Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba used his morning Bible study Thursday to find the proper words to describe the importance of the Wiregrass Public Safety Center‘s creation.
“I was studying in this book called Mark, and I was looking at this commentary. Across the commentary came a word, and it was ‘watershed’,” Saliba said before officials broke ground on the Ennis Road facility. “Watershed is a great word. If you look up watershed, it is a critical point that marks a vision or a change of course. It’s a turning point.
“Well, today, we’re witnessing a watershed event in Dothan, Alabama, and the Wiregrass today.”
The $22 million center will serve as a regional training facility for Wiregrass-area firefighters and police officers. Officials have touted it as a “one-of-a-kind” center that is needed to help improve emergency official response and quality of life for Wiregrass residents.
“For many, many years, fire, police, rescue , EMS, and many different public-private career volunteer agencies have dreamed of a day when we can put a shovel in the ground and start building a joint training center,” said Dothan Fire Chief Larry Williams. “We already have a joint team working, but one of the dreams we’ve had is that we can do more and more training together. We all work better as a team. That’s what the public expects of us, and this facility will allow that to occur.”
The facility will contain many features, including a state-of-the-art firing range, a “burn” house where fire departments can practice different scenarios, a driving skills area and an urban search and rescue facility. Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver noted first-response volunteers, like those who work with community volunteer fire departments, will benefit greatly from the new facility.
Additionally, Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish noted the center will also have resources that will build relations between the department and the community. The center will help foster the Police Officer Training Corps, a program that exposes Dothan High juniors and seniors to careers in law enforcement.
“Imagine these young people coming out here every day, attending classes side-by-side with our first responders, forging a strong bond between our first responders and our kids,” he said. “What better way to build relationships in the community? That’s the key to a true change in a community.”
Parrish also noted other classes could foster better relationships while helping residents protect themselves.
“Imagine home defense classes without cost to the public, coming out here and being able to qualify with a handgun under the supervision of licensed firearm instructors,” he said. “Rape Aggression Defense training, the junior police academy – these are the things that will separate the Wiregrass region and this training facility from any other facility in the country.”
The project is mostly funded through the Wiregrass Foundation, which approached city and county leaders about ways the organization could help emergency personnel, said Steve Shaw, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors.
“The common theme was collaborative training between city and county and their departments to create the best-trained law enforcement and the best-trained fire and EMS departments,” he said. “Quite simply, the feelings of the Wiregrass Foundation board was that it is our community we live in, where we work in, and where we are blessed to enjoy life. We all wanted to support our safety leaders and the outstanding men and women that work in these outstanding organizations.”
Saliba Construction Company received the contract to construct the facility. It is estimated that it will take 18 months to complete the project.