Sgt. Rob Sherar acknowledges that the headquarters of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Training Division will probably not garner any awards from Architectural Digest in the near future – but from the standpoint of cost, efficiency and overall value, Sherar says the site in the old U-City Mall is a hands-down winner.
“Aesthetically, it’s not the greatest, but it has made a real positive difference,” said Sherar, who transferred to the location when it opened in February 2009 and is one of nine full-time staff that call the venue home.
The Spokane Valley City Council received an update on the facility earlier this year from Deputy John Oliphant, training coordinator with the sheriff’s office that made it clear Sherar and other know what they are talking about.
In 2006, when the training unit was located at the CenterPlace Regional Events Center in Spokane Valley, the sheriff’s office hosted four regional classes and trained a total of 118 students with a total savings by the department of just over $46,000. The estimated economic impact of the site was nearly $17,000, utilizing a calculation of lodging expenditures plus additional spending as provided by the Spokane Visitors and Convention Bureau.
In 2007, the training program moved to the campus of Spokane Community College where it remained for two years. By 2008, the expanded agenda at SCC had trained 2,516 students and hosted 60 regional classes while having an estimated economic impact on the area of $652,530. Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office had saved $444, 286 by having officers remain home for training, cutting back on costs like travel, per diem, fuel, lodging and tuition.
Over the past two years, the U-City site has resulted in even more impressive totals.
From 2009 to 2010, the venue has hosted 174 regional classes, trained 5,617 students and generated just over $1.4 million for the local economy. Along the way, the sheriff’s office saved nearly $983,000.
“To a certain degree, it certainly has exceeded our expectations,” said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. “It’s building better, more professional law enforcement officers, saving us money and having a positive impact on the economy.”
Knezovich added that the site has been a key in improving collaboration among area agencies in Eastern Washington and North Idaho as officers from surrounding departments gather to attend combined training events. The facility has also welcomed students from countries like Japan, Australia and Canada.
“It’s become an international training venue,” Knezovich said.
Buildings that once housed bustling retail sites like J.C. Penney are now utilized for programs like the Citizens Academy earlier this year, attended by over 30 residents. Deputy Travis Pendell, who helped coordinate the academy, said the location is ideal for a variety of reasons.
“It’s centrally located and the classrooms are large enough to host any civilian classes,” he said. “It’s working out well.”
The two-story structure includes just over 11,700 square feet on the ground floor and nearly 20,200 square feet on the upper level. A defensive tactics area on the second floor resembles a utilitarian gym while warehouse spaces surrounding the center have been utilized for canine training and emergency scenario drills.
Oliphant’s presentation to City Council included an overview of the training unit’s future goals, including putting out bids for seminars and conferences attended by 200 to 300 students; developing more masters instructors to teach additional regional training classes and collaborating with Washington State University to provide webinars from the venue. There has also been talk of developing a permanent facility in the future with features like an emergency vehicle driving course, mock city and classrooms with teleconferencing and webinar technology.
In addition to a regular agenda of law enforcement in-service training, programs like boater safety and traffic school are held at the site. Top-notch audio/visual systems have been installed to improve the learning environment. Last week, workers from Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Services dropped by for a class in workplace safety taught by Sheriff’s Deputy Greg Snyder.
“I’ve had instructors say to me, ‘This place is awesome,’” said Sherar. “A lot of areas don’t have facilities like this. It’s really building a name for Spokane County.”