FRANKFORT — Kentucky State Police hope that by June 2014 a former minimum security prison on 326 acres in Frankfort will house a state-of-the-art training academy for incoming cadets and current state police officers.
The $4.5 million make-over of the former Frankfort Career Development Center into a police academy began shortly after the state shuttered the facility in July 2011 because of a drop in prison population. The state police have been vying for a new training academy for more than 20 years.
State police currently train cadet classes out of a cramped former Ramada Inn on U.S. 60 shared with state police headquarters.
Although the U.S. 60 building has room to house cadets — who live on campus during training — it has no space for tactical training. That means training frequently takes place in the parking lot or a helipad. Its gym is the size of a small living room, and the grease trap from the neighboring kitchen sometimes drips into the gym.
The state police are in the process of hiring an architect and design team to design a new multipurpose building that will include offices, class rooms, a kitchen, cafeteria and a multi-purpose room that can be used for tactical training. They hope to break ground on the new building by late spring, said Rodney Brewer, the Kentucky State Police commissioner.
But the academy and the Kentucky State Police have been using buildings on the campus since July 2011.
By using existing money and manpower of academy staff, the state police have modified three buildings on the minimum security campus for classroom space. Because there are too few classrooms at the U.S. 60 location, the state police cannot run a cadet class and conduct training for current officers at the same time. That means they have had to rent office space in other parts of the city at a cost of about $25,000 to $30,000 a year, Brewer said.
To date, state police have revamped a former chapel, a visiting center and another building at the former career development center. A fourth building has been remodeled into a gym, and a fifth has been altered for tactical and other training.
The remodeling of those buildings has already been a boon for the state police and has cost taxpayers little, Brewer said. In total, about $125,000 has been spent on materials to upgrade the buildings and add new heating and air conditioning units. The state police have done nearly all the work themselves, Brewer said.
"It's been a lot of sweat equity," Brewer said.
And it's been a long time coming.
Brewer, who has been with Kentucky State Police since 1979 and became commissioner five years ago, said having an up-to-date training facility is key to having an outstanding police force. For 65 years, Kentucky State Police have not had their own, stand-alone training facility.
"We have been able to produce some really great people despite the sub-par conditions," he said. "But I think this will do more to influence the product that we produce over the next 25 years than anything else we do."
Cabinet for Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown said that the current state police training facility has not made it easy to recruit cadets.
"As far as a recruiting tool, particularly for today's young folks who have grown up in an era of wi-fi and social media, our old facility was just woefully inadequate," said Brown.
"It reminds me of a case where a college sends you a brochure that includes one beautiful snapshot of a classroom or part of a campus, but when you take your child for an actual visit, you feel like they violated truth in advertising standards because the place is a dump."
When the Department of Corrections decided to close the Frankfort facility to save money, Brown called Brewer to see if the state police would be interested in the sprawling, bucolic property next to the Franklin County Detention Center, a Library and Archives building and not much else on the East-West Connector Road in Frankfort.
Brewer jumped at the opportunity.
"I said, 'I'll be there in 10 minutes," Brewer said.
Gov. Steve Beshear also backed the project and set aside $2 million in state funds for the new building. State police are also using $2.5 million in federal forfeiture money — or money from the sale of items used in the commission of crimes — for the construction of the new building and remodeling of others. Eventually, Brewer would like to see the academy have its own indoor firing range and driver training facility.
The $4.5 million to convert the prison property is a lot, but to build a new facility would cost upwards of $34 million, Brewer said.