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State commits to reopening MSP

State commits to reopening MSP

November 7th, 2013 in News

A large crowd was in attendance as Sen. Mike Kehoe took to the podium briefly to thank all involved for their work to bring forward the offer for Jefferson City and Missouri to enter into a partnership regarding the use of the Missouri State Penitentiary.

Photo by Julie Smith

State and city officials have agreed to split the costs of repairs and remediation at the old Missouri State Penitentiary, with the goal of reopening the prison for the 2014 tour season.

Gov. Jay Nixon, along with city, county and state leaders, announced Wednesday the city and state have agreed to split the estimated $2 million cost of repairs and mold remediation at MSP. Nixon did not provide specific details of the timeline of work, but noted the goal was to reopen the prison in time for the Jefferson City Convention and

Visitors Bureau, or CVB, to resume tours in spring 2014.

"I find a governor's most productive when I do the goals and stay out of the way of the actual work," Nixon said. "I'm confident that the city and (Office of Administration) working together will keep an aggressive timeline."

At the end of September, the 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 MSP buildings.

"It was bad news for local businesses," Nixon said of the tour cancellations. "We're doing something about it."

Nixon said the state funds would not require legislative approval, adding the money would come from existing funds for repairs and maintenance within the Office of Administration, or OA. Jefferson City Mayor Eric Struemph said the city would use funds from the half-cent capital improvements sales tax that have been set aside for road projects at MSP. Though the City Council still has to approve the agreement, the city has about $2 million in the fund for roads at MSP.

The "iconic Jefferson City landmark," as Nixon called MSP, will see repair work in the historic areas, as well as remediation for the mold found. According to the new use agreement, repairs at the prison will include:

• Sealing and repairing windows, replacing roofs and remediation/cleanup of hazardous materials in Housing Units 1, 3 and 4;

• Adding Plexiglas to windows on the south side and at front and rear entries of Housing Unit 4; and

• Repairing the roof and remediation/cleanup of hazardous material in the gas chamber.

The agreement also states the state will spend another $25,000 for further testing for hazardous materials in Housing Units 1, 3 and 4, and the gas chamber.

Nixon said it actually will be more of a two-part process, with repairs and remediation being only one aspect. The other, he said, is the cleanup and removal of buildings not within the historic area of the MSP campus to provide "a clean site for positive development in years to come."

Nixon particularly singled out the efforts of Sen. Mike Kehoe, thanking him for his hard work, effort and persistence on MSP.

"Sen. Kehoe is a real strong example of someone who likes to get things done," Nixon said.

Kehoe, who met with Nixon at the end of October about MSP, said the new agreement shows not every issue has to be a political battle. He said the CVB has proven the importance of MSP in the community and the positive economic impact it has on the area.

"Everybody agreed this was an important issue," Kehoe said. "The economic impact (of the prison) is fantastic for our state and local areas."

As a result of the new agreement, which is expected to be approved by the Jefferson City Council on Thursday, the CVB will be given a longer-term contract for use of the prison. The CVB has been operating on 11-month contracts, but the new agreement would allow for a 15-year contract, with the option for two, five-year extensions.

"We think this is a solid step forward," Nixon said.

After the cancellation of prison tours, OA did not respond 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. When asked about transparency in the process moving forward, Nixon said the state did not want to risk "unbranding" the prison as a tourist destination and needed to be cautious when discussing environmental issues and air quality.

"This is clearly a very fixable problem ... we are not dealing with a dramatic, unsolveable (problem)," Nixon said. "We did not want to take the risk of unbranding what has been built up over the past few years."

Earlier coverage:

State, city to split costs at Missouri State Penitentiary