A bill recently introduced by state Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, would allow the state to convey part of the Missouri School for the Deaf campus in Fulton to a new owner.
SB 969 had its first reading Feb. 4. It specifically concerns a 7-acre portion of land between State, Eighth and Hillcrest streets, including the old Rice Hall.
"It's not about selling it to someone; it's that (Rice Hall) has been sitting empty and it's a drain," said Lindsey Alexander, chief of staff in Riddle's office.
There's no buyer lined up yet, Alexander clarified.
"(A buyer) will be determined later through a bidding process," Alexander said Tuesday. "This just allows the Office of Administration to begin that process."
SB 969 is identical to SB 470, which Riddle introduced last year and which died in the chamber. Another similar bill concerning the same property, introduced in April 2019 by state Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, passed the state House but not the Senate.
Rice Hall served as MSD's middle school building until about 2004, when a shrinking student population rendered the extra space unnecessary. Local private school Kingdom Christian Academy rented the building from 2009 to summer 2017. It's sat empty ever since.
Last year, Callaway County officials eyed the land as a potential site for a new Callaway County justice center.
Commissioners and members of a citizen committee floated the idea of acquiring the property from the state then renovating and adding onto the current structure to create a combined county jail, courthouse and sheriff's office. The backlash was immediate: Members of the local deaf community and MSD alumni protested the idea during an April public forum.
An architect contracted by commissioners found while the building was "viable," it was actually bigger than anticipated, and renovating would be more costly than originally hoped.
By May, Jungermann said the idea of purchasing Rice Hall had been dropped all together due to the above factors.
"Last session, the county showed interest, but there was no guarantee they'd get the property if the bill passed," Alexander said. "There was a lot of confusion last legislative session about that."
When reached for comment, Tyler Madsen, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education assistant director of communications, said DESE doesn't comment on pending litigation.