ELIZABETHTOWN — Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill on Tuesday that will allow the former Bladen Correctional Facility located at White Lake to be handed over to the Bladen County Board of Commissioners effective Oct. 1 for the sum of $1.
“It’s the portion inside the fence, which is the bulk of it, as well as an easement to the shooting range used by the Law Enforcement Association behind the facility,” said Bladen County Greg Martin of the arrangement.
Once the transaction is complete, the facility will be remodeled and used for a training facility, said Martin. The bill stipulates that the facility must be utilized for county government purposes.
“It’s for emergency services purposes for a training facility for fire, law enforcement and EMS,” said Martin.
He added the county has been pursuing this for a number of months.
“We certainly appreciate the support of the members of our county’s legislative delegation,” said Martin.
Bladen County Emergency Services Director Bradley Kinlaw said the facility will be a great benefit for training purposes, but there is some work that will have to be done to put the facility back into service. He said plans are to create some classroom space and to build permanent props at the facility that law enforcement, firefighters and EMS personnel can use for training. There will also be office space created.
“Now in the fire service, you have to do hands-on practicals,” said Kinlaw.
He explained that, in years past, a firefighter could take part in a simulation training pretending to swing an ax, but now, firefighters are required to actually hit something with the ax in their training.
Kinlaw said there are also plans to set up one of the buildings on the site for law enforcement to use for their training sessions.
“We’ve already got two weeks of training scheduled for law enforcement,” said Kinlaw.
Currently, the facility is in a state of disrepair. Kinlaw said there are no light fixtures, no sinks, no toilets, and so on.
“We will bring it back up one building at the time,” said Kinlaw.
He said that in order to lower some of the costs, folks from EMS, volunteer firefighters and some members of the sheriff’s office will tackle such things as painting and cutting grass.
“Everybody’s excited about it,” said Kinlaw.
He added that the residents will see a benefit from the facility when it is up and running, too.
Kinlaw said that the fire departments in the county have an insurance rating that can vary from 1 to 10 — with 10 being the worst and 1 being the very best rating. He said that training is one of the components that goes into determining a fire department’s rating.
“The more things you have done, the more points you earn,” said Kinlaw, who added that the training facility will add more points.
The better insurance rating a fire department has translates to savings on residents’ homeowners insurance, according to Kinlaw.
He cautioned the ratings are not automatic nor do they change just because the county now has a training facility. The fire department has to contact the state and request a new inspection. Kinlaw added there is a lot of work in preparing for an inspection and a lot of different requirements the department must meet in order to receive a better rating.
The Bladen Correctional Facility was closed by the state in October 2013 due to budget constraints. According to the website NorthCarolinaPrisonCalls.net, the facility was originally constructed in the 1930s and originally housed inmates that were working to build roads. In 1995 it was converted briefly to a youth facility before being converted back to a minimum security men’s prison in 2001.
— Erin Smith can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.