The first step toward making Columbus a regional destination city for public safety training has been taken.

More than 70 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for the Columbus Public Safety Training Facility. The 12,000-square-foot facility will be built next to other first-responder training structures, including a tower and roof-climbing simulation structure, on the east end of Verhulst Street. It’s on the Columbus Municipal Airport Airpark campus.

After two years of planning, the city decided to make the classrooms and indoor training areas available to volunteers and professionals from throughout southern Indiana, Columbus Fire Chief Mike Compton said.

Besides firefighters and paramedics, training also will be provided to other safety officials from both public and private sectors, including those involved with industrial safety or aircraft rescue, the fire chief said.

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That will allow the city to charge rental fees that are expected to eventually make back the initial $274,000 investment, as well as establish funds for possible expansion, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said.

“This will be one of the larger regional training facilities in southern Indiana,” Lienhoop said.

Last October, the city council approved establishing a non-reverting fund that would be used to accumulate revenue generated from the facility.

When Compton brought up the concept of a local training facility during his 2015 job interview, he had no idea the concept would evolve into fulfilling a regional need, the fire chief said.

The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) local chapter was instrumental in developing the regional plan, Lienhoop said. SCORE, a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, is considered the nation’s largest network of volunteer business mentors.

First-responders from throughout southern Indiana — who routinely travel to Louisville, Indianapolis and Valparaiso for training — confirmed the need for the regional facility in Columbus before the city approved funding, Lienhoop said.

First responders have expressed a need for specialized training to address a wide range of emergencies, Compton said.

For example, the Columbus Fire Department has expanded its technical rescue programs over the past six years to include ice, water, vehicle, machine and rope rescues, Compton said.

Next month, several firefighters will be trained in rescuing residents trapped in confined spaces, he said.

“We have to train for the worst-case scenario,” the fire chief said.

The Public Safety Training Facility will be constructed by a Columbus firm, Building Concepts of Indiana Inc.

While the shell is expected to be up by mid- to late-summer, an anticipated opening date has not yet been determined, Compton said. However, the city council was advised in January to anticipate a five-month construction period.

As needs increase, more classrooms and training simulators will be added with the end goal of offering year-round training, Compton said.

Future plans call for the facility to become a permanent home for the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund.

Timeline

Late 2015: Mike Compton reveals during his job interview for Columbus fire chief a plan for a local training facility for firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

2016 to 2017: City officials work with the local chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) to develop a business plan for the facility. Research includes questioning first-responders from throughout southern Indiana about the need for a regional training facility.

October 2017: The Columbus City Council established a non-reverting fund to accumulate revenue generated from the training facility.

Jan. 30, 2018: The Columbus Board of Works and Public Safety hires Columbus-based Building Concepts of Indiana Inc. for $273,825 to construct the shell of the training facility. Money for the proposed facility will come out of a cumulative capital fund, as well as funds generated by a new local income tax.

Tuesday: Groundbreaking on the new facility near the east end of Verhulst Street on the Columbus Municipal Airport Airpark.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.