MANSFIELD -- A project under discussion for more than two years came to fruition this week when the Mansfield Police Department opened its new outdoor shooting range.
Under bright blue skies Thursday, officers fired AR-15 rounds into targets at the new $44,000 facility, located just west of Mansfield Lahm Airport.
The cost is a far cry from the original $1.67 million indoor facility the city had pondered since its old indoor range in the municipal building had to be closed for lead clean-up in 2017.
Since its own range was ordered closed, the MPD has been using other entities' firing ranges, including the Richland County Fish and Game Club's site on Poth Road and the Lexington Police Department's facility.
Mayor Tim Theaker was in attendance Thursday morning, watching officers shoot from various distances, standing and prone.
"We're out away from everybody, out away from everything and it's really nice," Theaker said, pointing out the pavement used in the construction was leftover runway material donated by the airport that merely needed to be put down and sealed.
The city had considered multiple indoor and outdoor locations and also attempted to partner with other area law enforcement agencies on a new site.
Ultimately, the city decided to use land it already owned and was unlikely for commercial development since it's next to a wetlands area. Theaker said the $44,000 was spent to excavate and prepare the property, which includes poles that can be used for lighting.
"There is not much chance for development here, which is why we chose it," the mayor said. "We didn't want to use land that had commercial appeal."
A large sand pile is behind the targets. Theaker said it's difficult to get lead from dirt, which means it ultimately has to be removed and disposed of.
"Sand is finer. You can strain it, remove the lead and then put the sand back," Theaker said.
Safety-Service Director Lori Cope, a former Mansfield police officer said the state requires officers to qualify once each year. The MPD, however, requires its officers to qualify four times annually.
"The officers seem happy with it," she said of the new facility.
Police Lt. Jason Bammann said the facility will allow officers to train and qualify with all of their weapons, including handguns, shotguns and other rifles. In addition, the department SWAT team can train on the site.
"We can use all types of training, including nighttime training, simulate real-life stuff," Bammann said, "all kinds of scenarious."
Mansfield City Council is expected to soon consider and approve legislation naming the range after former Chief Lawrence E. Harper, who became the department’s first black police officer and then in 1990 the first black chief in Mansfield's history. He passed away at the age of 89 in 2016.