City Council approval on final plans to build a new firing range for police officers in Fairfax City has been postponed indefinitely, raising doubts about how the city's 54 officers can remain certified.

"If we had to qualify tomorrow, we would have a problem. I'm sure we are going to, but I don't know where or how or when," said Fairfax City Police Capt. Donald Taylor.

All Virginia police officers must be certified on a firing range once a year or they may not function as police officers. Certification includes instruction in safety, maintenance and use of weapons, and usually takes each officer four hours to complete.

The city's old facility, where the force qualified last spring, was closed in May because of unhealthy levels of lead fumes. Rather than replace the building, the city considered using facilities at nearby counties, but "all the ranges are full," Taylor said.

The city took bids earlier this summer for a firing range to be built on the site of the existing building. The City Council planned to vote Aug. 26 on a final design, but problems with the proposed ventilation system have postponed approval indefinitely.

"It's a matter of correcting the ventilation. The architect's plans would have worked for the old standards, but the standards just changed last month," said John Veneziano, city engineer. The new facility will cost between $240,000 and $280,000.

Ventilating a firing range is difficult. "You need to move a lot of air. There is no real research to find out what works. A lot of it is trial and error. They have done a lot of work on ventilation over at the range in Montgomery County. We hope to benefit from the experience over there and not build a white elephant," Veneziano said.

Veneziano hopes to have final plans in September. "Construction should take six months after design approval, so they the police will probably have two sets of qualifications before the new facility is finished," Veneziano said. The department requires officers to qualify twice yearly.

"In the next 30 days, we will be looking at it a place to qualify pretty heavily. We are not just going to let our officers lose their state certification," Taylor said.

Taylor does not look forward to searching for a place for the force to qualify this fall and hopes the problem is resolved before next spring. "The department strives to be self-sufficient. We hate to inconvenience someone like that," Taylor said.