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City Council Approves Spending $8.1 Million

Money will renovate police firearms facility, improve downtown.

It’s full speed ahead for some major projects in the City of Fairfax. Last Tuesday, April 22, the City Council approved spending $8.1 million to develop and improve City-owned downtown properties and to renovate and expand the Police Department’s Firearms Training Center.

The one-story, indoor firing-range was built in 1985 of cinderblock and wood. It has six firing lanes, a small classroom, a weapons-cleaning area and an office/armory. And the City’s 66 police officers and three fire marshals conduct firearms training and state-mandated, firearms qualification there.

“Firearms skills are the most critical ones we can teach our officers and the most difficult to acquire,” said Deputy Police Chief Carl Pardiny. “And we believe they must be trained above state standards to protect our citizens’ lives.”

Trouble is, the existing range needs major renovations to the building, HVAC systems, target systems and support equipment. According to Police Chief Rick Rappoport, “The rapidly aging air-handling system – required by EPA regulations to remove the harmful byproducts of discharging firearms – and target-carrier system are anticipated to reach the end of their useful lives in the next two-to-three years.”

AS A RESULT, City staff recommended that Fairfax renovate the facility or risk its closure. So in July 2013, the City applied to the Virginia attorney general for a grant available to law-enforcement agencies. And in conjunction with the GMU and City of Falls Church police departments, it received $591,000 for a new facility.

So Fairfax’s cost to renovate and expand the training center will be offset by this grant, as well as by cost-sharing agreements with those two police departments, who’ll also use the facility. Councilman Dan Drummond said he liked the partnership with the GMU police force and called it a “great opportunity.”

Pardiny said the size of the sworn-officer police force “will determine the cost share of each of the three partners. But it’ll be a City facility under City control.”

With the infusion of funds, two more live-fire lanes will be added, plus a second floor to house classrooms, a firing-simulations training room and equipment, and offices for the instructors. Also planned is a secured vault for firearms and ammunition, plus a security system for the building.

In an April 3 memo to City Manager Robert Sisson, Rappoport said video-simulation firearms training provides officers with a variety of possible scenarios they could face on the job. “Simulation training reduces expenditures for ammunition and wear on the target and bullet-trap systems,” he explained. “Its interactive capabilities enhance training in tactical response, team coordination [multiple officers engaging in the scenario], verbal command and decision-making [shoot/don’t’ shoot].”

Added Pardiny: “We don’t have that technology now.”

Sisson said there’d be no financial impact on the City’s FY 2014-15 budget and that the construction cost would be financed over several years. Of the $8.1 million approved by City Council, $3.4 million is earmarked for the firearms facility.

THE OTHER $4.7 MILLION is for the Old Town Square Park, North Street pedestrian barrier and paving the Main Street/East Street public parking lot. Councilwoman Ellie Schmidt was among those approving the expenditures, but said, “I hope we find ways to do these projects as efficiently as possible.”