Thousands set to use NTC’s new Merrill campus

April 23, 2013

From “Thousands set to use NTC’s new Merrill campus” — Two years after a tornado flattened Northcentral Technical College’s emergency services campus, it is reopening as a state-of-the-art facility that will train thousands of central Wisconsin emergency workers every year.

Associate Dean of Public Safety Bryce Kolpack said that more than 1,000 emergency workers already will have used the campus between March 1 and May 1, and he expects that number to continue growing as the center celebrates its official re-opening Wednesday.

“We’re hoping to be able to provide training for all of northern Wisconsin, including the 10 counties that are part of NTC’s district,” he said. Those counties include all or parts of Clark, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Menominee, Portage, Price, Shawano, Taylor and Waupaca counties.

Those public safety workers will get their training at a $2 million Public Safety Center of Excellence that comprises three main components: a 300-foot by 500-foot paved area for emergency operations training; a half-mile stretch of roadway that will have various surfaces and turns for emergency vehicle training; and an emergency village, which will contain four buildings.

The old facility, destroyed when a tornado whipped through the Merrill area in April 2011, had only a classroom building and a separate facility in which firefighters learned to fight fires. NTC already had been planning an expansion of the facility, and the tornado provided the perfect opportunity to start construction, Public Relations coordinator Jennifer Johnson said.

The school’s insurance carrier covered $1.8 million of the construction. Donations from 11 local businesses totaling $110,000 helped keep costs down, Johnson said. Each of those businesses will have its name on a storefront in the emergency village. The NTC Foundation also contributed $35,000.

Training activities in the emergency village and on the vehicle-training track can be monitored from the command tactical operations center, which is outfitted with technology that controls training targets and digital recording throughout the village and track. This training environment allows full-darkness, night-time activities that simulate the conditions most police officers confront on late-shift assignments.

Several local units already have used the campus, including local police and sheriff’s departments and the state Crime Lab, which offered a class last week on collecting evidence at crime scenes. Representatives from at least 15 central and northern Wisconsin law enforcement departments attended the class, including police and sheriff’s departments from a large swath of the state, from Portage County north to Forest County.

Marathon County Sheriff’s Deputy Randy Hansen, who took part in that class, said the new facility offers better options for required in-service training than the facilities NTC had to use in the past.

“It keeps you sharp and keeps your skills honed,” he said.

Hansen, who has been with the Sheriff’s Department for five years, said deputies used to practice pursuit training at one of the parking lots at NTC’s Wausau campus, but the lot’s size and light poles meant they couldn’t practice at high speeds. The expansion allows trainees to “open up the throttle a bit,” he said.

But the facility will be open to more than just public safety personnel. Kolpack said the college also plans to offer training for new owners of recreational vehicles and skid training for new drivers who haven’t experienced winter driving.

The center also will feature mock campgrounds and deer stands for rural police training, as well as a search and rescue building. The college already is planning for additional training features on site, including a collapsed building prop, rail car props and an indoor shooting range.


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