As westbound Highway 55 turns into Highway 52, there's a white building surrounded by a fence on the right side of the road. You might not know it by the looks of it, but the building is used by emergency services departments from throughout Dakota County and the state for practice and training.
Over the past year, the owner of the building, Flint Hills Resources, has made about $100,000 in upgrades to the building to make it safer, more attractive, and more importantly, more useful for emergency services departments. The building was used to house a trucking company owned by Koch Industries.
As part of the recent upgrades made to the building, Flint Hills constructed a mock eight-unit apartment complex inside the building, complete with doors and rooms of varying size and shape. Another part of the building houses a duplex-style house with two levels.
Dakota County Chief Deputy Dave Bellows was recently there for a training session on use of force and building searches. He said one of the most dangerous situations police officers encounter on the job is conducting a building search in a home or other structure with a lot of doors. Bellows was impressed by the setup inside.
"It's trying to give us training that's as close to real as you can get," he said.
Outside, there are about five acres of land that are also used for training and practice. There are two obstacle courses on the property, one used by people and another for police dogs. There's also a school bus law enforcement agencies use to practice several scenarios that involve buses. A white van is also parked outside and used in practicing felony stops.
Recently, the Hastings Police Department's Citizen Police Academy met there for a class, and participants were put in real-life situations that police officers have to deal with on the job. The participants were given guns with Simunition rounds (similar to paint balls) and had to arrest "bad guys" played by Hastings police officers.
Hastings Police Chief Mike McMenomy said they could have taught participants about building searches and practiced them in a different location, but it wouldn't have been the same.
"We could have done building searches, but not with the Simunition weaponry," he said.
The rounds leave marks when they hit things like walls, which is no problem in the training facility. The walls are bare plywood.
The Hastings Police Department hasn't conducted any training there since the upgrades were made, but Hastings K-9 officer Mike Schmitz and Hastings police dog Eis have used the obstacle course to keep Eis sharp.
McMenomy said in the spring he's planning on using the facility for a mandatory training session all Hastings officers have to go through on the use of force and building searches.
A paint job, and the replacement of the heating and electrical systems in the building were also among the upgrades made in the past year .