Amid protests happening in the gallery and outside of the Chicago City Council chambers on March 13, aldermen voted 38-8 to give an $85 million construction contract related to the development of the police and fire training center in West Garfield Park to a controversial Los Angeles company.
During the March 13 council meeting, all of the aldermen in the 24th, 28th, 29th and 37th Wards voted in favor of giving the lucrative contract to Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations and Maintenance (AECOM) corporation.
Later during the same meeting, the aldermen approved zoning changes that will allow two black-owned restaurants to open near the training center, in what would otherwise be a strictly industrial area. The vote does not necessarily requires the businesses — Peach’s restaurant, which specializes in southern cuisine, and a Culver franchise — to locate to the site.
The March 13 vote cleared the last hurdle in building the joint fire and police training center at 4301 W. Chicago Ave. But it also opened up a brand new battlefront for those opposed to the development.
According to a Chicago Reporter article, AECOM has worked on multiple projects in the city in the past and has a history of cost overruns and fraudulently billing clients. The incidents compiled by the publication include a project to design and manage a “2,000-bed jail in Detroit,” which was halted two years into construction “due to allegations of corruption in the contracting process and $100 million in cost overruns.”
The Reporter also pointed out that “AECOM’s Australian unit paid the U.S. equivalent of $201 million in 2015 to settle claims that it inflated traffic projections for construction of a large toll road in Brisbane.”
David Reynolds, the current Chicago Fleet Management Commissioner, worked as AECOM’s vice president from 2006 until 2009, two years before he got his current job.
Reynolds didn’t address his employment during that meeting, but he did try to address aldermen’s concerns about cost overruns. He emphasized several times that the budget was capped at $85 million and that, if AECOM goes beyond that, the company would have to cover the costs out of its own pocket.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who is currently in the running for city treasurer against West Side state Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin (10th), questioned whether AECOM was the lowest bidder or the lowest most responsible bidder.
“The price was set at $85 million,” Reynolds responded. “[AECOM] was found to be the most responsive and most qualified.”
Pawar also asked about cost overruns. Reynolds responded that the company has a “long history” of projects in Chicago and that they checked AECOM’s references and found them “to be satisfactory, with no concerns.”
Tara Stamps, who ran against Ald. Emma Mitts (38th) in 2015 and 2019, argued that it was “fundamentally inappropriate, disrespectful [and] undemocratic to continue this project,” given that a new mayor would be sworn in within three months.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said that Mitts’s reelection, along with the reelection of many other West Side aldermanic incumbents, indicated that most constituents support the training center. Burnett added that, as someone whose ward includes the current police academy, he witnessed first-hand how such a facility could make the community safer and encourage redevelopment.
“Thirty years ago, the area wasn’t safe,” Burnett said, “but we feel safe, because the young recruits. And we [are] also eating in our restaurant. And all those restaurants in our area would [not be there], if it were not for the police academy being right there in the community.”
He also touted the fact that the Peach’s and Culver locations would be opening near the training center, describing them as “a great thing for the community.”
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) reiterated a talking point often used toward the opponents of the training center — that most of them don’t live in the community.
“If you talk to people, I guarantee they will tell you that they want people there,” Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) could be heard saying as the gallery quieted down.
Mitts said that the community should work with the police, adding that protesters “can’t teach our children the police is bad” and expect them to call for help when it’s needed.
Mayor Emanuel described the project as just one component of the city’s renewed investment in the historically neglected West Side. He also cited the Hatchery food business incubator, the conversion of Legler branch library into a West Side regional library and the new Damen/Lake ‘L’ station as other examples.
“[The training center] is exactly what the West Side needs,” Emanuel said.