New St. Paul police training facility opens

The St. Paul Police Department opened its new Richard H. Rowan Public Training Center on Oct. 31 in the Railroad Island neighborhood.

The training facility includes a state of the art, 12-person indoor firing range with sound and shock-absorbing panels.

As a way to include the community in the design of the training facility, the St. Paul Port Authority partnered with the East Side Arts Council to include public art on its fencing.

The facility includes training rooms with walls that can be moved around to create floor plans for various training scenarios.

The St. Paul Police Department opened its new Richard H. Rowan Public Training Center on Oct. 31 in the Railroad Island neighborhood. • Marjorie Otto photos

Neighborhood puts mark on facility


The new St. Paul Police training facility opened on Oct. 31, a little more than a year after construction began. 

The facility, officially called the Richard H. Rowan Public Safety Training Center, is named after the former St. Paul police chief who served from 1970 to 1979. Rowan died in 2005.

The facility is located at 600 Lafayette Road in the Railroad Island neighborhood on the East Side. 

It includes classrooms, a 12-person indoor shooting range, interactive training, a fitness center and large rooms with modular equipment where walls can be moved around to recreate floor plans. Squad cars can also be brought into the facility to practice scenarios, from start to finish. 

The project cost a total of $18 million, with $15 million paid through city bonding, while the remaining money was donated by John Nasseff and his wife Helene Houle, St. Paul philanthropists and friends of Rowan. Nasseff is a former executive of West Publishing and has donated much of his money to St. Paul hospitals and charities. 

The construction of the facility was managed by the St. Paul Port Authority and ownership of the property was passed from the Port Authority to the City of St. Paul upon completion.

During an Oct. 31 ribbon cutting ceremony, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said the facility will not only benefit the police department, but also the people of St. Paul.

“The residents of St. Paul...deserve the absolute best police department possible and the best police department begins with the best training,” he said.

While residents initially were not thrilled by the thought of having the facility in their backyard, the community was able to leave its mark on the facility through the inclusion of public art.


A community mark

As a way to include the community in the creation of the new facility, the St. Paul Port Authority partnered with the East Side Arts Council to create public art that would be installed around it. The two organizations have also partnered on public art at Beacon Bluff, the old 3M site on the East Side. 

Sarah Fehr, executive director of the East Side Arts Council, said it’s really important to the arts organization to work with the community and to “weave” neighbors’ ideas into a project, such as the police training facility.

Through a series of community workshops with the Railroad Island Task Force and the East Side Arts Council, artist Gita Ghei worked with residents to brainstorm projects that connected to the identity of the neighborhood, with the added benefit of making pedestrian-treacherous Lafayette Road safer. 

“We had some great ideas come from the community,” Fehr said. 

Ghei’s work is also featured at Beacon Bluff, near the intersection of Arcade Street and Minnehaha Avenue. 

Currently there are reflective “feathers” that line the fencing around the new police training facility, as well as an art pole near the improved pedestrian crossway. The feathers were created by fabricator Max Cora and represent the migration patterns birds take going north and south.

Near the overflow parking lot across the street, a bike rack designed to look like train wheels, a reflective smoke stack and a cow catcher will be added next month, tying in with Railroad Island’s history.

At the triangle park in the intersection of Desoto and Tedesco streets, a bench will be created next spring out of the trunk of an old oak tree that had to be cut down to make way for the facility. 

Plaques depicting the history of the area will be installed along the fencing as well, across from the bus stop. The plaques will be designed in collaboration with local Railroad Island historian Mike Penning.


A high-tech facility

The facility is being touted by the city as state of the art, one of the best in the nation and world. 

Not only will it be shared with departments across the state, it will be used internationally. St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said police officers from the United Arab Emirates will be coming to the facility to train in the next few weeks.

Axtell said training programs at the facility will include deescalation, shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, implicit bias and crisis intervention.

During a tour of the facility, St. Paul Police Department academy coordinator Sgt. Chad Koch explained that most of the building was designed purposefully for training, with stairways that serve a utility, but also as training ground. 

Training areas can be locked off, so procedures aren’t interrupted. Outside of the locking doors are firearm lock boxes to ensure no live weapons are accidently used in training procedures, Koch said.

Rangemaster Jeff Whitbeck described the facility’s indoor shooting range as being state of the art, as well.

He said while many ranges consist of concrete walls, the new indoor range consists of sound deadening tiles, which absorb the sound and shock of gun fire, which he said can be hard on the body over the years.

At the end of the range there is a steel ending point where bullets travel into a collection area. An auger moves the bullets to a conveyor and they are removed from the facility, leaving no lead left in the range, preventing further health concerns, Whitbeck said.

“As far as a standard range, this is the best we can get,” he said.

Lighting can be controlled with a smartphone app, and targets can move 360 degrees, in any direction. The range also includes a gun cleaning and repair shop, Whitbeck pointed out.

The new facility was already being used during the grand opening ceremony. A recruit class of 37 students was starting its 16-week training period with classroom training during the event, and it will quickly be moving on to the indoor range and other training facilities.

“We already know we have the best [department],” said Axtell, “now it’s out time to make it better.”


– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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