Can mold be a sign of progress?
We may be about to find out.
A state assessment of vacant structures at the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) site revealed mold. The discovery has resulted in cancellation of tours conducted by Jefferson City's Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) through the remainder of the season, previously scheduled to end in November.
First, we applaud the CVB for prioritizing the safety of staff and visitors by alerting the state about a "heightened musty odor" at the site. Doing the right thing has resulted not only in tour cancellations, but the enormous task of notification and restitution.
In the past, we have joined with historic preservationists in both the city and state in calling for action concerning the historic structures.
We were prompted by the prospect of demolition by neglect. Leaking roofs and other deterioration continue to take a toll.
Although the finding of mold creates obstacles, the discovery is not surprising.
This is not an example of the adage: "Be careful what you wish for."
We wished for - indeed, urged - action. The action revealed a problem - mold.
But continuing to ignore that reality would have resulted in more harm than good.
How is this problem to be addressed?
Do we demolish the historic structures or renovate them and resume the tours?
If renovation prevails, who pays the costs? The state owns the buildings, but an entity of Jefferson City operates the tours.
Would the state consider transferring ownership? If so, would the city consider acquiring it?
The inspection, and consequent closure, of the MSP site is a step in the process. Whether it is a step toward renovation or demolition remains to be determined.
What we do know is the step was necessary. Delaying it by days, weeks or months would only have allowed conditions to worsen and problems to magnify.