Officials said it's unclear when work on the site might begin but said costs were rising and additional grant money would be needed
By Julia Felton
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh City Council is again looking to reallocate money intended for a new public safety training facility in Pittsburgh's Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood, as city leaders said it's unclear when work on the facility might begin.
Council is considering moving over $400,000 allocated for the proposed public safety facility to use for road paving work.
About $1.4 million is set aside for the project, but money won't be needed for it any time soon, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jake Pawlak said.
The city has planned for years to build a new public safety training facility at the 168-acre site where the former Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System was located. The VA facility closed in 2013. Officials initially estimated the training facility project would cost more than $100 million.
Because of the worsening condition of buildings on the site and inflation, Pawlak estimated the project could now cost "considerably more than" $120 million. The city would likely need to obtain grant funding to cover all the costs.
The city in June extended a lease with the Community County of Allegheny County to continue using a CCAC-owned property on North Lincoln Avenue for a public safety training facility. The lease lasts through 2027 and comes with a more than $2 million price tag.
"There is an absolute need for a new city-owned training facility, and I think this is the right site for it," Pawlak said of the former VA site in Lincoln-Lemington.
Pawlak said there's no timetable for when the training facility project might start.
Some ideas like moving the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police headquarters to the site may need to be scrapped or implemented in later phases after the public safety training facility is completed, he said.
"We're talking about something that's going to take us probably a decade at least to do because of the size of it," Councilman Ricky Burgess said.
Other council members have questioned whether the city should begin exploring new sites where they could build a public safety training facility more quickly and cost-effectively.
"There is a place in East Carnegie which is a lot of land, very private," Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said. "That might be a facility that would cost a lot less, and it'd be up sooner."
Councilman Anthony Coghill said he also would like to explore the idea of finding another site for the facility.
"I don't see this happening for years to come," he said. "I don't see any new windfalls the city is going to have in finances."
Finding a new spot for the public training facility would leave the sprawling Lincoln-Lemington space available for other purposes, Councilwoman Deb Gross said. Other uses allowed under the agreement the city made with the federal government include using the site for a correctional facility, educational use, historic monuments, homelessness assistance, public health uses, public parks and recreation areas, wildlife conservation or self-help housing, Gross said.
Councilman Bruce Kraus is voting against moving the $400,000 away from the training facility project.
"Training is paramount in our obligation as a council to provide for our public safety officials," he said.
The facility was intended to train police, firefighters, EMTs and possibly other city employees. At one point, city officials even suggested that personnel from other cities would come to the site and pay the city to use the facility for their own training, Kail-Smith said.
All other council members supported reallocating the $400,000 in a preliminary vote Wednesday. A final vote could be held as soon as next week.
If the proposal is approved, the funding would be used to pave numerous roads in various council districts, including Woodville Avenue and Grandview Avenue in Kail-Smith's District 2, she said.
City Council in June reallocated $1 million earmarked for the public safety training facility to a project to convert Penn Circle into a two-way street.
Pawlak at the time assured council members that the money would be replenished.
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