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11 Investigates: Gainey administration revitalizes plan for public safety training facility

PITTSBURGH — The Gainey administration has included $855,000 in the proposed 2024 capital budget for a new public safety training facility, but Channel 11 Chief Investigator Rick Earle has learned they have scrapped plans to relocate Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Service headquarters to the old VA hospital on Highland drive in the Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood.

The previous administration, under Mayor Bill Peduto, bought the old hospital and 168 acres of land from the federal government for $1.

Peduto planned to build a headquarters for Police, Fire and EMS, along with a state-of-the-art public safety training facility.

At a news conference outside the old VA in October of 2021, Peduto promoted the benefits of the plan.

“To be able to place it in one location and to be able to coordinate services in a much more effective and efficient manner,” Peduto said.

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But last year, the new administration under Mayor Ed Gainey removed money for the plan from the budget. Gainey’s administration said the proposal was too expensive and the money was needed for paving and road projects.

In addition, the Gainey administration said there’s concern about isolation, safety and security.

“Consolidating all of your public safety services in one place is a security risk and, second, it creates an isolation between those public safety bureaus and the community they serve, which is not consistent with Mayor Gainey’s vision,” said Deputy Mayor Jake Pawlak, during an interview with Earle earlier this week.

Deputy Mayor Pawlak said the administration plans to follow through with part of the plan to build the state-of-the-art public safety training facility and an indoor shooting range that will take the place of the outdoor gun range.

For years, residents in Highland Park have complained about the noise from the outdoor range.

“It is one of, if not the only, outdoor shooting ranges in an urban setting anywhere in the country and we want to correct that,” Pawlak said.

One of the goals of the Peduto proposal was to relocate police headquarters from Western Avenue on the North Side and the police training facility at CCAC, also on the North Side, to eliminate costly rental payments.

Peduto estimated at the time, that the move would save city taxpayers roughly $2 million every year.

“Having all these centers that we have to rent and that we have to pay for, and then we look at this opportunity to acquire this land for $1, and we look at the impact not just for today but for the next administration to utilize,” Peduto said in October of 2021 during a news conference.

As Earle has reported, during the past 20 years, the city has paid more than $28 million of your tax dollars just to rent police headquarters on Western Avenue.

Pawlak said the Gainey administration is well aware of the rental costs and is looking at alternatives.

“We have to figure out our next steps around police headquarters as our lease expires and we’re in active pursuit of a bunch of options there,” Pawlak said.

Mayor Gainey put $855,000 in next year’s budget for a master plan to get the project started and he’s allocated an additional $50 million through 2029 to complete the project.

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