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State orders on-site safety inspection of auxiliary police training facility

This shuttered school at 1450 N. Larrabee St. — formerly the Near North Career Metropolitan High School — is used as an auxiliary training site for police officers and firefighters. But one officer has filed a complaint alleging the building has inadequate ventilation, temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, roach and rodent infestations and high levels of lead and asbestos. | Google Streetview

A shuttered North Side school used as an auxiliary police training site will be inspected by the state after City Hall’s written response to safety violations endangering police trainees was deemed “unsatisfactory.”

Last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was ordered to take “immediate corrective action” to remedy problems at the building at 1450 N. Larabee Street that once housed the Near North Career Metropolitan High School.

The demand from Illinois Occupational Safety and Health Administration Director Ben Noven stemmed from a July 12 complaint filed by Fernando Flores, a Chicago Police officer assigned to O’Hare International Airport. Flores also serves as a Fraternal Order of Police trustee.

Flores alleged that the shuttered school has inadequate ventilation, temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, roach and rodent infestations and high levels of lead and asbestos.

The following day, Noven fired off a letter to Emanuel that gave the city until “no later than” Friday, July 27 to conduct an investigation of Flores’ allegations that the “entire building is in a state of disrepair and affected by these hazards.”

Specifically, Noven demanded that the city document that the shuttered school: complies with the city building code on ventilation; has been screened for the presence of lead and asbestos; and abides by the city’s pest control policy by providing a copy of the most recent pest control inspection and treatment report to prove it.

On Aug. 7, Noven sent a follow-up letter to Flores informing the complaining officer that the city’s written response to “the alleged hazards you reported” was “unsatisfactory.”

“Therefore, we have assigned the complaint to an inspector to conduct an inspection of the workplace as soon as possible,” Noven wrote in the letter, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

“You will be contacted following the investigation and informed of the results when they are available.”

Late Wednesday, the mayor’s office said city officials “have been cooperating” with the Illinois Department of Labor “to ensure that the facility is inspected and compliant.”

“The city is committed to ensuring that CPD has the training facilities to conduct real-world, scenario-based training based on best practices,” the City Hall statement said.

Last month, Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi responded to the state ultimatum at a shuttered school owned by the CHA that occupies 11 acres near the former site of the Cabrini-Green public housing complex.

He noted that the building – used for tactical training, including SWAT team operations that involve “active-shooter scenarios” – was scheduled to be demolished by the end of this year.

“The Chicago Police Department takes all complaints seriously, especially when the health and safety of our personnel is affected. Our facilities team is already working with City partners to address the allegations,” he wrote.

At the time, Guglielmi did not respond to a report that, after Flores filed his complaint, four officers collapsed from the heat, prompting the Police Department to close the ancillary training facility for two days.

The shuttered school would no longer be needed as an ancillary training facility once Emanuel’s controversial $95 million state-of-the-art police and fire training facility is built in West Garfield Park.

That project has drawn opposition from Chance the Rapper and young people across the city and the nation who have rallied against what they call Emanuel’s misplaced priorities; the plan has been attacked on social media by activists using the #NoCopAcademy hashtag.

They have argued that bolstering mental health services and school funding should be higher priorities than the police training that was a primary focus of the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department.

That Justice Department investigation was triggered by the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.