Criminal justice academy planned

Jennifer McDonald
Daniel T. McEathron

Within the next year and half, Front Royal will become home to a new regional criminal justice training academy, thanks to financing from an anonymous benefactor.

Jennifer McDonald, executive director of the Warren County Economic Development Authority, said an unnamed investor came forward in fall 2015 wanting to contribute something to the community. After talking things over with the investor, they decided to finance an $8 million project for the new academy.

“Once they had determined which project they would like to work on, there was an estimate given,” she said. “There was never a number given up front; it was based on the project.”

She could not confirm who the investor is or whether it is a company or individual.

Law enforcement from Clarke, Frederick and Warren counties and the city of Winchester will be part of the academy, as well as the Strasburg Police Department, Lord Fairfax Community College Police Department, Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center and the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail. The Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office and other town police departments in Shenandoah are part of the Central Shenandoah Criminal Justice Training Academy.

Until now, Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron said, officers have been training at the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy in Middletown. He said the 13 members to utilize the new facility are seeking to establish a yet unnamed academy through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, which can only be applied for every five years.

“We know we have to get everything in line … and break away, otherwise we would have to wait another five years to do that,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time, we just all collectively … didn’t feel we were ready for it.

“Rappahannock Regional is very supportive of us doing this,” he continued. “They know we have basically been our own academy since 1998, we’ve always run our own operation.”

If the new unnamed regional training academy is approved and sets up in the new Front Royal location, McEathron said the 13 members could eventually choose to lease or sell the Middletown facility, as he said the debt to Rappahannock Regional would be paid off in December of 2017.

Despite the convenient location, McEathron said officers would probably still travel elsewhere for more specialized training like animal control classes.

“When you travel to another facility, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done here,” he said. “We can offer absolutely everything at this facility, but obviously the classes that you offer, you have to have enrollment for.”

The academy will consist of a 15,300-square-foot training facility and a 14,000-square-foot firing range on an 18-acre plot at the end of Progress Drive, a news release from the EDA explained.

McDonald said the indoor shooting range will mean nearby businesses and academies probably won’t have to worry about hearing gunshots. The academy would also have to abide by Front Royal’s noise ordinance.

“From my understanding, the way that they construct these facilities now, the noise level is very minimal,” she said.

She said the EDA is handling the expenditures of the project as a middleman between the investor and contractors and is hoping to start construction by fall of this year. Completion of the facility could come as early as July 2017.

“We’re in a design phase right now and trying to get the property wrapped up, getting the appropriate plats and subdivision plats for where this project’s going to be,” she said.

While McDonald said the new facility wouldn’t be creating any new jobs in the area, it would be saving law enforcement officers trips to Middletown and bringing more business to area hotels, restaurants and businesses. She said tax exemption for the facility is still up in the air and would depend on whose name and ownership goes down in the books.

“During construction, it will be in the name of the EDA,” she said. “At the end of the construction period, we’re not sure how that’s going to get transferred.”

All in all, she said, the EDA’s work with law enforcement and a donor like this one is unprecedented.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this,” she said.

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

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