Blackhawk Tech proposes Traffic Safety Center
Kyle Geissler talks with Janesville Gazette reporter Frank Schultz about BTC's plans for a traffic safety center.
JANESVILLE Blackhawk Technical College is looking to expand, and in so doing, make the roads safer.
Administrators presented preliminary plans for a Traffic Safety Center to the BTC Board on Wednesday night.
The college had been planning an “emergency vehicle operations course” on the grounds of the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport, but the new proposal includes much more.
“It started out at less than 10 acres. Then it was 15. Now it’s closing in on 40,” said Richard Ott, chairman of the Rock County Board, who received a briefing on the project Tuesday.
The county owns the airport and would have to OK a lease with BTC.
Ott called the project “an interesting concept. They certainly have put a lot of thought into it.”
Preliminary plans call for a building and track at a cost of about $4.5 million.
The BTC Board will be asked to allocate $500,000 in its 2009 budget and the same amount in 2010. Other funding would come from private donors and governmental grants.
BTC plans to solicit companies in the area. BTC President Eric Larson told the board Wednesday that BTC has talked with one business that might supply half the project’s cost.
The BTC Foundation is being asked to raise $1 million.
The goal is for private funding to cover at least three-quarters of the cost, Larson said.
Larson said he has a letter of support from neighboring Gateway Technical College and expects to get similar letters from three neighboring community colleges in Illinois. Those letters will help when BTC goes to Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., to ask for help with federal funding, Larson said.
Original plans called for a track to train police and firefighters to drive in emergency conditions and a place for BTC’s popular motorcycle safety course.
But after talking to “community stakeholders,” such as police and fire departments, BTC decided to add a building with four classrooms as well as a driving simulator. Possible add-ons include a “mock village” and other facilities where police and firefighters could practice tactical scenarios.
The track also would be offered to local businesses that want to train their drivers.
The vision, according to a BTC planning document, is to be “the premiere traffic safety center in the Midwest region.”
BTC Board members seemed enthused by the plans, especially at the prospect of expanding the college’s offerings and enrollment.
BTC normally serves just Rock and Green counties. The Traffic Safety Center could serve all of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, according to a plan distributed to board members.
Aaron Tomlinson of BTC’s Protective Services programs said officials were looking to serve public agencies and businesses as far away as Iowa.
State training mandates for law enforcement are continually expanding, and the center could meet those needs, Tomlinson told the board.
Now, the closest similar facilities are in Tomah and Appleton, according to the document. BTC now uses the Blackhawk Farms Raceway in South Beloit, Ill., to train emergency driving.
The center could fill a gap in the training of firefighters, said Janesville Fire Chief Larry Grorud.
Janesville firefighters all take defensive-driving classes, but they don’t get trained in driving at high speeds and under adverse conditions, Grorud said.
Nationwide, 23 percent of firefighter deaths are traffic-related, Grorud said.
Traffic accidents also figure in the deaths of significant numbers of police, said city of Janesville Deputy Chief Dave Moore and Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden.
Driving under emergency conditions is the greatest liability that law enforcement faces, and emergency-driving training is mandated, Spoden said.
Spoden and Moore both commented that the proposed center would be closer to home and available for more of the year than Blackhawk Farms.
Better training means safer driving by emergency workers, and that means greater safety for the public, Grorud said.
Spoden liked the potential for running tactical scenarios: “We just don’t have a facility where we can actually practice or go through a simulated entry into a barricaded home or a home with a suspect with a weapon.”
Moore was positive about the facility as well, although like Spoden and Grorud, he hadn’t seen details yet.
The center’s exact location has not been determined, although an area on the north end of the airport has been considered.
“We have 1,500 acres out there, and we want to make sure we’re putting it on the right spot, where it’s not affecting aviation and is on the right spot on the property,” said Phil Boutwell, assistant to the county administrator.
The BTC administration is recommending construction to start in spring 2009. The facility would open that fall.
A preliminary budget for the center shows annual operating costs of $179,800. Larson said he expects that program revenue would cover operating costs in three to five years.
RECENT BTC BUILDING PROJECTS
2001—BTC Board approves $1.86 million remodeling of the North Rock County Center north of Janesville, renaming it the Center for Transportation Studies.
2002—$17.5 million referendum passes to expand and remodel the central and Monroe campuses.
2005—Referendum project completed.
2007—BTC spends $1.6 million to remodel the Aviation Center at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
2009—Construction on Traffic Safety Center preliminarily scheduled.
VISIONS FOR A NEW FACILITY
Planned or potential uses for Blackhawk Tech’s proposed Traffic Safety Center include:
-- Training for driving squad cars and fire/rescue vehicles in emergency situations.
-- BTC’s existing motorcycle safety course, now held in the parking lot of the former Beloit Mall.
-- A training program, in conjunction with the courts that could reduce penalties for traffic offenses if offenders took classes.
-- Driver-safety training.
-- “Scenario training” for BTC’s police recruit academy.
-- “Basic training” for new volunteer fire/EMT departments, which tend to have high turnover.
-- Teen driver education.
-- Aging driver education.
-- Winter driving for inexperienced drivers.
-- Safety “rodeos” for county highway workers or other groups.
-- Semitrailer truck safety classes for interested companies, but not a diesel driving school.
BTC must jump through an array of hoops to get the Traffic Safety Center built. Officials plan to share their plans with fire, law enforcement and city officials in the weeks ahead. Community-input sessions will be scheduled in late February at BTC’s central campus. For more information before then, contact Director of Institutional Advancement Len Walker at (608) 757-7769 or email@example.com.
Also, approvals would be needed from:
-- BTC Board in March
-- Wisconsin Technical College System in May
-- City of Janesville for zoning
-- Federal Aviation Administration
-- State Department of Natural Resources
-- Rock County Board for a lease of airport land