Coun­cil hears plans for fire dept.’s new $4M train­ing cen­ter

The Kansas City Star - - The Olathe News - BY DAVID TWIDDY Spe­cial to The Olathe News

The Olathe Fire Depart­ment is mov­ing for­ward with plans to build a $4 mil­lion train­ing cen­ter that will not only serve the depart­ment’s own fire­fight­ers but also at­tract fire de­part­ments and res­cue agen­cies through­out the re­gion.

Fire Chief Jeff DeGraf­fen­reid on Tues­day laid out plans for the cen­ter to the City Coun­cil, who still must ap­prove the de­sign and spend­ing on the project.

DeGraf­fen­reid said the fa­cil­ity would al­low Olathe per­son­nel to train lo­cally while still be­ing able to re­spond to emer­gen­cies nearby. Cur­rently, he said the depart­ment has to travel to train­ing fa­cil­i­ties in Over­land Park and Platte County, Mo.

“It is an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity for us to pro­vide some much-needed train­ing space here in our com­mu­nity,” DeGraf­fen­reid said.

The city plans to build the cen­ter on prop­erty it owns on the east side of Hedge Lane at Lay­ton Drive. The lo­ca­tion is a half-mile north of Olathe West High School, where

the Olathe School District houses its Pub­lic Safety Academy.

The cen­ter would in­clude a num­ber of struc­tures that fire­fight­ers could use to sim­u­late burn­ing build­ings, trapped vic­tims or other com­mon res­cue sce­nar­ios, in­clud­ing a multi-story “burn tower.” The site would also have large paved ar­eas to sim­u­late city streets and have space for junked cars or other “props” that per­son­nel could use to train.

DeGraf­fen­reid said his depart­ment cur­rently sends per­son­nel to the Platte County fa­cil­ity around 24 days a year, which would rep­re­sent im­me­di­ate cost sav­ings for the city. He said other emer­gency agen­cies could help off­set the cen­ter’s con­struc­tion and op­er­a­tion fur­ther by pay­ing a fee to use the cen­ter.

“Even to­day, with the space (in) the fire ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing in terms of class­room space, we train over 50 other fire de­part­ments on an an­nual ba­sis, and we would ex­pect that to only in­crease here,” he said. “We’ve had some pretty in-depth con­ver­sa­tions with folks who are ex­cited about this com­ing to our com­mu­nity be­cause it will pro­vide a place in John­son County where they can have class-A burn space, which is not (cur­rently) avail­able.”

The city owns the land on three sides of the cen­ter, but coun­cil mem­bers ex­pressed some con­cern about how fires and other ac­tiv­ity at the cen­ter could af­fect a res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood on the other side of Hedge Lane.

“We want to be good neigh­bors,” said Mayor Michael Copeland.

DeGraf­fen­reid said train­ing fires would pro­duce only mod­er­ate amounts of smoke and the prop­erty slopes down­hill from Hedge Lane, which should re­duce vis­i­bil­ity of any smoke or flames. He added that ar­chi­tects will be told to keep the neigh­bor­hood in mind when mak­ing the fi­nal cen­ter de­signs.

As­sum­ing the project is de­signed and ap­proved on sched­ule, DeGraf­fen­reid es­ti­mated the cen­ter would open in the first half of 2020.

In other busi­ness, the coun­cil reviewed the Mu­nic­i­pal Court’s plan to im­ple­ment a num­ber of new court fees, in­clud­ing a $5 se­cu­rity fee added to al­most all or­di­nance vi­o­la­tions to help pay for se­cu­rity per­son­nel at the court. The se­cu­rity fee would not be im­posed on seat belt or park­ing vi­o­la­tions.

Mu­nic­i­pal Court Judge Katie McEl­hin­ney told the coun­cil that other courts help pay for se­cu­rity through their court fees but don’t al­ways break it out like Olathe is plan­ning. She added that the fee will raise an es­ti­mated $60,000 to $65,000 a year but won’t come close to ac­tu­ally pay­ing for per­son­nel costs.

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