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Senate to consider project list, includes Fulton State Hospital

Senate to consider project list, includes Fulton State Hospital

April 6th, 2014 in News

The Missouri legislature is set to vote on a bonding plan that would fund a new Fulton State Hospital.

Missouri senators Thursday morning approved the idea of selling bonds to pay for building renovation and maintenance projects around the state.

Monday afternoon, the Senate will be asked to endorse 303 projects that would be paid for money raised from the bond sales would pay for.

"There's not a lot of glamour in this bill, at all," Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, told reporters Thursday afternoon, after the Senate voted 25-6 to send his bonding proposal to the House. "But these are just fundamental things that I feel like it's our obligation to do.

"The really only new construction in the bill, whatsoever, is the new Fulton Hospital."

The bill raises the state's cap on selling bonds by $400 million for state-owned buildings and property - like the Capitol complex, or the Fulton-based mental health hospital that houses people whose illnesses won't let them function in regular society.

The bill specifies that money raised from bond sales won't be used for new construction - except for a new Fulton State Hospital.

It's earmarked for $200 million.

FSH is the oldest public mental health facility west of the Mississippi River - it's been operating since 1851.

The oldest building among the 38 structures on the 95-acre campus was built in 1852, while the newest structure was finished in 2000.

Clients mainly live in four buildings.

The hospital's website indicates the current operations include three forensic centers and the SORTS (Sexual Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services) program.

Supporters of the new hospital say the current facilities are dangerous both for the clients and the employees - and that building a more modern facility should improve safety and reduce workers' compensation claims.

The list of projects also includes $10 million for renovating the current St. Mary's Health Center, which the hospital has agreed - in principle - to donate to the state next year, after the current hospital operations are moved to the new facility under construction just east of Missouri 179 and north of Route C in southwestern Jefferson City.

About 100,000 square feet - a third of the total complex - would be used by Lincoln University's Nursing program, which now meets in Elliff Hall.

Linn State Technical College is interested in putting its Med-Tech program in the old hospital.

And Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said last week the rest of the complex could be adapted to state offices.

Last year, lawmakers set-aside $38 million in a two-year capital improvements bill to build a new office building on the Missouri State Penitentiary grounds - but Gov. Jay Nixon's administration balked at that idea.

Talks with St. Mary's began after last year's legislative session and presented what Parson called a "new opportunity."

"Instead of building a brand new facility for $38 million, we're probably going to be able to use this facility and, maybe, get things done for about $10 million," Parson said last week, "and save the state $28 million."

The bill also raises the cap by $200 million, for state-owned college and university facilities.

Projects from schools all around the state are included in the list for Monday's vote, mainly based on the priority needs each school reports to the Higher Education department each year.

During Thursday's brief debate before the vote, Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit - who voted against the bill - argued: "This vote is really about placing these projects ahead of everything else in our budget, because we have to pay it, and it's the first thing that we pay."

The state Constitution requires the first budget bill each year to be for the "payment of sinking fund and interest on outstanding obligations of the state," with public education coming second.

But, Parson said: "I don't know that you put it ahead of every other priority that we have here. I think these are just obligations that we have.

"And I realize that you've got to pay the bonding back - but there's still a lot of day-by-day issues that are priorities to a lot of us in the state. I just think this is an issue that it was our obligation to do."

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, added: "We're also doing this after the retirement of the Third State Building Fund, which was retired last year. Throughout the history of Missouri, there have been these issues put forward to handle capital improvement or maintenance.

"So, I think we're able to use space that we had dedicated prior to this year for bond payments and for infrastructure, and to make a new investment to maintain the long-term structural integrity to those facilities that are very important to our state."

Parson expects little opposition to the specific projects listed in the resolution scheduled to be voted on Monday.