Before the Missouri General Assembly adjourned this month, legislators approved $13 million in planning money for the first phase of a new building complex at Fulton State Hospital.
Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said the new hospital building complex mainly is designed to replace the Biggs Forensic Center at Fulton State Hospital, which houses Missouri's criminally insane patients.
For several years, Riddle and other legislators have sharply criticized the facilities at Biggs as outdated and inadequate to provide a safe working environment for both clients and Department of Mental Health workers at the unit.
"We have been working on this for many years and this is one of my top priorities," Riddle said.
The Department of Mental Health also has placed a high priority on replacing the Biggs unit.
In his annual message to the Missouri General Assembly, Gov. Jay Nixon also has backed construction of a new building to replace the Biggs Forensic Center.
Although it is expected to be only a formality, Nixon still has to approve the appropriation of $13 million in planning money for the hospital.
He has until July 14 to decide whether to sign or veto the proposal.
With $13 million in planning money, the revised hospital complex is estimated to have a total cost of about $211 million.
Riddle said the planning money will be used to hire an architect to prepare specific blueprints for the building.
She said initial plans in 2008 for a new Fulton State Hospital have been scaled back somewhat with fewer buildings scheduled to be replaced.
Riddle said the planning money appropriation is an important first step. Having the blueprints soon, she said, will mean that when the state has money to finance construction, "the Fulton State Hospital project will be shovel-ready."
Riddle said Department of Mental Health officials have told her the planning money will be used to begin a phased building project with the ultimate goal of replacing the Biggs Forensic Center.
Riddle said officials outlined this plan for the Fulton State Hospital Complex:
• All facilities south of Route O, including the Hearnes Forensic Center and the Guhleman Forensic Center, will remain in operation at this point. The Cremer Therapeutic Center, used by the Missouri Department of Corrections, also will remain in use.
• A new power plant will be built north of Route O and its steam generated for heat will be piped to buildings in the complex, including the nearby Missouri School for the Deaf.
• A new dietary building will be constructed along with a separate support building that will include some administrative offices.
This preliminary construction of the three new buildings north of Route O will be needed before work can begin on construction of a new 300-bed facility to house a new building to replace the Biggs Forensic Center.
"The new building to replace Biggs will be need to be completed before the current Biggs unit can be demolished. I know this will take some time, but at least we are moving forward with planning money at this time to get the project started with planning money for the first three buildings in the initial phase of the project," Riddle said. "The ultimate goal still is to replace the Biggs unit. That is our legislative intent. These other structures need to be built first in order to accomplish the goal of replacing Biggs."
Everyone should know, she said, at this point only planning money for the first phase of this project has been approved and the governor has not yet acted on this.
"No buildings will be built with this planning money," Riddle said. "But at least this is a start and our ultimate goal is still to replace the Biggs unit as our highest priority."