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State stays quiet on MSP's future

State stays quiet on MSP's future

Mold remediation at former penitentiary to cost millions

October 20th, 2013 in News

This file photo from March 21, 2012, shows repairs being made on the front of Housing Unit 1 at the Missouri State Penitentiary along Layfette Street in Jefferson City. State officials closed off the vacant prison last month and canceled public tours for the rest of 2013 due to mold problems in the historic site's deteriorating buildings.

Photo by News Tribune

The old Missouri State Penitentiary remains closed to the public as state officials discuss how best to handle mold found at the site last month.

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.

Since the site has been closed, the News Tribune has made repeated attempts to ask the Office of Administration, or OA, which oversees the prison site, about the extent of the mold problem, the location of the mold and what the state plans to do to address the issue.

In an email last week, Misti Preston, OA spokeswoman, said: "The State of Missouri has identified mold and other hazardous concerns at the MSP site that warrant further testing. The cost to remediate is $1.5-$2 million. Per the Master Plan, the buildings are considered part of the historic area and never have been slated for demolition. The site will remain closed until further testing is conducted."

Other questions asked about the site remain unanswered:

• Why is further testing needed at the site?

• What sort of testing is needed?

• Where specifically are the areas of mold - which buildings and what areas of those buildings?

• Is there a timeline for remediation and, if so, what is it?

• Would any funding needed for remediation require legislative action or would it be handled within OA?

The test results, done by EMSL Analytical out of St. Louis, show the testing was done in housing units 1, 3, 4 and the gas chamber. The company declined a request to interpret the results for the News Tribune and requests that OA authorize the company to speak to the press about the results have gone unanswered. OA also declined to provide access to any other expert who could discuss the results of the mold testing.

Rep. Jay Barnes said OA is still performing cost estimates and until the final costs are known it is difficult to know where the issue stands.

"I don't think anyone is entirely sure of exactly what the extent of the hazard is without going in and doing testing," Barnes said.

When asked whether funding for remediation would require legislative action or if OA had funds internally to handle the issue, Barnes said he thinks OA has some money set aside, but could not provide more specifics.

Barnes said he had managed to get $800,000 set aside for remediation and environmental hazards at MSP three years ago. But that line item was vetoed by Gov. Nixon. Barnes said he believes that funding could have prevented the current mold issues at MSP.

But now, Barnes said the state faces some difficult decisions on the road ahead, including deciding which buildings to remediate.

"Not everybody's going to be happy with that, but sometimes life requires making difficult choices," Barnes said. "I think it's important we find a way to get these tours back up and running in some kind of capacity."

Sen. Mike Kehoe said he has been involved in discussions with OA about MSP, both about the mold issue and "the overall importance of MSP to the state and the community." Kehoe said OA has expressed a desire for tours of the prison site "to resume as quickly as possible," which he said means both remediation of the current mold and additional repairs to keep out moisture to prevent more mold growth in the future.

"The prison site is a jewel for central Missouri, both in terms of its historical significance and its future potential," Kehoe said. "The incredible popularity of the tours demonstrates that people from across the state, and across the nation, have an interest in MSP and want to see it protected."

Kehoe said he plans to meet with Nixon on Tuesday to discuss MSP and noted he plans to "let Gov. Nixon know that I believe that the current mold situation presents an excellent opportunity for the state, the county and the city to work together to find a solution, and I will ask the governor for his support in solving this problem."

Kehoe said he does not know the magnitude of the mold, but was told "the numbers were very high," and noted the testing was done in the historic campus. He said the goal stated by both the city and OA is for tours of the site to resume next year.

Gov. Nixon's office did not respond to questions Friday about MSP and its future.

Ryan Burns, communication manager with the CVB, said the organization is continuing to work with OA, as well as state and city officials, but for the moment, they are "actively waiting."

But though no commitments have been made, Burns said the project is in the works.

"We are pretty much unchanged," Burns said. "Everybody is very passionate in seeing this through ... By no means has the door been closed in our face."

Burns was unable to provide any specifics on what areas of the prison are affected by the mold.

Burns said the CVB still hopes to regain access to the prison in time to start the 2014 tour season, though the state has made no commitments.

"We want people to continue to keep this on top of their minds," Burns said.

Jefferson City Mayor Eric Struemph said MSP is a passionate issue for many community members and noted the city is willing to financially contribute to any remediation costs at the prison.

When asked where any funds for MSP would come from, Struemph said the city still has money set aside for road projects at MSP, but noted any funding decision would have to be approved by the City Council.

"It's currently my highest priority," Struemph said. "It's time for city and state to sit down."