that can put on us in the future 10 years from now when we look at replacing the ventilation system in this building.”
Council member Russ Iona (R-8) said he and Davis figured if “50 to 60 percent” of the departments who expressed interest in the range “all come through, we’re going to have a shot where basically it’s going to help pay for itself. It’s not going to be a moneymaker.”
Noting that some departments have trouble finding a place for shooting certification, Iona said the city could offer rental of its range on the weekend.
Council member Paul Colavecchio (D-At Large) said that he felt having the facility with “state-of-the art” training would help the city if it went to court regarding a complaint about a police action.
“In any court case, [we can say] we have state-of-the art training, we did everything we possibly can,” said Colavecchio. “I think we’re in a better position to be having the facility, renting it out, [and] providing a service to other law officers … since they’re running out of places to shoot.”
Davis said he spoke with the city’s insurance carrier, who told him the city would see “possibly a reduction in liability due to the training. If you do get sued, you can show we were trying to do everything we can to make sure our officers are well-trained.”
If Council allows the $2.3 million worth of spending to remain in the budget, Davis said the next step would be to complete the design of the facility and present it to the planning commission. The chief added he would like to get started on the project “as soon as possible.”
Future of Munroe Falls’ firing range
In addition to the city’s own police officers, Munroe Falls Mayor James Armstrong said Cuyahoga Falls, Silver Lake and Stow police officers also use the Munroe Falls firing range. He said his department must continue using its range for “as long as possible” because range training is “a necessity for our police officers.”
"The options for firearms training are currently limited, and closing our range would require the city to obtain another location to train, which could be a significant expense and also limit the timing on when training could be conducted compared to the present ability to utilize our own range,” said Armstrong.
He said city officials “are aware of the complaints about the noise coming from the range,” and have “frequently” discussed the issue and are “looking for long-term solutions.” Options being examined include building up dirt walls around the range, planting more trees to muffle the sound, and replacing the old building and installing “noise baffling materials,” the mayor said.
“The city will be looking for the most cost-effective method for addressing this issue,” said Armstrong.
Armstrong said the city does not have a timetable for when it would start working on the range because the police levy passed in May does not take effect until January and “the city has spent numerous years spending more money than was received in revenue, while postponing numerous capital projects and equipment.”
Armstrong also said he hoped Cuyahoga Falls builds its range to “provide another valuable training option for our law enforcement community.”