Pittsburgh hopes to secure ownership of a former Veterans Affairs hospital complex in Lincoln-Lemington before year’s end with plans to create an advanced public safety training facility for police, firefighters and paramedics that would be open to other departments in the region.
City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary authorization for a three-month extension to an agreement with the U.S. General Services Administration permitting city access to the 168-acre property on Highland Drive. A final vote is expected Tuesday.
Peter McDevitt, a senior analyst with the city’s Office of Management and Budget, said officials are nearing the end of a required historic review of the property.
“We hope to own it before the end of the year,” he said.
The federal government last year approved Pittsburgh’s request to acquire the property through a “public benefit conveyance” at no cost to the city. The VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System closed the complex in 2013 and shifted medical services to the University Drive campus in Oakland and the H. John Heinz III Medical Center facility in O’Hara.
McDevitt said the property must be used exclusively for public safety and emergency response purposes.
Mayor Bill Peduto said the facility would serve as a public safety headquarters and estimated the cost at “north of $100 million.”
He hopes to partner with the state and open the facility to public safety departments in Region 13, consisting of 13 counties in Western Pennsylvania. The city would also be applying for state aid to build the facility.
“Our hope is that we can work with the state in order to be able to also train suburban police, fire and medics as well as others from Region 13, hopefully being able to provide them with training they simply cannot get in the smaller boroughs and townships,” the mayor said. At the same time, the goal is to “create a revenue source to help to pay for it.”
Peduto said the facility would be owned and operated by the city.
McDevitt said an extension to the federal agreement is necessary to complete a historic review of the property.
The hospital opened in 1953 as a neuropsychiatric facility for treating World War II veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the nonprofit group Preservation Pennsylvania. McDevitt said one of the buildings served as a pharmaceutical laboratory for the development of drugs used to treat PTSD.
“We’re making sure we cross all our Ts and dot all our Is to make sure we preserve the memory of what happened on the site,” he said.