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Bernalillo County’s first responders will have a new, custom-built training facility by 2023 under a newly approved $51.8 million deal with a local developer.
The County Commission last week approved an agreement with FireEd LLC to build a 40,981-square-foot training academy in the South Valley for the Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department. The county will then rent the building for 30 years at a total cost of $51.8 million.
It is the county’s first “build-to-suit” lease deal, an arrangement officials said they chose in part to avoid large upfront costs or potential new debt. The county already issued more than $40 million in bonds to help fund its new administrative headquarters in Downtown. Paying for the training academy via more bonds would have reduced the county’s borrowing capacity and potentially hindered needed projects in the years to come, Deputy County Manager for Finance Shirley Ragin said.
“I’m looking at my whole financing picture,” Ragin said. “I’m trying to make sure that we have capacity to do things in the future.”
County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said during last week’s commission meeting that the county will be able to cover annual lease and maintenance payments to FireEd – which start at $1.6 million – through its normal operating budget. Some of it will be offset by savings the county will realize when it vacates other leased space as part of its headquarters consolidation.
“It was carefully vetted for two years,” Morgas Baca said of the training academy deal. “I want you all and our public to feel confident that this wasn’t taken lightly.”
The county will not own the facility at the end of the initial 30-year term, something Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada said he would have liked to have seen.
“We’re trying to do something quickly because we desperately need (the facility), but eventually it’s nice to own those facilities in the long run,” he said prior to the commission’s vote.
Attorneys told the commission that after 30 years the parties will have an option to extend the leasing deal another five years or consider any other transactions, including a purchase.
The commission approved the deal on a 5-0 vote.
FireEd is owned by Jerry Mosher and Jan Wilson. The development team for the project includes Bradbury Stamm Construction and SMPC Architects, according to county documents.
The training academy – which will be built to meet sustainability standards – will include classrooms, a lecture hall, offices, separate canteens for the fire and sheriff’s departments, a gymnasium and workout area, the proposal shows.
Morgas Baca told the commission the facility is “way overdue.” The Sheriff’s Office now trains in an old courthouse building at Civic Plaza, and the Fire Department trains in a former fire station. She said neither training location was supposed to be permanent.
“They have done their best to work under some tough conditions,” she said.
Commission Chairwoman Charlene Pyskoty said she remembered attending new-employee orientation in the old courthouse and noticed cadets running up the building’s stairs and asked what they were doing.
“They said, ‘We’re training – this is where we train,’ and I said ‘Are you serious?’ … I thought, ‘We need to get them a better training facility.’
“I think we’re all in favor of that.”
Greg Perez, deputy county manager for public safety and the county fire chief, said the firefighters’ current training venue is “substandard” and too small to simultaneously conduct cadet training and the ongoing training required for veteran firefighters. He said the new facility will provide the needed space as well as opportunities to train directly with sheriff’s deputies – something he said is vital since the agencies frequently respond to the same calls. Perez said it’s been about two years since the departments held a joint training, and they used Cottonwood Mall as the venue.
He said the new, joint facility is much needed and “makes sense.”
“We’ve been working on this thing for probably the last 12 to 15 years,” Perez said. “It’s a really big deal.”