RACINE COUNTY — In both size and scope, a new state-of-the-art public safety training center sits atop the list of projects included in the $49 million referendum proposed by Gateway Technical College.
As the most expensive single item in the proposal, school officials say the $15.6 million facility would not only provide better instruction to new officers and deputies but also draw in more experienced first responders, from southeastern Wisconsin and beyond, looking for specialized training in areas like tactical driving and active shooter situations.
In 2007, the college opened its law enforcement academy after renovating portions of their Kenosha campus at 3520 30th Ave. It offers programs for both incoming officers and deputies who are required by the state to undergo 520 hours of training as well as to veteran officers.
Racine Police Chief Art Howell said that his department currently sends its new officers to the academy but sparingly uses the facilities in Kenosha to provide specialized training to its veteran officers.
“We send people all over the state now and it’s expensive to do that,” Howell said. “Obviously if we had a high-caliber institution around here it would be cost effective for us to use that.”
Renovating the current campus back in 2007 meant converting a basement storage room into a five-lane, 50-foot shooting range and holding Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) training in the parking lot at Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha.
The current proposal calls for a new 24-lane, 150-foot shooting range and an on-site driving course complete with simulated intersections, street lights and highway ramps.
Sturtevant Police Chief Sean Marschke said that veteran officers in the state are required to undergo 24 hours of annual training, some of which is done in-house, but also must take four hours of biennial tactical driving training. That has meant sending officers out to technical colleges in Waukesha or Fox Valley.
“A lot of things they’re planning on doing are already being done around the state but just aren’t available here locally,” Marschke said. “With training budgets in a crunch and gas almost $4 a gallon, sending officers to other spots in the state just gets very, very expensive.”
A final location for the facility has not been selected yet, according to Gateway’s President Bryan Albrecht, but sites in Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties are also being investigated. Voters in those counties will vote on the referendum April 2.
Marschke said that regardless of what county is selected, it would likely mean a 50 percent reduction in the costs associated with sending an officer to training like gas, lodging and overtime pay.
The proposal would also replace the current simulated city, composed of a couple storefronts, with a three-block simulated city. A new facility would also enable the college to build labs for crime scene investigation, something not currently offered in Kenosha.
Racine County Sheriff Chris Schmaling wrote in an email that he is very pleased with the current training Gateway provides but would benefit from a closer facility and additional course offerings. Mount Pleasant Police Chief Tim Zarzecki also said that he is in support of expanding training at Gateway.
An expanded physical training area and a larger, dedicated classroom may also mean adding an additional class at the school, according to Provost Zina Haywood.
Albrecht said he doesn’t anticipate finding any problems with filling another class because of the number of applicants the college already turns away, in part because state statute caps classes at 24 students and some of the facilities are shared by other programs on the Kenosha campus.
Overall, the college has estimated that a new facility would lead to a 15 percent increase in enrollment and could not only help keep local officers from going elsewhere but could mean other revenue coming from agencies outside of the district.
Marschke said that he agrees and would like to see the area become a training hub like the counties he currently sends his officers to.
“It’s really a good opportunity to have something here locally for our law enforcement that serves our residents to have a state-of-the-art training facility,” Marschke said. “I think we’ll draw agencies outside of the district as well.”