Tarrant County to begin design, planning for renovated $19.5M law enforcement training facility

dfwnewsa | December 5, 2023 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News , Tarrant County , Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office

Tarrant County to begin design, planning for renovated .5M law enforcement training facility

A banner hangs in the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office current training facility. The building was built in the 1970s and doesn’t have enough space to house the office’s staff, Sheriff Bill Waybourn said. (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report)

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Tarrant County Commissioners Court took its first step in a planned $19.59 million renovation of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office existing training center Tuesday.

Commissioners approved the agreement 4-1 with Precinct 2 Commissioner Alissa Simmons voting no. The $1.9 million contract with Komatsu Architecture requires completion of the design and construction plans for the redesigned facility and manages permits, construction bidding and furniture selection for the building.

Tarrant County Commissioners chose to renovate the county’s existing facility at Tarrant County Resource Connection rather than partner with Tarrant County College in November to expand upon the college’s existing facilities. The new facility will provide better training for Tarrant County’s jailers who staff Tarrant County Jail, Precinct 4 commissioner Manny Ramirez said.

The sheriff’s office’s existing facility is 41,700 square feet. Previously, the sheriff’s office was one of three county departments sharing the building. The county plans to devote the entire building to the training facility and add about 2,500 extra square feet to the building.

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The expansions will more than double the space available for the training academy.

The plans will include the renovation of the building’s interior and exterior. The architecture firm will also oversee the renovation of 1,860 square feet for SWAT vehicle storage and personnel.

The new facilities will help the sheriff’s office to expand vital training programs, Sheriff Bill Waybourn said in a statement.

“This training center has been needed for over a decade,” Waybourn said. “We are so excited for this opportunity and we look forward to being able to use this facility and the tools that will come with it to their fullest potential.”

Simmons is concerned that spending more on jailer training will not result in better outcomes at Tarrant County’s jail, she said. At least 52 people have died in Tarrant County Jail custody since 2017, some after alleged mistreatment and neglect, according to reporting from KERA News.

“We cannot seem to put practices in place to prevent inmates from dying,” Simmons said. “We’re paying for training that is apparently not being adhered to, we’re paying for settlements and now we’re paying to expand facilities. I don’t think this is fiscally responsible.”

Commissioners allocated $11 million to renovate and expand the sherriff’s law enforcement training center in September using federal COVID relief funding through the American Rescue Plan Act. Simmons believes that reallocation came at the cost of programs for housing and child care.

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“We are now chipping away at these leftover funds to pay architects to try to finance the law enforcement training center,” Simmons said. “The word disingenuous comes to mind.”

Komatsu Architecture is speeding up the timeline for design and construction to meet the deadlines required by the federal government, Ramirez said. The county must allocate all of its ARPA money by 2024 and spend it all by 2026 — or give it back.

“We are moving as fast as possible,” Ramirez said.

County leaders previously considered constructing a new facility for a total cost of $50 million. However a July feasibility study produced by Komatsu revealed the $50 million price tag for a new stand-alone building could not include a firing range and driving track. Commissioners then directed Komatsu to consider adding space to an existing law enforcement facility rather than building a new one.

“We get to leverage all of the existing infrastructure, the water, sewer, parking lots,” Ramirez said. “These are things that we don’t have to re-create and it’s gonna save the taxpayers a whole heck of a lot of money.”

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The sheriff’s office training programs are split between two facilities. Detention employees who apply to work at the Tarrant County Jail require jailer training at Tarrant County Resource Connection.

Sheriff deputies, who require basic academy training, are trained at Tarrant County College Northwest. After the renovation, deputies will continue to go through basic academy training at Tarrant County College.

The commissioners court has the option to spend $18 million on a shooting range at Tarrant County College Northwest and a $3.9 million tactical training space as part of the renovation. All told, the project could cost up to $50.4 million.

Those additions could come later, Ramirez said, and build on existing facilities at the northwest campus.

“We felt like the need right now is to provide more comprehensive, more complete, better training and equipment to our jailers,” Ramirez said. “This is the quickest and most efficient and effective way to do it.”

The design process will begin in January 2024.

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