Council approves state penitentiary contract

The state's capital city will cover half the expenses of repairing the Missouri State Penitentiary after a city council vote Thursday evening.

Council members voted unanimously to approve a contract with the state of Missouri to get rid of a mold problem that forced the historic prison to close at the end of September. Interim city administrator Drew Hilpert said the city would split the cost of mold removal as well as roof and window repairs in three of the prison's housing units and the gas chamber. He said the city and state will each contribute up to $1 million to conduct the repairs, which the state estimates as most likely costing $1.7 million. Hilpert said the city's half of the price tag will come out of a capital improvement sales tax voters approved in 2011.

Several council members said they were excited by the prospect of resuming tours in the spring. Fourth Ward councilman Carlos Graham told KRCG 13 he was glad the city and state were able to work together on the project. He said the number of visitors the prison attracts and the money they add to the city's economy made the vote "a no-brainer for me."

Third Ward councilman Ken Hussey said it was a good opportunity for both the city and the state.

"I think it'll have a long-term economic benefit for the community," he said.

Under the contract, once repairs are complete, the city and the state will divide up the tasks related to the facility's upkeep. The state will handle larger concerns like heavy maintenance while the city will deal with everyday items like groundskeeping. The city will also be permitted to operate a gift shop or coffee bar at the prison as well as use it for events as it deems appropriate.