Downtown Chattanooga police firing range funding to bring much debate

Downtown Chattanooga police firing range funding to bring much debate

November 13th, 2013 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

Sheriff Jim Hammond will return to the Hamilton County Commission today to again seek a $500,000 bump in funding for the joint city-county downtown police firing range -- and he might feel like he's wearing a target.

Hammond first approached the commission three weeks ago after he said professional fees and soil remediation pushed the project beyond its original $4 million price tag. The commission and the city have each already kicked in $1.5 million, and a $1 million grant covered the rest. But Hammond asked commissioners to cover half of an extra $1.05 million overage. The city is expected to cover the other half.

That didn't go over well with commissioners, who immediately started shooting questions at him about the roof, design, size and purpose of the planned 24,000-square-foot building on the 700 block of East 12th Street. They told Hammond to gather answers and return today.

Since then, commissioners were given schematic drawings that show a funding breakdown for the range and a floor plan. The firing area is 12,154 square feet and makes up $996,000 of construction costs, while the training facility area -- which includes offices, classrooms and bathrooms -- is 12,333 square feet and will cost $1.08 million to build, according to the plans.

Commission Chairman Fred Skillern said Tuesday the documents only produced a new battery of questions for him.

"I've got questions about the number of the parking places and about the nonshooting part being bigger than the shooting part," Skillern said. "The more I find out, the more questions I have. I'm not getting many answers."

Matthew Twitchell with Franklin Architects, the company hired to design and construct the range, said Monday the initial $4 million quote was preliminary.

"When the folks went to the county commission for the $1.5 million it was very early in the process," Twitchell said.

There were other variations of the design, but the ones supplied to commissioners were the ones determined most cost efficient while still meeting requirements from Hammond and Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd, he said.

Hammond said the lower cost designs weren't sufficient and the one supplied was a "bare-bone version."

"We had one where we cut further, but we realized we were putting ourselves in an untenable situation. We have to build something that's going to last us 20 years. Training [standards are] only going to increase, not decrease," the sheriff said.

The bottom line, according to Hammond, is the city and county's combined 1,200 officers need a place to keep their skills sharp.

The decades-old outdoor range on Moccasin Bend is being turned over to the U.S. National Park Service.

Kate Abernathy, a state spokeswoman, said the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council requires all officers to have eight hours of annual range training. More is better, she said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.