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Ventillation, asbestos problems persist at police academy

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By Margaret Harding
Thursday, March 14, 2013, 9:41 p.m.

A higher-than-recommended carbon dioxide level found in an inspection of the Pittsburgh Police Training Academy this week is no cause for alarm, a city official said as the police bureau works to correct other problems a state inspector cited six months ago.

The city approved work on the Highland Park building, costing more than $51,000 in the past three months, to remove lead and asbestos and to install an energy-efficient ventilation system in the basement.

“We continue to do whatever is necessary to maintain the building and look for ways to upgrade it,” Acting Chief Regina McDonald said.

McDonald said the bureau, Public Works and Citiparks are scouting for a place for recruits to do physical skills training, which the building lacks.

State inspectors found potential for lead and evidence of rodents and sewer backups in the training facility last year. A Sept. 20 inspection report warned that the city has no documented cleanup of a former basement firing range, which could contain lead. The report cited visible mold and water damage in several rooms, vents blocked with dust and inadequate ventilation.

McDonald said the bureau is addressing “deficiencies” that the state inspector listed.

Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski said the building can be repaired.

The Allegheny County Health Department air quality test on Tuesday found elevated carbon dioxide levels, Kaczorowski said, though neither he nor health officials would release the report or specify the level.

When carbon dioxide levels do not meet accepted air quality standards, that indicates the air is stagnant.

“There's no health risk with the carbon dioxide, in terms of causing an illness,” Kaczorowski said. “They felt that could be resolved by opening a window.”

High levels of carbon dioxide can displace oxygen and nitrogen, potentially causing health problems, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services says on its website. Exposure at certain levels can cause headaches, dizziness or sleepiness, difficulty breathing, sweating, increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure.

In 1986, Congress mandated that the Environmental Protection Agency develop information on indoor air quality for building owners and facility managers.

Kaczorowski said the health department found no evidence of active mold growth or excessive water intrusion at the academy.

“The asbestos was minor,” Kaczorowski said. “It has to be airborne. This stuff wasn't airborne. The only problem you'd have is if you pick it up and eat it.”

Officers say recruits use donated facilities to practice gun retention, fighting and other skills.

“There is currently no area for physical skills training,” said Officer David Wright, an instructor who allows some police training in his private gym at no cost.

Off and on since at least 1999, recruits have practiced in abandoned schools, church gymnasiums and, most recently, an empty UPMC-owned warehouse.

The academy is “not a good facility,” said Sgt. Michael LaPorte, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1. “When new recruits come in and look at the facility, they go, ‘I'll stick around for a year.' ”

Lt. Jennifer Ford, who heads the academy, declined to comment.

Zone 3 Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly said she complained in the summer to the state Department of Labor & Industry about conditions in the academy, which opened in 1959. “I was assigned there 20 years ago, and that building was in bad shape then,” McNeilly said.

LaPorte wants city officials to draft a long-term plan for the training academy.

“No one is planning for the future,” he said.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or

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