It is no longer just a possibility. It is now a certainty. The Florida State Guard’s training facility will be located in Flagler County next to the Flagler County jail on Justice Lane in Bunnell. The County Commission on Monday approved a 30-year lease with the Guard. As with the National Guard armory on county grounds near the county airport, the State Guard will not pay rent.
Construction is expected to begin by the end of July 2024 with completion sometime near the end of 2025, a Flagler County Sheriff’s spokesperson said.
The complex is to be on a subparcel of a 62 acre county-owned tract northeast of Justice Lane. It will be built at no cost to the county, which will provide easements for utilities, space for signage and public access, though the Guard will have to pay for both. The Guard will be responsible for building administrative offices, a firearms range, tactical shoot house, and a parking lot, with access roads to Justice Lane, plus utility lines. The Guard will pay all impact, utility and permit fees.
Local and regional law enforcement agencies such as the Sheriff’s Office, Flagler Beach and Bunnell police, fire departments and emergency management personnel will all have access to the training facility. But that will not be entirely free of charge, as so-called “incremental increased costs” will apply (as when using the shooting range will generate extra repairs).
“I’m very enthusiastic about the opportunity that these facilities represent to be able to train alongside Flagler County’s emergency management and first responder professionals,” Col. Mark Thieme, the executive director of the State Guard, told the County Commission Monday evening, explaining the purpose of the facility, where sheriff’s deputies, other local police and firefighters from across the region will also train.
“Just as the recent storm preparation showed, and with any of our storm preparations, as evidenced over the past couple of years,” he continued, “the opportunity for our state guard soldiers to train alongside, to learn with and integrate with emergency management professionals, with public safety professionals, that should the need arise for an emergency to be able to operate together, starts first with the seeds of training together. And that’s what this multi-use facility represents to my team.”
The Florida State Guard’s purpose in World War II was to fill in for National Guard troops deployed elsewhere and abroad. It was disbanded in the late 1940s. It was reconstituted in 2022 at Gov. Ron DeSantis’s behest, with a $10 million appropriation. It is a state-funded volunteer force that would operate as a support arm of the Florida National Guard in states of emergencies, much like, say, the Sheriff’s Citizens Observer Patrol known as COPs operate as volunteers in support of uniformed deputies.
In June, Sheriff Rick Staly announced that he had negotiated with Rep. Paul Renner the location of the Guard’s training facility in Flagler, and the construction of what will be a $10 million facility. The Guard would be headquartered in parts of the old Sheriff’s administration building.
An architectural plan for the facility was drafted by Flagler Beach-based Joseph Pozzuoli Architects.
“The Florida State Guard Regional Training Facility is a game changer for our military and law enforcement community,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “With state-of-the-art technology and equipment, the Florida State Guard and local law enforcement will receive the highest level of training possible, allowing them to better serve and protect our communities. It will also create synergy between the Florida State Guard and local law enforcement and fire departments for times when we deploy together, such as hurricanes.” He thanked Renner, the governor and Thieme for making the facility a reality.
The Guard will also be responsible for maintaining and repairing the facility at its expense for the duration of the lease. The lease has an option for a 10-year extension. But once the lease expires, the facility reverts back to the county, which maintains its role of landlord throughout, with annual inspections. Concurrently, the Guard has the option to buy the facility at fair market value. On the other hand, it is not a certainty that a future governor or a future Legislature will want to keep the Guard going.
The county, the Sheriff’s Office and the Guard also signed a memorandum of agreement restating a lot of the terms of the lease with some additional provisions, among them one granting the Guard the right of first refusal on any other agency using the facility. It also places the Sheriff’s Office as gatekeeper: any other law enforcement agency that will want to use the facility will have to “be the guest and invitees of the FCSO,” with the Sheriff’s Office providing at least one staff person supervising the use of the facility at all times, when it is used by agencies other than the Guard. As for emergency management personnel that would want to use the facility, they would request that use through the county. Once approved, they would have to coordinate with the Sheriff’s Office.
The provision about training and safety equipment is a curious window into the sort of training expected to take place there, and with what equipment: “Training aids are defined as targets, target backers, target stands, paper targets, silhouettes, rubberized healing targets, mobile popup equipment, target stands, cleaning supplies, sandbags, shooting chairs or tables, amplification equipment, and weapons racks or stands. Safety Equipment includes ear
protection, eye protection, first aid kits, telephones and radios, litters, fire suppression system, and hydration supplies. Each training site or range user shall furnish all training and safety equipment required during their usage.”
Users of the facility will also be required to provide their own weapons and ammunition, along with their own safety officers and paramedics.
“The State Guard training facility is a significant 10 million dollar investment in Flagler County,” said County Commission Chairman Andy Dance. “Additionally, the facility will be an economic driver for Flagler County as, over time, we will host hundreds of guardsmen during their training exercises at the facility.” That incidental advantage of the facility mirrors that of the Florida National Guard’s, nearby south of the Flagler County Airport, where the National Guard just broke ground on a substantial expansion to its existing and high-traffic facility.state-guard