The County Council is moving forward with a new public safety training academy in Gaithersburg after years of debate between the community and county government.
The council is proposing the construction of a new facility to replace the aging Public Safety Training Academy currently located at the intersection of Great Seneca Highway and Darnestown Road in Rockville.
Its new location will be on Snouffer School Road near Fessenden Lane, on a currently vacant site called the Webb Tract, just outside Montgomery Village’s North Village community. The facility is the primary location for Montgomery County police and Fire and Rescue Service training.
When the current academy was built over 40 years ago, Montgomery County spokesperson Patrick Lacefield said, it was isolated, in a mostly rural setting. Now, the academy is located among biotechnology companies in what has become the Great Seneca Science Corridor.
“That land is incredibly valuable for taking some of our biotech sector to the next level,” he said. “It could be put to better use.”
Director of General Services David Dise said the current facility is too small to adequately serve the county’s needs.
“The existing facility has been built, expanded, renovated and added onto on and off over the last few decades,” he said. At this point, renovating the current academy would cost more than the facility is worth, he said.
The county started looking for a new site around 2008. The search became one of the first tasks Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) tackled when he entered office.
Dise said the county worked with local groups and neighbors to draw up the plans for the facility.
“They were very concerned and uncertain, at first, about what the county would do and what the impact would be,” he said.
Residents and coalitions were worried about light pollution, noise pollution and the environmental impact of the site on a nearby stream.
“They played a significant role in the design,” Dise said.
In 2008, Montgomery Village leaders eased up on their criticism of the planned academy, seeing it as a better alternative than private commercial development, The Gazette previously reported.
The county has agreed that delivery trucks on their way to and from the facility will not be permitted through local residential streets, cutting back on traffic disruptions. A 300-foot buffer of trees will be placed near the vehicle training track to reduce noise from the cars.
The estimated cost of the new academy is about $63.1 million. Dise said the footprint of the new academy will be about twice the size of the current one.
The new facility will be outfitted with an indoor firing range, canine facility, a fire safety training building, classrooms and specialized training areas for EMT paramedics and emergency vehicle drivers.
A structured parking facility will be located on the industrial-zoned site, Dise said.
Once the site of the current facility has been cleared, it will be opened up to private development, Lacefield said.
In the future, Montgomery County Public Schools and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission facilities are slated to move next to the academy, on the 129-acre Webb Tract. The schools district’s food distribution facility, facility maintenance center and parks authority’s central park maintenance site will be located on the east side of the site, Dise said. Construction of the food distribution facility will begin this fall.
Construction of the academy will begin in 2014, Dise said. Snouffer School Road will be widened in a few years, he said, but construction of turn lanes and signals for the Webb Tract development will start in fiscal year 2015.
The academy is one of four high-price projects in the county’s capital budget. Projects above the county’s cost threshold, $12.9 million, require individual approval from the County Council and an additional public hearing before construction can begin.
Voters who oppose the project will have the opportunity to gather signatures and challenge it through a referendum, according to Deputy Council Staff Director Glenn Orlin.
The county council is scheduled to hold a hearing on the training academy on June 25.
Staff writer Kate Alexander contributed to this story.