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Public safety training center plan looks at parkland; explosives site to move elsewhere

The latest site plan for Atlanta's public safety training center, released Nov. 9, includes a relocated shooting range and a training vehicle entrance on Constitution Road.

By John Ruch

The Atlanta public safety training center’s planners’ responsiveness to local concerns — including a willingness to help design adjacent parkland — drew praise from an advisory committee at its November meeting. One surprise change, though, means an explosives detonation facility will be moved somewhere else to be determined.

In another update, reports from environmental and cultural resources studies of the site, a key step in determining what can be built where, are expected in mid to late December. And the site plan was tweaked to move a firing range that is the focus of local noise concerns.

The police and firefighter training center is planned for the former Atlanta Prison Farm, a City-owned property along Key Road within unincorporated DeKalb County already used as a shooting range and the former site of the police academy. The secretly planned site choice remains controversial and protests continue with the goal of getting the next mayor to trigger a contract clause allowing the City to back out of the lease. The Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee was created by the City Council to provide public input in the remainder of the planning and construction phase.

As part of a compromise to secure the council’s approval, the training center’s footprint was reduced in favor of a larger area for what is presumed to become public parkland, though exactly how remains unclear. However, the environmental study commissioned by the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) encompasses a larger area because it began before that downsizing. And some committee members have pushed for the planners to address some or all of the park space and its environmental conditional as well.

At the committee’s Nov. 9 meeting, held via Zoom, planners said it remains unclear how much leverage they might have over the rest of the Prison Farm site, but indicated a willingness to do what they could.

Bob Hughes of HGOR, APF’s planning firm, actively solicited ideas from the committee and suggested several, including invasive species removal, construction of some trail segments, and identifying space for additional parking. A dog park, an ATV-riding track, walking trails and cycling connectivity were among committee members’ immediate thoughts.

Another piece of responsiveness came from community concerns about the firing range and explosive detonation facility, which already operate on the Prison Farm site, disturbing adjacent neighborhoods and parks, and that remained as elements of the original plan. APF and Atlanta Police Department (APD) officials now say that, due to community concerns, the explosives facility not only has been removed from the training center plan but will be removed from the current site as well.

APD Deputy Chief Darin Schierbaum, a committee member, revealed that the department is “exploring other sites to move that to,” and that the possible locations “are not in this immediate area.” APF and APD did not immediately respond to questions about those possible locations.

Indeed, it remains unclear what the full elements of the training center plan are after various changes that show such items as trainee housing dropping off a map. APF for months has not responded to questions about the changes. In a little-noticed comment at the time of the reduction of the training center’s footprint, APF told SaportaReport that the change would force unspecified elements of the facility to go somewhere else.

As for the gun range, it’s staying in both the present and future sites. But it is moving farther away from some neighborhoods to the area of Constitution Road. Its proposed site has shifted a bit, Hughes said, out of concerns that it was too close to a stream that bullets might pollute. A study of sound impacts is gearing up, with planners saying the greater distance and a slope of the ground should act as significant mitigations.

Lily Ponitz, the committee’s newly elected secretary, noted the range would sit right next door to the Metro Regional Youth Detention Center, a state-run jail for juveniles that also offers schooling. Planners had no immediate response to her question about noise impacts on those children.

Constitution Road is also where planners aim to put the driveway for an emergency vehicle test-driving track, and maybe the main entrance for the entire facility as a way to reduce community concerns about traffic on narrow Key and Fayetteville roads. Hughes said the main entrance would have to span a stream, raising environmental approval issues, but that planners’ “fingers are crossed” about the possibility.

Beyond the meetings, the committee also got a firsthand look at the site on a Nov. 13 walk through suggested by City Councilmember Joyce Sheperd, who is also a committee member. “It was great,” said committee member Nicole Morado in an email. “Bob Hughes helped a lot with showing us the grading of the property to get a better sense of where things would be developed. We also discussed clearing the invasive growth.”

For the general public, the committee and APF, who is in charge of operating it, continue to have transparency issues. Responding to a committee member’s complaint that maps in the Nov. 9 meeting were hard to read, APF Chief Operating Officer Marshall Freeman said the full presentation would be sent to all members. But the presentation is not available on the training center’s website, which instead features only an extremely brief written summary of votes and agenda items from the meeting.

SaportaReport was unable to attend the meeting live, and APF and the committee chair did not initially respond to questions about whether it was recorded. APF eventually provided access to a recording after SaportaReport filed a formal open records request. The recording, which is two parts due to an accidental disconnection, is available by clicking here (with passcode H.Bf2?r2) and here (with passcode 2f^TcXG@).

The next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 7. For updates, see APF’s training center website.

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