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With former sheriff’s $20M dream unrealized, county makes other plans for training-center property

With the help of businessman and friend Ken Neumeister, left, then-Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries acquired 200 acres on the city's southeast side as a future training facility. Now the county is making other plans for most of the property. (News-Sentinel file photo by Kevin Leininger)

A former Allen County sheriff’s dream of a $20 million training facility never really did come true, and now it appears to be officially over.

The County Commissioners on Friday are expected to agree to pay the South Bend-based Lochmueller Group up to $84,500 to analyze part of the 200 acres the county bought at Adams Center and Paulding roads in 2007 for other uses — including the relocation of some Highway Department, storage and other operations now on the 135-acre Byron Health Center campus at 12101 Lima Road. The health center is relocating to a new facility on Lake Avenue, and once it does the county plans to clear the property and sell it for redevelopment.

The late contractor Ken Neumeister bought the 200 acres adjacent to the now-closed Adams Center Landfill for $615,000 and sold most of it to the county for about $675,000 with the Sheriff’s Department, county council and commissioners splitting the cost. At the time, Fries said he would seek private donations and federal grants — not local tax dollars — to pay for development, which was to include a shooting range, K-9 training facility driving-safety courses, water-rescue ponds and a even a miniature city for fire and rescue scenarios.

Fries, now a County Council member, predicted the center would attract business from other law-enforcement agencies, costing $178,000 a year to operate and potential annual revenue of $7 million. “This will make a difference in so many people’s lives,” he said in 2007. “I want (agencies) to come to Allen County and say, ‘This is how you do it.’ . . . This (driving) course will save kids’ lives.”

A shooting range was built with the help of $360,000 seized in a 2007 drug raid, and a K-9 facility is under construction, but the federal grants expected to bear most of the costs never materialized, and several fundraisers organized by Fries and Neumeister, including a circus, Caribbean cruise and discount card, generated dollars by the thousands, not millions. And in 2009 the commissioners expressed concern the project as originally proposed could drain county funds.

The consultant will survey the site’s topography and any possible environmental problems, as the former landfill accepted hazardous waste. Lochmueller’s report is due by June 12.