First responders eagerly wait for new city training center

A sign is posted where the Public Safety Training Center will be built off Pleasant Hill Road.

Construction is well underway for a new Kissimmee Police and Fire Training Center, located off of Pleasant Hill Road just south of the Kissimmee Gateway Airport.

At this point, the building shell has been erected and Phase II construction, consisting of K-9 and fire training areas, has begun.

The overall cost of the center is projected at $8.6 million and is expected to be completed in early 2020. The facility is being constructed by H.G. High Construction of Orlando, which has constructed several Orlando Police Department facilities, including their headquarters facility. The city already owns the property where the center is located and will be collocated with a larger 110-acre future planned city park complex known as Lancaster Ranch.

The center is being built to meet the needs of both Kissimmee’s public safety departments for a modern training facility that reflects the now largely urban environment of Kissimmee.

The current Kissimmee Police Range, located on Hoagland Boulevard on Kissimmee Airport, is being displaced by construction for the new alignment for Hoagland Boulevard. The existing facility was originally constructed in the 1970s as basically a firearms range and ad hoc structures, such as a rappelling tower, were added over the years. The KPD Range has become inadequate for the needs of modern police weapons and tactics training, including SWAT and K-9 operations, police officials said.

The police portion of the training facility has an indoor range, and interior areas will be large enough to actually place vehicles and other structures inside so that various “real world” training scenarios can be conducted, and weapons can be safely discharged inside the indoor training area.  This part of the center will be named in honor of KPD Sergeant Sam Howard and Officer Matthew Baxter, per Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell.

“The new in-door facility will be dedicated to our two officers who lost their lives protecting and serving the Kissimmee Community,” O’Dell said. “Their names will be a daily reminder of the risk these officers take every single day working for the people in our area.”

In their 2019 session earlier this year, the Florida Legislature approved over $900,000 for the new facility’s firearms targeting system in the state’s 2020 budget, however Gov. Ron DeSantis later vetoed that allocation. Despite the loss of state funds, the project was funded to be constructed per the existing contract; and at an Aug. 6 Kissimmee City Commission meeting, the commission authorized an additional $211,000 for the project. This additional funding will add a fire-training tower to the facility.

The Kissimmee Fire Department does not currently have a dedicated training area, and much of its formal training is conducted at a site in Orange County, and at various locations on the city’s airport.

The new center allows fire crews to remain in the city limits and eliminates the expense and time of traveling to Orlando.  

“We are excited to have our very own dedicated fire department training facility. This facility will allow our firefighters to conduct live fire training to hone their firefighter skills as well as more specialized training,” said Kissimmee Fire Chief Jim Walls.