WILLOWS — Glenn County public safety agencies have something they've needed for a long time, and it's a bargain at just $1 a year.
Although not quite officially open, the Swift Public Service Training Center, just south of Willows, has already hosted a couple of training sessions.
The center is largely the brainchild of Willows Police Chief William Spears, who was still a newcomer to Glenn County earlier this year when he learned that a former trucking facility just outside of town had been temporarily abandoned.
Spears said Phoenix-based Swift Transportation Co. Inc., which operated a regional center from the 15-acre facility until two years ago, plans to come back, but that could be up to three years away.
In the meantime, Spears figured the buildings, and a sprawling, paved parking lot would make a very suitable place to conduct public safety training.
The company liked the idea and offered a lease at just $1 per year. Spears was a little apprehensive, however, when he got a good look at the waist-high weeds around the buildings, and the inside of a huge space, formerly housing truck maintenance bays, that had pretty much been taken over by birds.
By early May, after a lot of hard work by off-duty
police and fire personnel, plus some donated furniture from the Willows Unified School District and Glenn County government agencies, the facility was up and running.
The Willows Fire Department has already conducted a hose lay drill in the huge maintenance building, and Orland Police Chief Bob Pasero organized a day of regional gang task-force meetings, held in one of the building's three classroom areas.
Spears said the facility presents nearly unlimited opportunities for essential training Glenn County public safety personnel can only get now at Butte College, or at venues in Chico.
He plans to have moveable walls made that can be hauled to the second floor of Swift's main building and serve as a setting for tactical room and suspect searches.
"We can have a different room configuration every time," Spears said.
To complete his plan, Spears is soliciting funds to purchase Airsoft guns and protection equipment officers can use to conduct realistic training.
He said the Airsoft guns, which run about $700 each, are remarkably similar to actual weapons used by his officers, and deliver a projectile that lets an officer know when they've hit their target.
Spears said car stops and other vehicle training exercises can be conducted on Swift's 15-acre parking lot, adjacent to Interstate 5.
He said the area could also serve as a staging center for all public service agencies in the event of a widespread emergency.
"The lights in the parking lot still work," he said.
Spears said the training center is still in need of podiums, classroom-size dry erase boards, and audio-visual equipment, including a large TV monitor and DVD player.
The facility may also include a small weight/exercise room, if donated equipment can be found. The building already includes shower facilities.
A sign prepared as a class project by students at Willows High School will be installed near the building's main entrance on County Road 99.
In addition to Glenn County agencies, Spears said he's extended invitations to agencies in Butte, Tehama, Colusa and even Lake counties to use the facility.
Spears said the entire main building is air-conditioned, but keeping it comfortable for use during the summer months will be a major expense.