City breaks ground at new NE police training center

Capping years of planning, ground was broken at the city’s new police training center off Woodhaven Road on Monday morning.

As it usually is, the breaking of ground was a purely ceremonial event involving dignitaries with shiny shovels. However, this time, it was not on a vacant parcel. The building that will have 87,000 square feet of space for police recruits and veteran officers already stands.

What was once the Philadelphia Memorial Armed Forces Reserve Center off the nonexpressway westbound lanes of Woodhaven Road in Normandy became city property last year, Mayor Michael Nutter told a small group gathered outside the building. It’s something city government has had its eye on since 2005, he said, when the U.S. Defense Department announced it would be surplus property.

City officials began talking up taking over the property a few years ago, and they made presentations to members of the Normandy Civic Association.

Nutter said the idea of putting all the city’s police training facilities in one, state-of-the-art and centralized location was well-received in the Northeast.

“Thanks for welcoming us to the neighborhood,” he said.

The mayor said the new training center, when it opens in May 2015, will serve up to 300 recruits and provide additional training for 400 veteran officers. The facility will have a staff of 140. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said the department’s academy on State Road is aging and small, and that training currently is divided up into different locations. The center will be a high-tech, green building, he said, that will use rainwater that’s gathered on its roof. It will be a great facility that will provide unparalleled training, he said.

“Our police officers deserve nothing less,” the mayor said.

It will give Philadelphia the best-trained police force in the country, City Councilman Bobby Henon (D-6th dist.) said.

John Wisniewski, president of the Normandy Civic Association, recalled playing basketball in the reserve center as a kid. “They were great. They would invite us in,” he said. Barry Rauch, the civic’s vice president, said the neighborhood regarded the reserve center as a good neighbor even though the reservists were up early on weekends running through Normandy as part of their physical training.

Among the other dignitaries present at Monday’s groundbreaking were City Councilman Dennis O’Brien (R-at large), state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.), state Sen. Tina Tartaglione (D-2nd dist.) and Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison, who acted as master of ceremonies. ••