City opens green training facilities

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High ceilings made of wood, steel and other recyclable materials muffle the sound of firing handguns, rifles and machine guns in a new shooting range designed to improve Austin Police Department’s performance and environmental friendliness. The 50-yard-long shooting range, which debuts Monday, employs various methods of environmental conservation, including the prevention of water and soil contamination and the recycling of used ammunition byproducts. The range is part of the Roy Butler Training Building, the main facility of an area Sgt. Robert Richman calls “campus.” APD, the Austin Fire Department and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services all use the facility. The project took about 18 months and $22 million to complete, including the shooting range, quarter-mile running track, burn house, main training building with classrooms and a driving simulator, obstacle course, parking facilities and everything APD, AFD and ATCEMS use for training purposes. “The idea had been in process for probably four years, and we were planning on the environmentally friendly side of it from day one,” Richman said. “It’s part of the Austin initiative to make sure that everything built is more environmentally conscious.” Buckets underneath the shooting range collect the used bullets, which are recycled in various Austin-area facilities. Any airborne particles, such as lead dust, are filtered through a machine and deposited in 55 gallon drums. Suction prevents anything from getting in or out of the drum, so when it fills up, it can be capped off and recycled. Lead dust can be melted back down into usable lead. “It’s great that they’re being more environmentally friendly in some places you wouldn’t think to look,” said Andrew Townsend, co-director of the UT Campus Environmental Center. “You can be environmentally friendly in any area of life, and this is one that I didn’t think of.” Townsend said as far as recycling is concerned, metals are some of the most recyclable materials. “We get basically the market rate for recycling the lead and brass,” Richman said. “Those checks end up going back to the taxpayers to be re-utilized for other things.” Solar panels line the roofs of the buildings, and a drainage system prevents groundwater from being contaminated by lead and other substances used in the shooting range. A control room allows staff members to control the amount of energy used and prevent waste, Lead Firearms Instructor Mark Hoffman said. Safety for officers and visitors was also a priority when designing the range. The walls, composed of compostable wood and other materials, are eight inches thick so no bullet can escape, Hoffman said. One of the reasons for the improved shooting range is that APD Chief Art Acevedo would like all officers to begin shooting on a monthly basis. “We want to have a lot more curriculum pushed out there for firearms and advanced firearm techniques,” Richman said. “We will be able to facilitate that in a way that we weren’t able to in the past, by expanding the range how we did.” APD’s previous shooting range was about 25 years old and cost anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 to clean and maintain the rubber-granulated backstop used to collect the bullets, which left rubber and lead residue to be thrown away and not recycled, Richman said. “Sometimes people forget that police officers are kind of seen in a light like we look at you when we need you, but they don’t see that we also share the same values when it comes to conservation and things of that nature,” he said.