Pittsburgh poised to reallocate money meant for police training to Penn Circle project

Pittsburgh City Council seems to be poised to reallocate funds originally earmarked for a public safety training facility in the city’s Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood to a project to convert Penn Circle into a two-way roadway.

Council was initially expected to take a final vote on the measure Tuesday, but delayed to further discuss what the move would do to future plans for the training facility. A final vote will likely be held next week.

“It’s a difficult decision to make, and clearly not one we’re taking lightly,” Councilman Bruce Kraus said.

Ultimately, council members seemed supportive of the measure, which would take about $808,000 included in the 2019 budget, plus $192,000 from the 2020 budget that was intended to fund the proposed public safety training facility to instead fund the two-way conversion project at Penn Circle .

The project would convert what is now a one-way roadway into a two-way stretch.

Officials are planning to construct a new public safety facility at the 168-acre property that previously housed the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System, which closed the complex in 2013. Council members and Jake Pawlak, who heads the Office of Management and Budget, said those plans are still in place.

Pawlak said the administration plans to allocate new funding for the public safety training facility in next year’s capital budget. There was no way to move ahead with the project this year, he said.

“We are simply not in a position to get any dollars under contract this year,” he said, explaining that officials do not yet have even conceptual designs.

The cash being discussed is only a fragment of what will be needed for the multiyear project, he said. Officials had previously estimated the project would cost more than $100 million, and Pawlak said that inflation and rising material costs translate to an added $1 million or more beyond original cost expectations.

Meanwhile, he said, the Penn Circle project is “a shovel-ready project that is just in need of a small infusion of money.”

Using the money, Pawlak added, is time sensitive, as they are bond funds that are meant to be spend in a “timely manner.”

Kraus said he was concerned that, if the money meant to kickstart the project were reallocated, it may “fall by the wayside.” He said he felt more comfortable with the idea after Pawlak assured council members that the project would again receive a funding allocation in the next year’s capital budget.

His concerns were amplified, he said, at a time when “every city is grappling with their public safety departments and to deliver services that constituency clearly are entitled to.”

Existing city-owned public safety training facilities on Washington Boulevard are “old” and in “an active flood plain,” Pawlak said, in acknowledging that the situation needs “to be rectified soon.”

The city also has a lease agreement with CCAC to use their property for public safety training, though Pawlak could not immediately provide the cost of the lease.

“It’s imperative to have the proper tools to train a public safety force adequately and properly,” Kraus said. “We all are very dedicated to that.”

Pawlak did not offer a timetable of when work on the new training facility could commence, or how long it would take. He said it would not be completed “for some time.”

Reallocating this funding, Pawlak said, does not impact the operational readiness of the city’s police and does not affect their ability to train.

Pawlak said work at the Penn Circle project could begin in about a month, if council approves the proposed funding reallocation.

Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, jfelton@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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