Construction on the 42-acre, $2.6 million El Paso County Sheriff's Office's Happy Valley Paintball Park, a recreational facility to be used only by sheriff's personnel for anxiety and stress therapy, is nearly done and could open by May 1, according to the contractor.
Jackson & Wentworth Construction spokesman Jared Wentworth said earlier this week that the park's theme areas of Pork Chop Hill, Iwo Jima and Taliban Stronghold have been completed. Work will now focus on the Town of Baghdad and Good Morning Afghanistan theme areas.
The park was approved by El Paso County commissioners using their share of federal stimulus funds. Since the stimulus money can be spent at commissioners' total discretion, there were no public hearings.
The paintball park is located on the old Spencer Penrose Cattle Ranch and Chuckwagon Repair Shop three miles east of Powers Boulevard. Prairie View Assisted Living Center was torn down last October to make room for the park.
"We found the old folks other places to live," says sheriff's spokesman Landon Roberti. "Well, most of them anyway. They say at night you can still hear some of them wandering around out there."
Sheriff Terry Maketa decided on the paintball park following a 2005 study by Pyne and Klein, a Denver-based anxiety therapy consulting firm. The $345,000 study found that "a lot" of the deputies were feeling stress and could "go off" when confronted by angry suspects or when sheriff's dispatchers "did that dance for us."
The Sheriff's Office will be able to use the park as much as they want, but will only get paid for the first four hours per week. Maketa says he's confident everyone will abide by an "honor system" to keep track of their paintball hours. They will be transported the 15 miles from headquarters to the paintball park by three former FrontRange Express buses purchased in mid-January. Each of the Paintball Express vehicles, which will run every four hours, 24 hours a day, cost county taxpayers $87,499 a year. Maketa says they'll also be used for parades and department fishing derbies.
"These days, the voters have made it abundantly clear that they don't want the government wasting their money, and we understand that," says Maketa, who adds that it's "unlikely" he would sell one of the buses and use the money to fund his re-election campaign. The cost of paintball guns, paintballs and protective devices will be paid from the sheriff's general fund.
"We appropriated the funds for the paintball equipment by cutting back a little on inmate resources at the jail facility," Roberti says. "With the overcrowded conditions, we found that not serving dinner reduces a lot of flatulence-related issues and greatly cuts down on the number of evening brawls caused by inmates in close quarters passing wind."
Among the equipment: 500 boxes of Karnage Rip Tournament-Grade paintballs (each box contains 2,000 paintballs and cost $57.50); 1,200 helmets and face shields and 850 paintball groin protectors; and 20,000 rounds of AG1 Clear Paintballs, "the latest non-staining munitions available today," according to the manufacturer.
The paintballs will be fired from what Maketa calls a "reasonable arsenal" of weapons that includes 240 Rap4 Tiberius full-clip pistols ($239 each), 150 MilSig Custom Sniper paintball rifles ($714 each) and, for Maketa, one top-of-the-line T68 Avenger, marketed as "the most powerful paintball gun ever made ... enough magazines and grenades for you to unload more than 400 shots in 14 seconds."
The T68 Avenger retails for $3,349 and will be kept in a gun safe in Maketa's office along with other department-sensitive items such as personnel reports, important computer codes and 1,600 tasteful modeling photos.
The Avenger-model paintball gun is 62 inches long and weighs some 14 pounds.
"As we all know, the sheriff has the biggest gun," Roberti says.
With the projected completion date nearing, a dedication ceremony for the paintball park is tentatively scheduled for April 23. Maketa has invited many elected officials, and he also promises a special, top-secret guest during the T68 Avenger demonstration.
Sources indicate it will be Independent reporter Pam Zubeck, and that she will be blindfolded.