Atlanta police and fire officials touted the need for an 85-acre public safety training facility during a Sept. 2 public overview session of the controversial project.

Hosted by Atlanta City Councilmember Natalyn Archibong ahead of the council’s likely Sept. 7 vote on the issue, the session was advertised as an opportunity for the public to ask questions amid claims that there hasn’t been enough community engagement on the facility.

On social media, opponents of the facility dismissed the overview session as a “sham” and another opportunity for the city to peddle what they’ve derisively nicknamed “Cop City.” Archibong commented that the virtual setting wasn’t “robust” enough to handle the amount of people – more than 5,000 – who wanted to participate.

The city council seems poised to approve the training facility, located on the old Atlanta Prison Farm property on Key Road in DeKalb County. Opponents – including residents, businesses, and sustainability/conservation nonprofits – said the project will destroy the city’s last opportunity to have a large regional greenspace inside the city limits. The city had previously earmarked the land for greenspace.

While 85-acres will be dedicated to the training facility, city officials said the remaining  260 acres would be devoted to a public park and greenspace that ultimately might connect to the Atlanta BeltLine.

The training facility itself will have a mock-up of a town, a firefighting “drill tower,” emergency vehicle operations course (EVOC), classroom space, a firing range, space for ordinance disposal, and space for a helicopter to land in case of an emergency.

Atlanta Fire Department 1st Deputy Chief  James McLemore said the training facility was “very needed” and would help the department’s morale and recruitment. He said fire personnel were having to travel outside the city for necessary training, which was impacting service.

Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Darin Schierbaum said “training is the lifeblood of  what we do” and said the facility would be a “significant investment in first responder capabilities.”

Schierbaum said APD had been leasing a disused elementary school building from Atlanta Public Schools for classroom space, but like the fire department, were having to travel hours away for other live training.

He said the city had looked at Greenbriar Mall, college campuses, and other acreage in the city, but the only place big enough was the Atlanta Prison Farm property.

A demonstration called The People’s March to #StopCopCity is set for Sunday at 2 p.m. along the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail starting at the skatepark.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.