By some accounts, it seems like Fulton County just announced a plan to construct a new $15 million public safety training center: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution more or less broke the news June 15. But the resolution to build the center was introduced more than two years ago. 

Other news outlets followed suit, treating the story like breaking news. “On top of the controversial $90 million public safety training center in Dekalb County, there’s a proposal for another one in Fulton,” reported one broadcast the day after AJC’s piece ran.

Because of the imbroglio over Atlanta’s “Cop City,” which has seen months of street protests, dozens of arrests, terrorism charges, hours of public testimony, and the death of an activist—some social media chatter described “Fulton’s new Cop City” as a plan which will also draw opposition soon enough. “I honestly believe that this facility will be opposed as well,” the Rev. Keyanna Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “People are tired of their tax dollars being wasted on property which serves no good to the community.”

Yet, Fulton County’s proposal has been in the works since at least 2017, and there’s barely been a peep about it. The county has publicly discussed it as part of a capital improvements package since June 2021, and it’s been a line item in the county’s budget since January 2022. 

The training academy hasn’t been a secret, so why did the news take two years to surface? 

The Wolf Creek Shooting Complex, originally built as a shooting range for use in the 1996 Olympics, has been used for police training by the Fulton County Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, and roughly 60 local and federal agencies since 2005.

When South Fulton voted to incorporate in 2017, the city’s officials eyed taking control of the shooting complex because it sat within its new city limits. Two years later, South Fulton sued Fulton County over the rights to Wolf Creek and other county-owned amenities after the county refused to sell it at $100 an acre. The county sold some of its property in a land deal settled in January 2020. It then entered into a 10-year right-to-use agreement for the police training facilities while it developed a new facility. 

The county commission began exploring constructing a new police training center adjacent to the current academy because of the South Fulton issue as well as disrepair: According to officials, the Olympic facilities were never meant to last decades. “The current facility is dilapidated,” Chairman Rob Pitts told WABE. “It’s old…any kind of problem that you can think of with an older facility, we’ve experienced.”

A new public safety training center resolution was publicly introduced June 2021, in a Wednesday morning meeting held 30 minutes before the full commission met. It was a short special meeting of the county commission’s Fulton County Urban Redevelopment Agency  (FCURA) board, which handles urban planning projects.

During the 21-minute meeting, the county’s staff presented a portion of what was described as $150 million worth of capital improvements along Fulton Industrial Boulevard, south of I-20. The public safety training center plan was introduced alongside a new Animal Services facility and Emergency Operations Center—all primarily financed through a $55 million bond. The proposal called for six classrooms in a 25,000-square-foot building, with a driver training course and a two-story “shoot house” (a live ammunition small arms shooting range) to be added later. The facilities include a firearms simulation area and tactical and physical ability training.

The only mention of the Public Safety Training Center in Fulton County’s 2022 budget

These facilities weren’t listed in the meeting’s agenda, and discussion of it was sparse. Commissioner Lee Morris asked about the possibility of working with the City of Atlanta to build a shared training center. “Is that dead?” he asked county staff. It was “a practical impossibility,” responded County Manager Dick Anderson, because Atlanta officials had asked for a $4 million annual fee to participate.

The vote to approve the plan followed, with the six (of seven) commissioners in attendance voting yes. In a follow-up FCURA meeting held November 17, Fulton County Chief Operating Officer Anna Roach updated the board with news that $2.8 million of leftover funds would be put toward rising construction costs of $41.4 million for the three facilities, including $13.2 million for the Public Safety Training Center—up from $12.5 million—due to “material availability.” (The price tag is now $15 million). The board unanimously approved the motion by the end of the 14-minute meeting. The $55 million bond financing was approved during a third special FCURA meeting on December 1.

No members of the public spoke during the meetings, and there did not appear to be any media coverage resulting from them. No video of the June 2021 meeting is currently available online; the Fulton County clerk provided Atlanta Civic Circle with minutes.

The public safety training facility was also part of a small line item in the 102-page Fulton County 2022 budget, which stated that $55 million in Urban Redevelopment Bonds would be used for the animal shelter, air conditioning upgrades at the Justice Center Building, and the new Public Safety Training Center. But in the four 2022 budget discussions held in December 2021 and January 2022, the training center wasn’t mentioned by commissioners or members of the public. Instead, conversation focused on the disputed 2020 presidential election, cost-of-living raises for county employees, and the opportunity to build a Grammy museum in Fulton County. None of the Fulton County commissioners that Atlanta Civic Circle contacted for comment responded. 

The meetings where the new police academy were discussed were held in special weekday morning FCURA meetings before regular commission meetings, where public attendance was low.

Morris, who lost his reelection bid in November 2022, said he doesn’t recall any public discussion of the public safety training center. Still, he doesn’t think it would have been controversial considering its smaller size and price tag and the lack of environmental concerns, as compared to Atlanta’s “Cop City.”

Low civic engagement may factor into the lack of public knowledge about the training center plan. “We got very few constituent calls in my eight years on the county commission,” said Morris. 

The lack of media attention on county matters is also striking. That no news outlet, including Atlanta Civic Circle, covered Fulton County’s capital projects dealings closely, is not surprising to Morris. “The media doesn’t really pay much attention to the Fulton County government,” said Morris. “And that’s strange because Fulton County has more residents than Atlanta, our budget is bigger, and, arguably, does more important stuff that affects people’s lives.”

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