HENDERSON COUNTY, N.C. (WSPA) – A local sheriff is facing push-back over plans to build a new $20 million law enforcement training center.
“There’s a lot of people who.. As they learn more about it are not in favor it,” said resident Brad Swift.
She was among Henderson County residents who demonstrated in front of the library before attending packed a meeting. It was hosted by the Sheriff’s Office Monday, demanding answers about the facility.
“I would like to have more human presence in the schools defending me and the children that I serve rather than semi-automatic weapons,” a teacher said.
“What about having more deputies and them having the training they need to do their jobs and be safer and more proficient?” Sheriff Charles McDonald said in response. “More police are being assaulted than ever before. The tactics and weapons being used against us are more sophisticated.”
The facility comes after years of talks about cheaper solutions, including plans for an outdoor project under $3 million. County leaders said those plans got hindered by residents living near the proposed sites who had safety concerns.
“My concern is how does that something starts off at one level grow so quickly and so large without – as far as I can tell – the general public not being that informed about it,” said resident Brad Swift. “I don’t really see the need to invest that kind of money and I’m not for militarizing the police.”
The L-shape facility has training rooms, a backup communications center, along with shooting ranges. It would be located at Blue Ridge Community College.
During the meeting, some people raised concerns about the project’s location.
“I just cannot believe you want to take an old ball diamond right across from the high school and do this to the campus,” said one resident.
County leaders said they have already explored other locations.
“We’ve looked into some remote areas of the county and the decision was made to pursue an indoor facility which will be sound-proof, bullet proof, state-of-the-art facility to give our student and veteran law enforcement officers the best training possible,” said County Manager Steve Wyatt. “We’ll be able to train rescue, fire, EMS, and first responders in a variety of scenarios.”
Sheriff McDonald said he wants deputies to have more improved training than what they’re currently receiving at the North Carolina Justice Academy in Edneyville.
“The training center that we want to build – wherever that gets built also has training besides shooting,” said Sheriff McDonald during the meeting. “It’s an all-inclusive training center with the ability to put in a driving simulator.”
Last year commissioners approved funding the facility using a one cent increase in the tax rate.
“The commissioners dedicated one penny on the tax rate to go for construction of the law enforcement training center,” said County Manager Steve Wyatt. “We’re actually looking at borrowing money for several capital projects – school and other emergency services. We would bring those into a package. The penny that’s dedicated toward the property tax now would go toward paying for that.”
Wyatt said Commissioners must still decide on a construction company before moving forward with the project.
“The selection of the construction manager at risk – should the board decide not to move forward with that then the project is on hold,” said Wyatt. “We will interview firms with the commitment they can do the job within the design drawings, within the time frame and within that budget.
Some residents are in favor of the project, like one resident who praised the Sheriff’s work during Monday’s meeting.
“People in this room should be fortunate to have a Sheriff like you,” the man said. “You do what you think best and I’m for ya.”
People said they were glad the Sheriff allowed the opportunity to voice their concerns during the public meeting, but Chris Walters said the Sheriff did not have fully answer the questions posed.
“He didn’t defend the facility. He defended training. Nobody disagrees that people need training,” Walters said.
The sheriff says staff is looking into how to reduce the cost of the project. County leaders say other law enforcement agencies in the area would also be able to use the facility.