Good for Ala., great for Selma

Published 1:18 am Sunday, September 26, 2010

State Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma) is interviewed by a Montgomery-based television station following the ribbon cutting of the Alabama Criminal Justice Training Center Thursday. Sanders was credited by many for working to ensure the center remained in Selma. The new facility will replace the training center at Craig Field. -- Tim Reeves photo

SELMA — After nine years, Wayne Vardaman can breathe a sigh of relief.

“This has been a fight for a long time,” said Vardaman, president of the Selma and Dallas County Centre for Commerce.

But now Vardaman can relax for a moment, the new Alabama Criminal Justice Training Center, unveiled Thursday at the location on the campus of Wallace Community College Selma, is here to stay.

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Early on state officials discussed potentially relocating the site from the old location on Craig Air Force base to a place northeastern Alabama, but State Sen. Hank Sanders met each of those suggestions with a forceful request to keep it in Selma.

“Each time that it came up, Sen. Sanders was able to block it in some way,” Vardaman said. “If not for him, I know we wouldn’t have gotten it here now.”

“I remember the meetings early on about this new center and getting the funding,” Gov. Bob Riley said during the center’s ribbon cutting Thursday. “And, each time Sen. Sanders said he would help any way he could as long as the center was built anywhere in Selma.

“Well, Sen. Sanders, this is ‘anywhere in Selma.’”

Keeping the center in Selma is more than a new facility to show off to potential businesses.

“If it left, it would just be another thing people would point to and say that moved out of Selma,” Vardaman said. “With it staying, and especially that much amount of money being spent, now it becomes a positive thing and not to mention a huge asset.”

Because the center is closer to businesses and restaurants than the center at Craig, students at the center will help generate commerce for the city.

“I would think that [students will] stay [in Selma] more because the [dormitories] will be nicer and it should have some spin-off value in terms of them purchasing other goods and services,” Vardaman said.

Instructors and employees of the center are also relieved the new location is in Selma.

“[If the center moved from Selma] it would have made a profound impact, especially on the economy,” said state Trooper John Reese.

He said most positions would transfer to the new location, but that would mean people would have sell their homes to relocate to the new place.

Vardaman was not able to estimate an amount of revenue the new center will bring to Selma, but projects this as a positive move for Selma commerce.

“I would only surmise that it is a good amount,” Vardaman said.

The new facility has more spacious dormitories, updated classroom technology such as interactive SMART boards, firearms training simulator, dining area for 200 people and a 4,916-square-foot fitness center.

The $24.5 million project was completed in 18 months and funded by the 2007 education bond.

Classes will begin at the new center in two weeks.

Calls to Sen. Sanders asking for his comments were not returned.