A 70-acre Bloomington police building once eyed for an emergency vehicle training course is now the subject of a study that could help determine whether the property will remain in city hands.
Bought 12 years ago from developer Jack Snyder for $350,000, the Bloomington Gun Club is now falling apart and the city only uses about 25 acres of the property, said Tim Luby, an Illinois Wesleyan University student who’s studying the facility as part of a new intern program.
His study will provide the foundation for a discussion about whether the city should sell part of the land and build an indoor shooting range closer to town, or spend money to fix and upgrade the existing facility.
The city uses the property’s indoor and outdoor shooting ranges for annual qualifying tests and special training, but the property is nearly 20 miles east of the city. The drive eats up officers’ time but also means no neighbors are bothered by the noise, said Sgt. Steve Sicinsky, who supervises Luby.
The site’s four buildings — an indoor shooting range, an unused clubhouse and two storage sheds — all need roof repairs, Luby said, pointing to mold and vast holes in the ceiling of the clubhouse.
An outdoor shooting range, paved with loose gravel, is littered with burned-out 55-gallon drums. Target mechanisms are new, but a wood wall protecting them from bullets is only loosely secured.
The indoor shooting range has no working heater and no gutters, so water seeps through cinder block walls.
“Eventually, you’re going to end up having structural problems,” said Sicinsky.
City Manager David Hales characterized Luby’s study as a “quick assessment,” but added “we believe it will give us some good information to start that dialogue about short-term and long-term needs.”
He said the city intends to consult with other area law enforcement agencies that use the facility before making any final decisions.
McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery and Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said their departments use the outdoor range for annual qualifying tests but don’t use the indoor range because indoor shooting requires a lead-free bullet that costs more.
Both Bleichner and Emery said the outdoor range, for which they pay a usage fee, is adequate for their needs.
“If something breaks down, they try to fix it,” Emery said. “It’s a sufficient place to train. It’s not state-of-the-art but it fits our needs. That’s what’s important.”
Bloomington Assistant Police Chief Bob Wall said the city used to assign a seasonal employee to perform routine maintenance at the shooting range, but the position hasn’t been filled for several years.
City records show the city spent $18,660 on range maintenance and supplies in fiscal year 2009 but only $2,125 in fiscal 2010. Maintenance expenses specific to the shooting range are not available for subsequent years, because the city combined the shooting range budget with the overall police budget.
“It’s been a victim of the economic downturn,” Wall said. “Money had not been appropriated to maintain it and the condition of the range has suffered.”