WILLMAR — The Willmar indoor gun range in the basement of the City Auditorium is need of a good clean, along with a new supply of ballistic collection blocks at the end of the shooting lanes.
To keep the shooting range within the allowed government lead standards for an indoor range, the Willmar City Council approved a contract Tuesday with Green Bay Lead Services for $34,035 to complete the professional lead cleaning, and also to install the wall of rubber blocks — made from cold-pressed, recycled rubber — that catch the fired bullets.
There is $38,000 in the 2019 auditorium operating budget for the cleaning and block replacement.
Public Works Director Sean Christensen first presented information on the cleaning and block replacement at the Aug. 21 Public Works and Public Safety Committee meeting. He explained why an annual cleaning is needed at the facility.
"Without the decontamination, the (lead) dust accumulates and it increases the exposure in the breathing zone and is tracked into other locations in the facility," Christensen said.
The lead cleaning includes cleaning the range, observation room, classroom, hallways, restrooms and stairwells. While city staff members do clean the range, observation room and classroom with a HEPA vacuum, the deep cleaning is needed every year to keep the range in compliance.
Also part of the cleaning is the replacement of 16 HEPA filters for the range's air ventilation system. The range has its own ventilation system to make sure lead dust from the range does not circulate throughout the entire auditorium. This happened in 2013, requiring the closure of the range for several months and the completion of a $1.4 million range and auditorium rehabilitation project, finished in 2014.
Christensen also warned the committee that more stringent lead standards from the government could be coming next year for the range because youth use the facility. While currently only a rumor, Christensen said his staff believe the change is coming and it will cause a problem for the Willmar indoor range.
"It might take more and cost more to clean to those standards," Christensen said at the Public Works committee meeting. "There are areas that we will have a very difficult time getting to those Housing and Urban Development standards, those new standards, if the rumor is true."
The ballistic blocks are replaced approximately every two years, based on usage levels at the range. The blocks are designed to capture bullets up to 7.62 millimeter or 0.30 caliber. The blocks are replaced once there isn't enough rubber left to safely capture the bullets. As the blocks age and are used, there is the concern of ricochet, which could be very dangerous. The ballistic blocks were last replaced in 2017.
The votes to approve the cleaning and wall replacement were unanimous at both the committee and council level. Council members do want to keep an eye on the range, including finding out how many people are using it and what kind of revenue is being brought in.
The council last year dropped the half-hour rental rate for a lane at the range to $8, though Christensen said that reduction does not seem to have brought more people to the range.
"I wouldn't say we've seen an uptick, it has been pretty steady," Christensen said at the Sept. 3 council meeting.
With possible lead standards changing along with conversations at the staff level about the future of the range, council members plan to keep discussing the range and possible plans.
"This isn't about being anti-gun," Councilor Audrey Nelsen said at the Aug. 21 committee meeting. "This is about safety and our building."