Governor proposes state bonds to finance $211 million project

Gov. Jay Nixon addresses a crowded Fulton State Hospital cantina to announce he was releasing the remaining $11 million in state funds needed for planning and designing a new Fulton State Hospital. He also unveiled a 2015 budget proposal for issuing bonds to cover the remaninder of the $211 million project.

Gov. Jay Nixon addresses a crowded Fulton State Hospital cantina to announce he was releasing the remaining $11 million in state funds needed for planning and designing a new Fulton State Hospital. He also unveiled a 2015 budget proposal for issuing bonds to cover the remaninder of the $211 million project. Photo by Dean Asher.

FULTON — Gov. Jay Nixon announced Monday a proposal to issue state bonds to fund a new $211 million psychiatric facility at the aging Biggs and Guhleman forensic centers.

At a press conference at Fulton State Hospital’s Administration Building, Nixon also said he had released $11 million that had been withheld earlier this year to complete the planning and design process.

“Anyone who walks these grounds or through the halls of the Biggs Forensic Center as we did this past July can see that the facilities here are aging and in serious need of repair,” Nixon said. “Its wards are cramped … and deteriorating, leading to injuries among staff and patients. Based on worker’s comp costs, it’s far more dangerous to work here in Fulton than any Department of Corrections facility. That’s unacceptable, and it’s time to fix it.”

Marty Martin-Forman, chief operating officer at Fulton State Hospital, said the hospital is “incredibly excited and grateful for what has seemed like a very long journey” in the governor’s announcement. “We are very much looking forward to providing treatment in a modern psychiatric facility,” Martin-Forman said. “Although we know it’s a ways away, this is the first step. This had to happen, and it feels really good.”

In June, Nixon withheld about $401 million in state funds and

capital improvements projects — including $13 million earmarked for planning and designing new facilities for the aging hospital — in response to an attempted veto override on a House bill that would have cut taxes and “undermine(d) our fiscal foundation now and for years to come,” Nixon said Monday.

After the veto was sustained at the veto session in September, Nixon released the first $2 million in withheld funds to the hospital’s planning stage. The remaining $11 million was released Monday.

According to commissioned studies, the cost of the project, including planning and design, is about $211 million. Nixon said the remaining $200 million would come through appropriation bonds that would not require public vote.

“With interest rates still at historic lows, this proposal is a fiscally responsible and measured approach that will ensure a new facility can be built that’s safe, secure and conducive to healing,” Nixon said.

Nixon said now was the right time to go forward on the project.

“With our economy growing and folks getting back to work, we have a unique opportunity to make smart, affordable and long-overdue investments like those here at Fulton State Hospital,” Nixon said. “Tragic events across the country have brought national attention to how mental illness — especially when it’s left untreated — can ravage individuals, families and entire communities. That’s why this year I was pleased that the legislature followed my recommendation to invest $10 million … to help identify and care for Missourians with severe mental illness before they reach a crisis point.”

Built in 1851, Fulton State Hospital is the oldest mental health facility west of the Mississippi River. Many of its facilities are outdated, in disrepair and poorly designed by modern mental health standards. The proposal to rebuild the hospital has drawn bipartisan support.

State Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, member of the Senate Interim Committee on Capital Improvement Assessment and Planning, voiced support at the press conference.

“We went across the state this year and tried to figure out priorities for the state of Missouri,” Parson said. “And (a new Fulton State Hospital) is the top of the list. It was the No. 1 item on our interim committee across the state. Believe me, there’s a lot of popular things to do out there, a lot of other needs out there, but this is one that truly is the right thing to do regardless of the popularity of it.”

Fellow members of the committee expressed support in a press release.

“The need for improvement at the Fulton State Hospital was extremely clear,” said Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg. “We have heard stories and now have seen in person the need to improve this facility for the safety of our citizens. It’s a daunting task, but it’s one of our most pressing needs. We are happy to see the hospital will also be a priority for the governor. We look forward to working with him and his staff on this major and much-needed project.”

“We wanted to actually get out, tour the facilities and state buildings to help us prioritize those needs and leverage private support,” said Senate Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles. “After seeing the conditions at the Fulton facility in person, it was clear this would be a top priority for us.”

Nixon said Monday the need for safety improvements at the state hospital outweigh the costs.

“It’s important to set aside the economic impact studies and the cost assessments. There’s just no question that we have a moral responsibility to these patients and their care,” Nixon said. “It transcends politics, and it goes beyond economics. This is a need that hits at the very core of our duty as a civilized society. As these walls continue to crumble, our conscience commands to do better, and under my proposal we will.”

Brittany Ruess contributed to this article.

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