Wiregrass Public Safety Center

Dothan Fire Chief Larry Williams talks about some of the training buildings being erected at the construction site of the Wiregrass Public Safety Center during a media tour on Tuesday.

With the shells of several structures in place, Dothan’s police and fire chiefs, Steve Parrish and Larry Williams, expressed exuberance over the Wiregrass Public Safety Center’s impending completion.

The state-of-the-art training center is slated for an Oct. 22 opening, impressive given the challenges constructions crews have faced with the weather since work began in February 2018.

“It’s a miracle this job is where it’s at,” said Ricky Saliba of Saliba Construction Company, lead contractor for the project. “Since mid-February 2018 when work started, we’ve had 105 inches of rain. The average in Dothan is 56 to 57 inches a year. We worked in the rain and mud (and) weekends.”

Hurricane Michael also provided construction crews with other obstacles. Yet, the project remains only six weeks behind, according to Randy Morris, City of Dothan’s general services director.

The initiative, which will create nearly innumerable training opportunities for emergency responders from around the region, began as a challenge for Saliba’s group. Due to the special needs of the training facilities – like a specific brick for firing ranges and other amenities– Saliba shipped in many of the facility’s pieces from great distances.

The facility includes a housing structure in which emergency responders can simulate a collapsed building, meaning Saliba’s group will literally construct a home that is off-kilter.

“When you get my age, you want something different – a challenge. And we sure got a challenge,” he said.

For city and other officials, the effort will be well worth it once the center opens.

Morris, who oversees the project for the city, said the idea for the center originated when Dothan needed to expand the Omussee Wastewater Treatment Plant. The expansion required the relocation of some of the police department’s training facilities, including its firing range.

Wiregrass Foundation officials decided to help in the development of new police facilities – and expand the project to a regional public safety center that could aid several departments. Wiregrass Foundation covered the vast majority of the center’s $18.3 million costs, leaving the city with about $1.8 million in expenditures.

The facility includes a few towers that both police and fire departments can use for training, a “Teach Me” house that trains children on fire dangers, and even an overturned railcar response situation. The latter two aspects are courtesy of partnerships with Jubilee Builders and Bay Line Railroad, respectively.

Morris said the architects of the project, RDG Planning and Design of Omaha, Nebraska, noted similar regional training centers have been constructed in the nation. Dothan’s facility differs because it has been constructed all at once, he added.

Another aspect that makes the Dothan facility unique is the community relations events Dothan Police and Dothan Fire have planned, Parrish said. The facility allows police officers and firefighters to teach the public various classes through various exercises – including gun safety, railroad crossing safety, and self-defense classes.

“This is beyond a police and fire training facility,” Parrish said. “The community aspects make it unlike any other facility in the country.”

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