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Cincinnati Fire training center expansion is back to the drawing board following a budget gap

The most recent recruit class at the Cincinnati Fire Department Training Center in September 2021. The class graduated in November.
Cincinnati Fire Department Training Center
The most recent recruit class at the Cincinnati Fire Department Training Center in September 2021. The class graduated in November.

Cincinnati officials broke ground last year on a new training center for the Fire Department. Six months later, the project is over budget and back to the design phase.

Union President Matt Alter broke the news to City Council's Public Safety and Governance Committee Wednesday morning.

"I was at the groundbreaking ceremony, I think it was right before Thanksgiving. And my understanding since then is that it had to go back to the drawing table because as proposed the funding — there's a massive funding gap to get what's needed versus what has been drawn up," Alter said.

The update surprised council members on the committee.

"You gave us a lot of new information today," said Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney. "We didn't realize that the new training facility wasn't moving forward as planned."

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As of November, $13.623 million had been allocated to expand a training facility in Millvale. It's not clear how much more the total project will cost, but Assistant City Manager Virginia Tallent confirmed the funding problems.

"I want to really be clear that this remains a priority project for the city manager and for the facilities management team," Tallent told the council committee.

Construction was scheduled to begin this fall, but Tallent said at this point it would be speculative to predict a timeline.

"The Department of Public Services understands from the city manager that this is priority number one in terms of ongoing work," she said. "And so I'm confident that we can get it back on track."

City Manager Sheryl Long provided a statement in response to WVXU's questions about the project.

"I am strongly committed to this critical investment that will better serve our fire department and citizens," Long wrote. "I have personally communicated with Megen Construction, the contractor for this project. We are in total alignment to deliver what firefighters need and deserve in a training facility. This remains a top priority and I will continue to find funding solutions to keep this project moving forward."

$2 million in a FY24 budget proposal from Mayor Aftab Pureval would go toward the fire training center. The funds are described as "Facilities - Deferred Capital Maintenance."

Alter hopes that happens sooner rather than later, noting the initial $10 million for the training center was allocated six years ago.

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"Ten million in 2017, we know, is nowhere near what $10 million in 2023 will buy. So the longer we wait, the more that project will decrease in size," Alter said. "The intent was a one stop shop for our firefighters to give a training fire training facility that is worthy of the first professional fire department United States. And we're still waiting on that."

Long cited ineffective management of the training center project in her decision to fire then-fire chief Michael Washington in March. Washington has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.