Tennessee contracting with 20 firms for $415 million law enforcement training project

Gov. Bill Lee is seen in June at the signing of the Transportation Modernization Act. / Tennessee Lookout Photo by John Partipilo
Gov. Bill Lee is seen in June at the signing of the Transportation Modernization Act. / Tennessee Lookout Photo by John Partipilo

Tennessee is hiring nearly 20 contractors to build a massive $415 million law enforcement training center on state property in Nashville.

State officials broke ground recently at the 600-acre site near Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, where death row inmates are housed in North Nashville, joined by law enforcement leaders from across the state.

Department of Correction and Department of Safety and Homeland Security offices will be housed there, along with training facilities for state troopers and officers, including dorms, a driving track and K-9 kennels.

"This site represents one of the best examples of interagency cooperation Tennessee has ever seen," Brandon Gibson, chief operating officer for Gov. Bill Lee, said at a recent ceremony. "It represents the future of law enforcement training in Tennessee, and this site represents the governor's and the General Assembly's dedication to law enforcement in this state."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga Police Department to apply for $1.6 million state grant for equipment, software)

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, both members of the State Building Commission, supported the project, and Lee credited their backing with helping fund it. Sexton noted it provides a long-term vision for the future of law enforcement training.

Lee started touring law enforcement training facilities statewide to check on conditions after he took office nearly five years ago, he said.

"I remember walking through facilities where tiles were missing and 40-year-old bathrooms and bunk rooms that I wouldn't want to stay in, and I got a vision that day, almost 4 1/2 years ago, that we needed to do something different," Lee said.

Though the governor appeared to take responsibility for the project, the Department of General Services started work on the law enforcement training center as early as 2017, if not earlier, before Lee won his first election.

Only about five state lawmakers turned out for the groundbreaking ceremony two weeks ago, none of them representing Davidson County.

Democratic state Rep. Vincent Dixie, whose district contains the property, said he received an email blast inviting lawmakers shortly after the governor's special session on public safety ended but that it wasn't the normal protocol and he didn't see it and, thus, didn't attend. The governor's office usually calls lawmakers to invite them to a special event in their district, he said.

Dixie has mixed emotions about the project. He wants to avoid a "Cop City," such as the center going up in Atlanta, and he believes officers should go through "cultural sensitivity" as well as technical training.

"I'm not a big supporter of it because of the nature of it, but I do support our police officers in training, because I believe this is going to be a combination with the FBI," Dixie said.

Besides the law enforcement training center, the Lee administration put $150 million into a violent crime prevention fund, $60 million toward state trooper bonuses and funding to hire 200 more highway patrolmen.

A portion of the property lies within the floodplain of the Cumberland River, but the state doesn't plan to construct any major buildings in those areas, and other steps are being taken to minimize the impact of a potential flood, said Michelle Sanders Parks, a spokeswoman for the Department of General Services.

(READ MORE: Tennessee budget breakdown highlights Lee's spending priorities)

Breaking the project into "smaller sub-projects" allows the state to evaluate designers and construction managers for each section, Parks said.

The state is using what is called a construction manager method for the project, a situation in which the state negotiates a cost with a contractor, who then works with the designer to complete the job, taking on a bit more risk. Because of the project's magnitude, construction managers are being used on every facet.

The construction cost is $287.8 million, but the total includes other factors like design, administration and furniture.

The state put $23 million in the fiscal 2021-22 budget and $355.6 million in the fiscal 2022-23 budget for the project. Another $5 million is coming out of Department of General Services operating funds, and $31.5 million is coming out of a reserve fund.

Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.

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