Morgantown City Council putting first responder training center on hold

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A measure that would approve the leasing of Defense in Depth and purchasing approximately $500,000 in equipment as part of establishing a First Responder Training Center is being put on hold. The decision to hold off the measure was made after the City Manager Kim Haws recommended council delay a final vote until it finishes clarifying the city’s purchasing procedures.

The deal has also received pushback from the public. Several speakers voiced various concerns during Tuesday’s city council meeting.

“We’re buying their outdated assets, how do we know how current these assets (are), did we do any competitive bidding, did we do any vetting on this particular project,” said Morgantown business owner James Guilliani. “Understanding, without even looking at anybody else, what did we do to vet this project,” he said.

Residents are also voicing their opposition over the lack of public access that appears to be part of establishing the First Responder Training Center. Recent conversations involving Morgantown Police Chief Eric Powell have eliminated the possibility of public use of a state-of-the-art indoor firing range due to security concerns. During the public portion of council’s meeting, residents pointed out not only the lack of issues during Defense In Depth’s operation but also the potential revenue of having an indoor firing range available to the public that has already used it in the past.

“There’s another revenue (source) that can generate at least something,” said resident Bryan Riley. “But with training and so forth for our police department, I agree they need a facility, but we also need a facility, so I ask you to please consider opening it up to the public. he said.

The lease agreement made between Defense In Depth and the Morgantown Police Department allows for a potential First Responder Training Center in the 19,938 square-foot Sabraton facility for ten years. The $500,000 in equipment purchases includes virtual reality training equipment and a live-fire simulator capable of engaging shooters in over 800 scenarios. With the contract involving a multi-million facility, residents are hoping for more transparency on the agreement that is expected to serve Morgantown first responders.

“As a businessman in Morgantown and I own a business in Morgantown, where’s the plan,” said resident Duka Esguerra. “Chief Powell came with a two-inch binder of all sorts of papers and, you know, I scoured and I Google-aid and I did all that fun stuff to find any details about this deal and nothing,” he said.

Residents are also hopeful that if the First Responder Training Center moves forward, it supports the community longer than the initial ten-year lease made in the agreement. With the risk of the building being given back to the owner, the cost measures adding to over $1 million for the purchase and the lease as well as the 20 officer shortage for the Morgantown Police Department, Morgantown residents hope to see the process improve in transparency or have the funds use to support other policing efforts, either through pay raises or other avenues.

“Does it make it any safer, they will be well-trained, but forty well-trained officers versus the 60 that we should have doesn’t make us any safer,” said Esguerra.

The potential lease and purchase agreement is expected to be addressed during future council meetings.