Ready, aim, dig.

Ready, aim, dig.

Union County Sheriff Jamie Patton traded his gun for a golden shovel Aug. 23 as his department broke ground on a $268,900 shooting-range shelter at its training facility on U.S. Route 36 east of Marysville.

"There is a real need for an outdoor range and training facility," Patton said. "Maybe 10 or 20 years ago, there were more outdoor ranges, but as our villages and townships have grown, those ranges have disappeared. It's not a great idea to have an outdoor range in a densely populated area."

Patton said any law enforcement or public safety agency in central Ohio or beyond will be able to reserve the shooting range or the training pond for a small fee. The training pond is equipped with a submerged school bus, culverts and enormous tires on and around which divers can practice rescues.

"I think shooting outdoors is an important thing for our deputies and police officers,' Patton said. "We like to train in as realistic conditions as possible and it's as likely that one of our deputies will have to use his firearm in the rain, sleet, wind or snow as it is he'll be using it indoors."

The new building will include men's and women's restrooms, a large classroom and storage space, allowing the facility to be used year-round.

"We have an in-county fee and an out-of-county fee," Patton said, "but by law, we're not allowed to make a profit off the training facility. The fee covers electricity, garbage pickup, fuel to cut the grass -- those sorts of expenses."

Improvements to the training facility began in 2006 and will total more than $700,000 before all the work is complete.

County commissioners used money from the general fund when the range was upgraded and the pond created, but recently the sheriff's department has paid for improvements with funds from the Federal Equitable Sharing program.

"Several years ago we loaned one of our deputies to a DEA task force in Franklin County and we're getting money now that has been confiscated from drug dealers from Columbus to Mexico," Patton said.

County Commissioner Steve Stolte said the improvements to the training facility "are a win-win for the sheriff's department and for the county. Now Jamie can train his deputies more efficiently and more regularly, and all the law enforcement and safety agencies in Union County will be able to rent it out.

"Of course, it's easier to say 'yes' when you're not using taxpayer dollars or taking money out of the general fund, so that's a plus."