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Sheriff planning for new shooting range

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A plan to build a new training center and redesign the shooting range at the sheriff’s office has been revived and could be completed as soon as next year.

Last year, the county set aside $270,000 to build a two-story pole barn for training and storage and to renovate the shooting range at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, and the plan is to start construction this spring, Commissioner Brian Baird said.

In 2009, county officials discussed building a training facility and upgrading the shooting range as part of an $87 million jail expansion, but the idea was abandoned to cut costs. Instead, the county asked voters to approve a $23 million project to add 400 beds to the jail, which was turned down in 2010.

The new training center has been brought up again in preparation to move emergency dispatch operations for the entire county into the sheriff’s office basement, where sheriff’s deputies currently train. State law requires the county to combine its five dispatch centers by the end of 2014.

The county can build a facility that will be big enough for all deputies to train at the same time, instead of in shifts, and to add a storage area for arrest records the state requires the sheriff’s office to keep, Baird said. Currently, the sheriff’s office pays $300 a month to store those records in an Indianapolis warehouse.

Along with the new building, the county plans to renovate the sheriff’s office shooting range, which is not long enough for deputies to practice shooting larger weapons. The shooting range will be turned, so it no longer points toward residents’ homes, which was a safety concern for the sheriff’s office, Baird said.

Money for the training facility and shooting range upgrades comes from a nearly $1.7 million loan the county took out in October, which will also pay for renovations for a new superior court and furniture for the consolidated dispatch center. It will be paid back by taxpayers.

The county will start construction on the shooting range first in order to see how much room it takes and then will build the new training facility, Baird said. He said he’s unsure how big the facility will be, because the county plans to design the new building after construction has started on the shooting range.

When county officials resumed discussions about a new training facility last year, the shooting range was not included. But Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said they added the work to make the range safer for nearby residents.

Originally, the county planned to include a storage area in the training facility for sheriff’s office’s specialty vehicles, such as SWAT and scuba vehicles, but the county does not have enough money to add that space and to improve the range, Baird said.

“The range is more important to use than a parking spot for vehicles,” Cox said. “Range safety is key to me.”

Cox said he will not ask the county for more money to add the vehicle storage space. The county plans to look for ways to reduce costs so the projects planned will not cost more than $270,000, he said.

The training facility will include a first-floor training room that will seat about 120. The current training room can fit about 45 people. Records will be stored on the second floor.

State law requires the office to keep all files of people booked into the county jail forever because officers and investigators might need to look up information from past cases. Since there is not enough room at the jail, the sheriff’s office has been renting warehouse space, and officers have to drive to Indianapolis any time they need to look up a record, Cox said.

Most likely, the new training facility will be built where the former animal shelter building is, Cox said.

In 2009, the Johnson County Animal Shelter moved to a new facility off of Graham Road, and the building behind the sheriff’s office has not been used since. Cox said the building needs to be torn down and putting the new training facility in its place would be easier than constructing it somewhere else, because utilities are already there.

Baird was named to oversee the project as one of the three county commissioners. As a reserve deputy, he will use the new facility and range for training, along with the rest of the deputies. County officials believed he was the most knowledgeable commissioner to oversee the project.

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