JEFFERSON — The plans for Jackson County’s Fire Training Facility have been in the works for about nine years, and one more step in the process got approval from the county commission at this week’s meeting.
But the 3-2 vote in favor of removing a driving course planned next to one of the facility’s buildings didn’t come without opposition.
The complex in question receives its funding from SPLOST III and IV and gives firefighters, sheriff’s department officials, local law enforcement agencies and other emergency response teams the chance to practice driving emergency vehicles and putting out a building fire, among other important skills.
At the June 1 meeting, members of the commission discussed the possibility of reducing the facility’s cost with regard to the driving course — a possibility that Capital Projects Manager Don Clerici looked into, with the help of Tax Commissioner Don Elrod and County Commissioners Tom Crow and Chas Hardy.
The new plans, which Hardy, Chairman Hunter Bicknell and Commissioner Bruce Yates voted in favor of, essentially remove the driving course and increase the size of a driving pad on the side of the burn building for use during driver training, Clerici said. Constructing the 92,000-square-foot driving course would have cost $438,830 of the $983,000 budget for concrete paving.
"The pad was already there for a training area and we’ve increased the size of that pad," he explained. "The pad around the burn tower is now 285 feet by 300 feet. That’s really the gist in the change."
But Crow and Commissioner Dwain Smith opposed the measure, citing insurance savings the county would receive for building a driving course and the importance of safety training for the emergency responders in Jackson County.
"I worked in emergency services for 30 years, and we started out with nothing to train with," Crow said. "I just don’t want to compromise training and compromise safety."
Members of fire departments in Hall, Gwinnett and Jackson counties also spoke at the meeting and expressed similar sentiments.
"The voters have voted and they have approved it. We spent nine years planning it and it was not done casually," said Doug Waters, a retired firefighter from Jefferson. "To take away that facility and move it would be a gross error in judgment. It’s a good design, it serves the purpose, it will meet our needs and we’ve got the money to do it. We should do it."
Hardy and Bicknell, on the other hand, agreed that the land where the driving course was supposed to be built would still belong to the county and could be developed later should the need arise to build a separate driving course.
In addition, Hardy said he spoke with residents and emergency responders alike about the project, both of whom said to cut costs where possible.
"I feel like it’s a fair compromise to come up with this possible solution," Hardy said of the new plans. "We’re going to have a lot of issues with this fire training facility but one of the things I hear from my constituents is the cost of it."