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Quest for state space

Quest for state space

3 area lawmakers pleased by release of funds for capital improvements

March 4th, 2014 in News

The state will plan to utilize part of the current St. Mary's complex for office buildings.

Three Mid-Missouri lawmakers are pleased with Gov. Jay Nixon's release last Friday of $132.5 million in capital improvements money.

Lawmakers appropriated the funds last year, in the two-year capital improvements budget bill, but Nixon withheld it last June as part of the battle over the tax cuts bill.

"At least it's a start that he's released it as we intended for him to do," Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said Monday afternoon.

The released money includes $38 million for state government office-space needs, mainly in Jefferson City.

When lawmakers approved that money last year, they specified it was "for planning, design and construction of a state office building including space for and renovation of the Missouri Department of Transportation Central Office."

State Rep. Jay Barnes and Sen. Mike Kehoe - both Jefferson City Republicans - and others talked then about a "new" building on the Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment site, east of Lafayette Street and north of East Capitol Avenue.

But, Budget Director Linda Luebbering noted Monday, the lawmakers' language doesn't say "new."

And "construction" - as used in the budget bill last year - can mean renovation and the installation of new walls inside an existing place.

Commissioner of Administration Doug Nelson said last week he has no plans to propose a new office building, and believes the state's space needs can be met through thorough planning and consolidation of existing spaces the state already owns, or soon will acquire.

Schaefer agreed with Kehoe and Barnes that the "St. Mary's property is in the mix now, which was not an option for us last year, when we passed" the capital improvements bill.

As St. Mary's Health Center prepares to move to its new hospital in November, it has agreed to donate the current facilities to the state under certain conditions.

One of those conditions is making some of the space available for Lincoln University's nursing program to move to the old hospital, and for a long-discussed culinary arts program be created and taught in the hospital's kitchen area.

Kehoe said some space likely will be set aside for Linn State Technical College to use as well.

"St. Mary's is, roughly, 320,000 square feet," he said. "I believe Lincoln's footprint is somewhere in the 80,000-square foot range."

Even after adding some Linn State classes, he said, there would be about half of the building available for state office needs.

Luebbering said some of that space will be used for storage, leaving closer to 100,000 square feet for possible state use - still a lot of space for some state offices.

The released money also includes $50 million for major improvements at the Capitol.

Barnes said Monday he thinks releasing the money "is a good thing. There is long-overdue maintenance that has to be done to our state Capitol, to ensure it's going to be a safe place for state government to operate from for many years to come."

Kehoe added: "I believe that releasing the money to continue the restoration efforts - and really just fixing it so water doesn't leak into the building - at the Capitol is fantastic, because that sorely needed to be done."

Nelson said some of the Capitol work already is underway - the main waterproofing work began this year and continues through the end of 2017.

"I think they're just controlling the rate at which that work's being done," Schaefer said. "With some of the things, such as the water infiltration, it needs to be done right away."

Nelson said last week one of the first visible signs of the waterproofing work will be the temporary removal of the Capitol's South Steps, so workers can get to and repair some of the leaks more easily.

After the building's foundations are waterproofed, Nelson said, then repairs and tuckpointing will be done on the walls on all sides of the building - all the way to the top of the Dome.

Nelson said he's spending the next few weeks, or months, developing a number of plans to address the states's space needs, including removing the House's mezzanine offices on the Capitol's first floor, so nearly all of the Capitol will comply with requirements of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.

Schaefer, Barnes and Kehoe all said they're willing to listen to OA's plans.

Noting that the Capitol marks its first century of operations in 2018, Kehoe said: "Getting all those things back into shape, and continuing to get this building ready for its next 100 years, I think is very important."