Chicago mayor says cost of proposed police academy likely to go way up
"If we're going to make that kind of investment, I want to get it right," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said
CHICAGO — The city’s controversial police and fire academy planned for the West Side is likely to be a lot more expensive than originally thought, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.
As it’s now designed, the proposed $95 million training facility in West Garfield Park that former Mayor Rahm Emanuel got the City Council to approve just before he left office doesn’t seem likely to meet the needs of first responders, particularly firefighters, Lightfoot said.
Asked whether the cost could double for the project that young activists have vehemently opposed as a waste of money that should instead go toward education, job training and mental health services in minority neighborhoods, Lightfoot said she didn’t know.
“It’s going to be more than the ($95 million) that’s been projected,” she said. “I can’t tell you right now what the ultimate costs are going to be, but if we’re going to make that kind of investment, I want to get it right. I want it to be the best-in-class training facility for first responders anywhere in the country."
Lightfoot said she would try to get the academy to “pay for itself” by bringing in other departments to train there.
During the campaign, Lightfoot said she wasn’t necessarily opposed to a new academy, but she felt the process lacked public engagement as Emanuel hurried to get it done before the end of his term. She urged the outgoing mayor to halt its approval until she took office, but the City Council adopted zoning changes and a construction contract for the police and fire training complex in March.
On Tuesday, Lightfoot said she still isn’t certain what kind of public process is appropriate as the project moves forward. The mayor, who was joined at the current police academy by new Public Safety Committee Chairman Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th, noted that West Side Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th, strongly supports the development as a way to bring investment to her ward.
“We have to work through that and continue to have conversations with Ald. Mitts, Chairman Taliaferro and others on the West Side,” Lightfoot said of her ideas for bringing the public into the process. “But people I know in Austin and other communities love their communities. They want those communities to thrive. And what they want is a focus and resources from the city.”
Emanuel backed the new academy as a way to enact changes at the Police Department following the Laquan McDonald shooting and a scathing Justice Department report on department training and tactics.
But opponents in the #NoCopAcademy movement ripped the plan as an affront to majority-African American West Side neighborhoods, saying there’s a deep distrust of police and a need to instead invest scarce public money into helping lift residents out of poverty.
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