Classes are soon to commence at the University of Virginia and preparations abound. Professors are finishing semester syllabi, students are purchasing textbooks and supplies, and even the University of Virginia Police Department is completing summer training.
The department’s weapons training takes place off Milton Road at a former UVa air strip. The location, to the east of Charlottesville, is next to Glenmore Country Club and is also home to the Rivanna Radio Control Club, which flies its model airplanes along the old runway.
According to Capt. Don McGee of the UVa Police Department, the weeks before the beginning of the new school year are the busy season for training officers.
“It is a Department of Criminal Justice Services policy that [officers] qualify at least once per year,” McGee said, referring to state law enforcement policy. “We try to train twice a year … In the fall, the students are back and we have all sorts of sporting events and [John Paul Jones Arena] events such as concerts, so we try to get it done within the summer months.”
The facility recently was renovated to improve safety and security. Sound-proofing also was added in an attempt to dampen the gunfire noise. However, some neighboring residents say the area actually has become noisier following the changes.
Gerry Schoenig, a Milton resident, says he appreciates the safety upgrades, but feels that the facility was left unfinished.
UVA police declined multiple requests to photograph inside their training facility citing ongoing training activity
“They made a legitimate effort and I appreciate it. It just didn’t work,” Schoenig said. “People moved out here to listen to peace and quiet. They just need to complete the facility and everyone would be happy.”
McGee said that the renovations and sound-proofing were performed in good faith, but the University Police Department has been affected by the ongoing recession and could only work with the funds that were available.
“UPD has wanted upgrades, renovations and safety improvements for the range for several years,” McGee said. “We were fortunate to be able to accomplish what we have done in these hard fiscal times and budget constraints. We used all of the available funding as wisely as we could.”
McGee added that enclosing the facility would incur even greater costs, including lighting and an air-filtration system, which is a required fixture for indoor ranges to remove lead and other particulates from the air.
“We checked into a used air-filtration system about eight years ago and a used system cost about $435,000,” McGee said, adding that $300,000 has been spent on the renovations thus far. “That’s one of the reasons why we can’t build an indoor system — we simply don’t have the funds.”
Currently, Albemarle County is seeking to build a similar law enforcement training facility at the old Keene landfill site and is pursuing the matter in collaboration with the Charlottesville Police Department.
According to Officer Rob Heide of the county police, although the option of the university joining with the county and city remains open, the UVa department is not currently involved.
“All parties, particularly in this region, were invited to the table,” Heide said. “I think it’s always been an option [but] UVa is not part of the range project.”
Schoenig, who has petitioned UVa’s Board of Visitors for resolution on the issue, feels that complaints from the residents in the area have fallen on deaf ears. He recognizes that the range has been a fixture for several decades, but he feels that its usage has failed to take into account the growth in the surrounding area.
“People are hung up on the fact that … they’ve been using this range for so long,” Schoenig said. “There’s now 2,500 people living out here and the noise keeps getting louder and louder. That’s a plus 65 age-range [of people living] over there … This is an imposition on those people who are retired or elderly.”
Schoenig added that his intention is not necessarily to eliminate the range, but rather to open up more communication between the two parties.
“We’re not trying to shut down the UVa Police Department or run them out. We’re just trying to find some sort of compromise,” Schoenig said. “They don’t have to move, they just have to be considerate.”
“The only thing I could say that would satisfy the [neighbors] is that the range will shut down,” McGee said. “I cannot do that.”
McGee was sympathetic toward the neighborhood complaints, but emphasized the larger importance of the facility for the community.
“We do want to be good neighbors, but we have training that we absolutely have to complete,” McGee said. “This type of training is perhaps the most vital because … there can be life or death situations. It’s not just our life or death that I’m talking about, it’s our citizens — that’s who we’re training to protect.”