It’s a necessary move and a smart way to do it.
Bernalillo County has inked its first “build to suit” agreement that will give the county a new, custom-built training facility for sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and EMTs. Developer FireEd LLC will front the building costs for the 40,981-square-foot training academy in the South Valley and the county will lease the building for 30 years, starting at $1.6 million a year.
The county opted for the lease arrangement rather than pay for construction by issuing bonds. The county already has issued more than $40 million in bonds to help fund its new administrative headquarters Downtown, and paying up front costs for the academy would have reduced future borrowing capacity. Demand for bonded projects going forward is a certainty as the county is responsible for facilities such as District Court.
County officials say the annual lease payment can be handled in the operating budget.
The county won’t own the building, which Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada said he would have preferred. But he said, “We’re trying to do something quickly because we desperately need (the facility)….”
County Manager Julie Morgas Baca told commissioners, who unanimously approved the deal, the new training facility was “way overdue.” And that might be an understatement.
The Sheriff’s Office now trains in an old courthouse building at Civic Plaza and the Fire Department uses a former fire station. Neither location was supposed to be permanent and Morgas Baca said both sheriff and fire “have done their best to work under some tough conditions.”
Commission Chairwoman Charlene Pyskoty said she remembered attending a new employee orientation in the old courthouse and saw cadets running up the building’s stairs. She asked what they were doing.
“They said, ‘We’re training – this is where we train,’ and I said, ‘Are you serious?'”
Deputy County Manager Greg Perez said the current firefighter training venue is “substandard” and too small. He said the new facility will provide the needed space for rookie firefighters to train with veterans and for firefighters to train with deputies – something he said is vital since the agencies frequently respond to the same calls.
Perez said it’s been about two years since sheriff’s deputies and county fire held a joint training – and then they used Cottonwood Mall as the venue.
BCSO has 318 deputies and 20 academy staff. It averages two 26-week cadet classes a year for 30 to 50 cadets. Fire/EMT has 267 personnel with six academy staff. Its academy does one class a year with 10 to 20 cadets who train for 20 weeks.
But the new training academy won’t be limited to incoming cadets. It also will be used for courses for veterans that can range from advanced search and seizure, field response to major crimes and Chop Shop investigations for deputies to mental health first aid, auto extrication, wildland fire suppression and HAZMAT awareness for fire and rescue.
We expect professionalism from our firefighters and deputies so it’s only fair they have adequate facilities for the training they need to do their jobs the right way. In fact, your life could depend on it.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.