Academy plans await state approval

Jennifer R. McDonald, left, executive director of the Warren County Economic Development Authority, and Warren County Sheriff Danny McEathron stand on a parcel of land at the end of Progress Drive in Front Royal that will be the future site of an $8 million regional criminal justice training facility. Rich Cooley/Daily

Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority is getting plans in place for the new regional criminal justice academy in Front Royal.

Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said the next major step in building the facility won’t come until May, when the regional academy comes before the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services for approval as its own new agency.

She said the EDA has been working with Moseley Architects to draw up a site plan for the academy, which will eventually go before the planning commission. The building will be on an 18-acre plot in the Happy Creek Technology Park at the end of Progress Drive.

“We just need to hire the construction company, and that will be something that is chosen by the investor … we should have that soon,” she said.

The $8 million project will be completely funded by a private investor as a private project, with funds going through the EDA. McDonald said the investor decided to contribute to the academy project after she introduced them to Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron.

“This investor is really into law enforcement and public safety,” she said. “There really wasn’t a whole list of options that was given to them.”

The proposed academy will include 13 area law enforcement agencies that are currently part of the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy. McEathron said Warren officers currently use the satellite facility in Middletown and an outdoor shooting range in Frederick County.

McEathron said he’ll be in Richmond on May 12 with the proposal for the new agency, which would be Virginia’s 11th regional law enforcement academy. He said a legislative moratorium on the creation of new academies expired in 2014.

“We have everything that we need to hopefully gain approval,” he said.

If the new academy is approved, McEathron said the decision won’t take effect until July 2017. He said it’s not the academy’s intention to recruit new member agencies, although that could occur further down the line.

Since a firing range is included in the $8 million project, McEathron said the Sheriff’s Office now has no other capital improvement projects to send to the county, with the new public safety building and Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail checked off. According to a draft of the 2016-2017 Capital Improvement Plan on the county’s website, a shooting range for the Sheriff’s Office would have cost the county $3,756,000 and would have been built on county-owned land.

The range included in the new academy’s plans will be almost 5,000 square feet larger than the proposed Warren range, including additional classrooms and offices. The academy range is set to have three 50-yard lanes and 10 25-yard lanes.

McEathron said the new academy facility, with features like specialty training rooms and a graduation room, will be built to better suit its needs than the decades old building in Middletown.

When the member law enforcement agencies moved into the Middletown satellite facility in 2003, they entered into a debt service plan through the Rappahannock regional academy. Come December 2017, McEathron said that debt will be paid off and the new academy would be in the clear.

“It was always the intention to become our own academy at some point,” he said. “Timing is everything – right now we felt like 2017 is the perfect year for us.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com