ROCHELLE — At its November meeting, the Ogle County Board awarded the Rochelle Fire Department and the Ogle-Lee Fire Protection District $50,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds for a planned multi-disciplinary training facility project to serve local and regional public safety personnel.
The joint project between the City of Rochelle and the OLFPD started to see movement in the past year. The facility is planned to be located at 920 S. Main St. in Rochelle, a 12-acre property that was donated to the city in 2020.
Along with serving local fire personnel that struggle at times to find good training locations, the facility is planned to serve other entities in the region including law enforcement, electrical lineman, other City of Rochelle departments and possibly railroad personnel, Rochelle Fire Chief Dave Sawlsville said.
“Our hope is that having so many uses opens it up to many different avenues for funding,” Sawlsville said. “The mayor plans to talk to elected officials about fundraising. If you can make it multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplined, hopefully you'll increase your funding capabilities too.”
The project will be done in phases as money becomes available. Sawlsville called the $50,000 a “huge shot in the arm” for the project’s progress. The first phase is a small initial facility for firefighters to start training on.
The ARPA money will offset “a lot of” that initial cost and was needed especially due to prices of building materials continuing to rise. The initial structure has about 300 days of lead time and upfront money could help it to get delivered sooner, Sawlsville said.
The project’s initial construction will also include a concrete pad and spring of 2023 is the plan for construction of facets of it to begin.
“We have prevailing wages in this state and that adds huge costs to any project that you're trying to do,” Sawlsville said. “You couple that with what we're seeing in high construction costs, this is huge. This money will shore up any kind of shortcoming we would've had for phase one. It's huge. I can't overstate it.”
Sawlsville has said in the past that conversations have been ongoing for a few years about a potential training facility. Most training is currently done at the Rochelle and OLFPD fire stations and is limited due to fear of damaging buildings.
Local fire departments train at acquired training sites such as the recently-demolished Hickory Grove facility in Rochelle when it was vacant and at abandoned homes slated for demolition when access to them can be received.
Another benefit of the planned facility is its potential to lower homeowner’s insurance rates for area residents. The Insurance Service Organization rates fire departments and that plays into residents’ insurance costs. Rochelle and Ogle-Lee having access to a fire training facility would give them a better rating.
Local training facilities are more common in the firefighting industry in recent years due to added benefits. It will provide local training access for both full-time and paid on-call staff and longer distances won’t have to be traveled.
The City of Rochelle has discussed a partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the American Public Power Association to utilize the location for a midwestern pole climbing school and lineman training center.
Rochelle City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said in the past that he’s most excited by the facility’s potential to provide training for all city departments, especially the utility side and added there’s a “real good chance” it could be home to a pole climbing or line training school for national organizations.
When Rochelle Municipal Utilities employees go to pole climbing school, they go down to Tennessee. The Rochelle facility could be the only one or one of the few in the Midwest.