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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Mike Parson, center, flanked by former governor Jay Nixon (left), First Lady Teresa Parson and a bevy of other officials and dignitaries, cuts the ribbon at the Nixon Forensics Center. During his speech, Governor Parson celebrated the chance to provide a high-quality facility for the Fulton State Hospital's patients and its staff. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

Officials gathered at Wednesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony seemed pleasantly surprised the Nixon Forensics Center had actually happened.

"I'm just thrilled that this got done," Fulton Mayor Lowe Cannell said. "I honestly can't believe it."

It's taken some $114 million and five years of work since former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon first worked to approve funding for the project. But the dignitaries and officials attending Wednesday's ceremony agreed the project was desperately needed as FSH's former residential facility was ancient, unsafe for staff and patients alike.

"For years, despite being in such a dangerous environment, (the) staff provided some of the best psychiatric care in the country," Missouri Department of Mental Health Director Mark Stringer said.

Tackling the issues at FSH was one of state Sen. Jeannie Riddle's first goals when she was first running for office in 2008. Early in her career, she said, she was told many times that building a new FSH facility was a pipe dream.

"I grew up between two brothers, so I don't hear 'can't' too well," she said.

She, Nixon and now Gov. Mike Parson (then a state senator) were among the early champions of the FSH renovation process.

Nixon said one of his goals for his second term in office was to "do things for people who'll never know your name."

"I was going to say something about that today, but with my name on the building, that's hard," he said to laughs.

Nixon spoke of the duty the state has to care for the people who need it most.

"A moral society is ultimately measured by how it treats those in distress and challenge, and how it treats those who dedicate their lives to helping those people," he said. "We in society have communal responsibilities."

The patients at FSH don't have powerful lobbyists or a political agenda, Parson said.

"We put politics to the side sometimes and ask what the best thing is we can do for Missouri," he said. "We're making sure that any Missourian who needs help can find it."

Speakers praised the people and government of Fulton and Callaway County for their support of the project. As Nixon pointed out, something like a state mental hospital can be difficult to site.

"This doesn't happen if the community doesn't allow it," Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, said. "This community is full of leaders who do the hard thing at the right time."

FSH Chief Operating Officer Andy Atkinson has spoken previously on the improvements this new building includes: safety and security features, more room for treatment programs and better residential facilities to provide a higher quality of life for residents.

"The patients who've spent the majority of their lives here will probably say that this is long overdue," Atkinson said. "This will be life-changing for our patients."

It'll be good for employees, too, Cannell said.

"When I think about this facility, I think about my friends and family members who work there," he added. "Providing a safe place for them means a lot to me. I worked here for five years myself, so I've seen what the clients and staff go through."

A community open house is planned for noon-8 p.m. June 5, but even a brief glimpse at the exterior and main lobby makes an impression. The new facility is full of light, with giant windows and a sleek modern aesthetic.

"(This is) the finest state facility for mental patients anywhere in the United States," Nixon proclaimed.

Parson pointed out that this type of project may be a once-in-a-generation undertaking for the state. All involved plan to make the most of the opportunity.

"Vital work will go on inside these walls for at least a hundred years," Nixon said.

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