Police Academy bids Monmouth farewell



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The Oregon Law Enforcement Memorial wall has been disassembled for transport to downtown Salem as part of the Oregon Police Academy's move off campus.

MONMOUTH -- The law enforcement officers who complete their training at the Oregon Police Academy this June will be the last class to graduate from the agency at its home of 18 years on the Western Oregon University campus.

The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST), which operates the academy, announced plans six years ago to construct a new facility in East Salem to improve instruction opportunities for cadets -- despite efforts by city and school leaders to keep the agency in Monmouth.

With the new complex scheduled for completion by mid-summer, department officials will begin moving personnel, equipment and infrastructure after the last graduation ceremony on June 2. They should be completely settled into their new $77.5 million, 224-acre campus by June 10, a DPSST spokesman said.

The university, meanwhile has already outlined plans for the vacated complex -- it will make additions to the OPA building and eventually raze the two dormitories within the next couple of years.

"We have the ability, without a lot of investment, to get new classroom space and housing," said Mark Weiss, WOU vice president of finances.

The 20,000-square foot OPA building was erected in 1988, and state officials signed a 30-year lease with Western -- which owned the property it sits on. Two older dormitories, Maaske and Arbuthnot Hall, are used in conjunction with the facility for room and board.

The academy is opened almost year-around, with up to 160 officers enrolled at any one time. Agency growth and a need to consolidate training facilities -- officers have to do shooting and driving training near Corvallis -- led to a search for a new site, with Salem ultimately getting the nod.

"We've had a great relationship with Monmouth and Polk County," said Eriks Gabaliks, DPSST deputy director. "But we've really outgrown the facility ... there's no room to grow on the campus.

Western officials meanwhile plan to immediately utilize the OPA facility for classroom space, Weiss said. Eventually, Western will increase the size of the structure to 45,000-square feet, with much of the added room to be on the north side.

Weiss said Arbuthnot Hall will be used as transitional housing when the university has the funds to build more dormitories. Maaske Hall, because of structural problems and an outdated plumbing system, will be razed.

The cost for the renovation/demolition will total $8 million or more, Weiss said. Fundraising and OUS bonds will pay for the project.

The planned improvements address the need for more teaching and living space on campus. The university's computer science, business and math department buildings are in disrepair and can't be renovated economically, while the dorms are at 95 percent capacity.

"We're busting at the seams right now," Weiss said.

School and city officials admit that the agency's presence in Monmouth will be missed -- from a financial and public relations standpoint.

"We take it as a matter of pride that police from around the state come to Monmouth for their police academy work," said City Manager Jim Hough. "Its departure will have an impact, a subjective one rather than pure dollars and cents. Our pride is affected."

DPSST paid the college $1 annually on a property lease, and those funds helped keep down the cost of student room and board. Those expenses typically cost each student $5,000 to $6,000 a year.

"There will be some small increase for room and board when OPA moves out," Weiss said.

The academy also served as a sort of recruiting tool for Western.

"We enjoyed having the ability to show off our campus to officers around the state," Weiss said. "When they brought their kids here, they would take a look around ... some elected to enroll their children here."

Former Monmouth Mayor Paul Evans said he remembers the two years of negotiations, letters and meetings to keep the OPA in Polk County during the late 1990s. The city had proposed an alternate 214-acre site off Highway 99W north of town.

With the visiting officers gone, there will be fewer dollars spent at local businesses, he said. And the presence of extra police on campus also brought an increased sense of security.

"I'm an old-fashioned guy," he said. "I liked having lots of cars with lights on them cruising through town."



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