Kleberg County officials recently received notice that the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration will award a grant to Kleberg County in the amount of $4.3 million to support renovations of the J.K. Northway Exposition Center. 

Kleberg County Judge Rudy Madrid said in a recent interview that the EDA grant will fund renovations to the J.K. Northway as part of the Kleberg Regional Public Safety Training and Emergency Operations Command Center project.

Madrid said more than a year-and-a-half ago, he and Kleberg County Sheriff Richard Kirkpatrick discussed the possibility of creating a regional training facility to be used by the Kleberg County Sheriff’s Department, which would be located “adjacent to NAS-Kingsville and behind the L.E. Ramey Golf Course.”

The facility was to be used to train officers on emergency situations the KCSO would face, but Madrid said he had an idea to do more with the facility.

“The more and more I started working on this, the more I wanted to expand it,” Madrid said. “I wanted to include fire departments, to include EMS and then I wanted to take it a step further and also include emergency managers across the State of Texas because traditionally, county judges are the emergency managers. And as history has proven itself, especially after Hurricane Harvey, a lot of these county judges, they’re not prepared. Mayors are emergency managers as well and unless they’ve received that appropriate training, it puts counties and municipalities at a deficit. So there’s always a need for training.”

Madrid said after Hurricane Harvey, he learned that the effort to be aware of safety measures in a city or county is the responsibility of government leadership and it was difficult to initiate those procedures without a “central facility.”

“I felt the one thing we lacked here in Kleberg County, and (Kingsville Mayor Sam Fugate) agreed with me 100-percent; the one thing we lacked was an emergency operations center,” Madrid said. “(A facility) where our first responders, fire rescue, our executive leadership, our military base, our highway patrol, our Border Patrol — where everyone was on one page. We’ve got a stellar emergency response team and we share our resources.

“Not only did I want to build the cavalry that is here to immediately support Kleberg County, but I wanted to be that cavalry that could come the rescue of our neighboring counties.”

Madrid said after some research, he discovered the EDA grant and immediately began to put together the application to help fund the facility near the golf course and submitted it to the EDA.

A few months later, Madrid said he sat in on a Greater Kingsville Economic Development Council meeting, which sparked intrigue on the possibility of turning the J.K. Northway into the emergency operations facility.

Madrid spoke to city officials and both sides agreed it would be beneficial to designate the J.K. Northway as the site for construction and renovation, and resubmitted the application to the EDA after an application modification request.

“We could utilize renovated rooms inside the J.K. Northway as academic training rooms for emergency personnel, students at (Texas A&M University-Kingsville) and teachers in our area,” Madrid said. “This is going to be a training facility, and a multi-complex coliseum by daytime. But it’s an emergency operation center by natural disaster.”

Madrid said the plans for the renovation include installing a helicopter pad for HALO Flight outside of the facility, expanding and adding a new parking lot and applying upgrades to the facility for concerts, events and conventions.

Making sure the J.K. Northway was suitable to continue hosting the Kleberg-Kenedy County Junior Livestock Show and to bring back the college rodeo, which originally was held in Kleberg County, were some of his main focuses when deciding on plans for the renovation, Madrid said.

“It was crucial that something be done, not five years from now, not 10 years from now. But now it needs to happen right now,” Madrid said. “And when I got word we got the grant, I was ready to get everything in motion.”

Madrid said the county will receive the award money “contingent upon (Kleberg County) completing a few things” as requested by the EDA within 30 days after July 25.

The list of items includes a published public notice to run for three consecutive days, a historical and archaeological resources study of the grounds of the J.K. Northway, revisions to the county budget to include the cost of the project, an environmental narrative that explains the land use in the project and a preliminary engineering report of the facility.

Madrid said the engineering report, the public notice and the environmental narrative have “already been taken care of” and the rest will be done within the next few days.

Madrid said the budget revision included the total project cost of $5,375,000, with the proposed award amount at 80 percent of the total project cost which is $4.3 million from the EDA.

The remaining amount of money will be matched by Kleberg County and the City of Kingsville, which will not exceed $1.2 million.

“We appreciate the cooperation that the city has given us,” Madrid said. “We had to come up with the match money, and the city unanimously agreed to paying half for it. We sincerely appreciate their cooperation and their generosity in helping put money into the pot. And at the end of the day, they manage the facility, so it’ll be a huge team effort. I’m very eager to hit the ground running on it.”

Madrid said he anticipates receiving the award letter as early as late August or early September, and the renovation is projected to be complete within 6-9 months.

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