Senator: Nixon concerned about MSP

Further testing needed at old prison; goal is to resume tours in 2014

Although this deteriorating cell made for an interesting changing room for actors during filming of a movie inside prison walls, pealing paint and mold creates a challenge to preserving the old Missouri State Penitentiary. (File photo)

Although this deteriorating cell made for an interesting changing room for actors during filming of a movie inside prison walls, pealing paint and mold creates a challenge to preserving the old Missouri State Penitentiary. (File photo) Photo by Julie Smith.

After weeks of silence from the state on the old Missouri State Penitentiary, one state official says Gov. Jay Nixon is very concerned about the situation and understands the urgency of finding a solution.

Last week, Sen. Mike Kehoe met with Nixon to discuss MSP and its future, and Kehoe says he’s encouraged.

“The governor is very concerned about our ability, meaning the state and the community, to try to keep the historic elements of the MSP campus accessible to the public,” Kehoe said. “I was very encouraged when I left the meeting.”

At the end of September, the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, or CVB, temporarily suspended all tours of the historic prison site, only to later announce the total cancellation of all 2013 tours because of mold found at the site.

CVB staff has been prohibited by the state from entering the buildings on site, and the Office of Administration has stated the cost to remediate is $1.5 million to $2 million, though further testing is needed.

OA has not responded to repeated requests from the News Tribune about the extent of the mold problem, the location of the mold and what the state plans to do to address the issue.

Kehoe said he believes Nixon grasps the urgency of the project, especially because of the popularity of the prison tours conducted by the CVB.

Further testing and a more extensive review needs to be done, he said, on the extent of the mold and contaminants found. Kehoe said Nixon indicated he would have OA begin as quickly as possible on that process, which will enable the state to begin forming a concrete timeline on how to address the issue.

“We definitely discussed trying to get tours resumed in 2014,” Kehoe said. “If that can happen on March 1 or July 1, I don’t think we’ll know until we can get some more results back from the additional studies on what it takes to fix it.”

But Kehoe already has a timeline of his own.

Though the state has not committed to any timeline, Kehoe said he would like to see the additional testing done by mid-November, with results back by the end of November. He then would like to put out a request for proposals in December for remediation and repairs, with the hopes of beginning work in January.

“We all know there’s a sense of urgency on this,” Kehoe said. “This is Mike’s timeline.”

Kehoe also emphasized that the issue is not simply remediation. Repairs have to be done at MSP to prevent future mold growth, he said, requiring a two-step process where the state first determines how bad the mold situation really is and what it will take to clean up, then moves to engineering work on how to “button-up the building.”

Kehoe said legislative approval of funding may not be necessary as Nixon indicated the state would look within existing funds, such as within the Department of Corrections and OA, to cover the costs of remediation and repairs.

But he also hopes to see some cooperation within the community. Kehoe said the situation at MSP provides an opportunity for the city, CVB and state to work together on the project, possibly resulting in a better deal down the line for access to the prison.

Kehoe said to have the different entities collaborate financially on the project could lead to the CVB getting a longer term contract for access to the prison, noting the CVB currently operates on 11-month leases that are annually renewed.

“Part of the larger conversation is going to be a collaborative effort between the city and the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the state and all the people that are involved to try to pull everybody’s resources together to get this thing done and moving forward,” Kehoe said. “The details of all that aren’t worked out, but that would be the big picture.”

Jefferson City Mayor Eric Struemph has said the city is willing to financially contribute to remediation costs at the prison, noting the city has money set aside for road projects at MSP. Interim Finance Director Bill Betts said the city has about $2 million in the fund for roads at MSP.

Ryan Burns, communication manager for the CVB, said it’s too early in the process to know whether the CVB could financially contribute to the MSP costs.

“After all the parties involved have finalized the cost of the remediation projects, and the city has finalized its financial commitment, if funding is still needed we would do our best to help contribute,” Burns said. “We are happy to have a seat at the table and will remain committed to seeing this project through in hopes of reopening in time for the 2014 tour season.”

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