The Olathe Fire Department is moving forward with plans to build a $4 million training center that will not only serve the department’s own firefighters but also attract fire departments and rescue agencies throughout the region.
Fire Chief Jeff DeGraffenreid on Tuesday laid out plans for the center to the City Council, who still must approve the design and spending on the project.
DeGraffenreid said the facility would allow Olathe personnel to train locally while still being able to respond to emergencies nearby. Currently, he said the department has to travel to training facilities in Overland Park and Platte County, Mo.
“It is an exciting opportunity for us to provide some much-needed training space here in our community,” DeGraffenreid said.
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The city plans to build the center on property it owns on the east side of Hedge Lane at Layton Drive. The location is a half-mile north of Olathe West High School, where the Olathe School District houses its Public Safety Academy.
The center would include a number of structures that firefighters could use to simulate burning buildings, trapped victims or other common rescue scenarios, including a multi-story “burn tower.” The site would also have large paved areas to simulate city streets and have space for junked cars or other “props” that personnel could use to train.
DeGraffenreid said his department currently sends personnel to the Platte County facility around 24 days a year, which would represent immediate cost savings for the city. He said other emergency agencies could help offset the center’s construction and operation further by paying a fee to use the center.
“Even today, with the space (in) the fire administration building in terms of classroom space, we train over 50 other fire departments on an annual basis, and we would expect that to only increase here,” he said. “We’ve had some pretty in-depth conversations with folks who are excited about this coming to our community because it will provide a place in Johnson County where they can have class-A burn space, which is not (currently) available.”
The city owns the land on three sides of the center, but council members expressed some concern about how fires and other activity at the center could affect a residential neighborhood on the other side of Hedge Lane.
“We want to be good neighbors,” said Mayor Michael Copeland.
DeGraffenreid said training fires would produce only moderate amounts of smoke and the property slopes downhill from Hedge Lane, which should reduce visibility of any smoke or flames. He added that architects will be told to keep the neighborhood in mind when making the final center designs.
“This is something we’ve been working toward for some time and it looks like there’s been some good progress here,” said council member Jim Randall.
Assuming the project is designed and approved on schedule, DeGraffenreid estimated the center would open in the first half of 2020.
In other business, the council reviewed the Municipal Court’s plan to implement a number of new court fees, including a $5 security fee added to almost all ordinance violations to help pay for security personnel at the court. The security fee would not be imposed on seat belt or parking violations.
Municipal Court Judge Katie McElhinney told the council that other courts help pay for security through their court fees but don’t always break it out like Olathe is planning. She added that the fee will raise an estimated $60,000 to $65,000 a year but won’t come close to actually paying for personnel costs.
The court also plans to increase from $20 to $35 the monthly monitoring fee it charges for people on parole, probation or suspended sentences.
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