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County finds 'remote site' for training center, kills BRCC option

Board of Commissioners during a meeting on April 2, 2018. Board of Commissioners during a meeting on April 2, 2018.

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners has identified land in "an extremely remote location" for a new law enforcement training center, eliminating an expensive indoor shooting range, moving the facility far away from Blue Ridge Community College and snuffing out a potential political in the upcoming sheriff's primary election.

Commissioners first authorized an indoor training center under an acre of roof at BRCC at a cost of $20 million. But controversy over the cost, the need and the location among high school and BRCC students led commissioners last spring to direct administrators to look at other options and cut the cost. 

"Since that time, we basically surveyed the county," County Manager Steve Wyatt said of the hunt for property that he, County Engineer Marcus Jones and Sheriff Charlie McDonald undertook. "We have identified a site and we have secured the right to purchase that site. The potential is there for a tremendous cost reduction as well as a site relocation, free up the community college site for community college use."

Wyatt projected construction cost at $3.66 million for an outdoor range and indoor training facility and a total cost of  $4.3 million to $5.9 million counting the land purchase. That would mean a savings overall of about $22 million compared to the cost of the facility at BRCC including interest on debt. The county plans to pay cash for the new center.

Neighbors aren't likely to notice the training center, Wyatt said.

"The real impact folks in this neighborhood would see are police officers," Wyatt said. "You may not even know it's there except you would see black and white (police) units going there."

The scaled-back facility also fits the need for training on protecting schools from violence.

"The indoor training center will be able to configure in such a way to mimic frankly buildings" that the sheriff's office protects, Wyatt said. It could mock up school classrooms and school entrances, for instance, "to give real time training" in school safety. The facility also could ultimately be used for a backup 911 center.

Commissioner Grady Hawkins said the center fulfilled a commitment the board made several years ago to construct a training center, starting with the use of $3.4 million it got for the sale of the Bent Creek property to Buncombe County. Although the county ended up spending most of that money for artificial turf at three county high schools, the county has since accumulated enough money from a 1-cent tax increase to cover this new capital cost, Hawkins said.

Commissioner Bill Lapsley, who strongly opposed the $20 million cost of the original indoor center, praised administrators and the sheriff for substantially cutting the cost.

City police departments within Henderson County would be able to use the center at no cost, Wyatt said, while agencies outside the county would pay rental or facility fees.

Lowell Griffin, a Republican running against McDonald in the May 8 primary, had called the training center a waste of money and pledged to shift that amount to school safety. After the board voted unanimously in favor of the cheaper option, Chairman Michael Edney asked McDonald whether he wanted to make any comments. The sheriff, who was seated in the back of the assembly room, declined.