COD considers plans to build training center for first responders

College of DuPage officials say the nearest comprehensive training center for emergency first responders is in Texas, so they're taking the lead in trying to bring one to Chicago's suburbs.

The proposed Midwest Regional Training Center is envisioned as an off-campus training facility for local, state and federal agencies, as well as an emergency operations center where such groups can work together during a crisis.

The college has been looking at multiple locations — primarily in DuPage County — on which to build the training center that would cover between 30 and 50 acres. So far, officials haven't revealed exactly which sites they've explored.

The construction price tag is estimated between $60 million and $75 million.

“It seems like a lot of money, but in the final analysis it's not a great deal of money when you consider what it is we would be doing on this site on behalf of people who live in this country who contribute to all we have and all we appreciate,” College of DuPage President Robert Breuder said. “We've conceived something that we believe is at the right time at the right place.

“We have to find the money to be able to create these kinds of facilities to be able to continue to train the men and women who protect this country and this country's interests.”

The facility would feature several indoor firearm ranges with simulations of weather conditions and moving targets, a tactical village to conduct mock shooter- and incident-response scenarios, emergency vehicle driving courses, a water rescue area, a burn tower, an airplane fuselage and a debris pit.

Legat Architects completed renderings of the facility after conducting brainstorming sessions with COD and law enforcement officials in December and January.

Joe Cassidy, the college's dean for continuing education and extended learning, said the project fits well with goals set during a recent White House summit with community colleges and businesses that analyzed how schools can meet increased demands for job training.

Cassidy said elements of the proposed facility already exist in the area, but as a whole, “there's nothing as comprehensive as what we're talking about.”

COD is partnering with West Chicago on the project. Police Chief Laz Perez said he was looking for additional space for officer training when he heard the college was spearheading a project that included shooting ranges.

“There are very few if any ranges in the area,” Perez said. “It's hard to get range time. It's not just a West Chicago or College of DuPage issue. If you talk to any of the chiefs in the area, (they'll say) we're bidding for very limited range space.”

It's unclear if West Chicago is being considered as a possible site for the facility, but Perez said people should not read too deeply into the city's partnership with COD.

Elements of the proposed facility had at one time been considered for inclusion on COD's Glen Ellyn campus, but when the scope of the project grew, officials began looking elsewhere for potential locations, Cassidy said.

Breuder said once officials know the project “has legs,” they'll begin taking a closer look at potential sites and work to acquire one of them.

Other agencies that have been active in conversations about the facility include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Illinois Emergency Management Agency; DuPage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; Chicago Police Department; BNSF Railway; and Canadian National Railway.

The college also sent a survey to gauge the interest of area police and fire departments and 130 have responded.

Wauconda Fire Chief Dave Dato said there are scattered locations throughout Lake County where “bare bones” training takes place, but the proposed facility would bring first responders throughout the region to one place.

“I think this particular facility would really lend itself to enhancing a lot of our activities together,” Dato said.

COD officials say they also plan to inform businesses and schools about the proposed facility, which could be used for training employees on workplace and campus safety.

Plans for the training center follow the opening of the $30 million, 66,000-square-foot Homeland Security Education Center on COD's campus in fall 2011. The facility houses the college's criminal justice and fire science/EMS programs and Suburban Law Enforcement Academy, which provides continuing education courses for area police department personnel. The building also features a “4D immersive street scene” and an emergency management center that was used by law enforcement agencies during the NATO summit last May.

COD administrators and some members of the college's board of trustees recently went to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Illinois' congressional delegation to solicit support for the project.

“There was a lot of interest,” Trustee Nancy Svoboda said. “We're not sure about dollars.”

Breuder said he's also trying to seek financial backing from DuPage County, the city of Chicago, and the state.

“In the end, will they see this as a priority and therefore be willing to commit some revenue to make it happen?” Breuder said. “The old expression is 'put your money where your mouth is.' If you're saying protecting people is of paramount concern to us, then how do we do that?”

Whether taxpayers within the community college's District 502 might be asked to support the project via referendum is still uncertain. Breuder said the college is sending out a survey to residents to “gauge the temperature of the community” and see if they'd be willing to support the project with tax dollars.

He said he believes the project fits with the college's mission and vision, which is increasingly focused on the areas of health care, culinary and hospitality, and homeland security.

“This is as good a project as I think has ever come before this institution,” he said.

Breuder says he expects to get a better idea of the viability of financial support for the project over the course of the next three months.

The College of DuPage is in the planning stages for a $50 million to $75 million Midwest Regional Training Center for first responders that would include railroad tracks, a burn tower, an airplane fuselage and hazardous materials tanks. artistÂ’s renderings Courtesy of College of DuPage
The proposed Midwest Regional Training Center would include a tactical village that would allow first responders to conduct mock shooter- and incident-response scenarios, officials said. Courtesy of College of DuPage
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