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      Fate of penitentiary up in the air

      The Missouri State Penitentiary opened its doors in 1836. Before it closed in 2004, it was the oldest continually operating penitentiary west of the Mississippi River.It's now a place for history buffs, tourists and ghost hunters.The site, though, is in poor condition and the repairs would be costly. But residents and Mayor Eric Struemph say it's a landmark worth keeping.â??What I would suggest, starting off, is that we spend $3.8 million in doing the changes to the exterior, repairs to the exterior of housing units one, four and three. And that would be new roofs, new windows, new tuck pointing, buttoning those up and then we could do more on the inside,â?? he said.While saving the penitentiary has caused a lot of chatter around town, so has the idea of building a new conference center, which was another topic at Thursday morning's town hall meeting.Don Trabue, a resident, said, "We've got to use it to attract people, to keep people coming to our town."Both Struemph and Trabue say the town hall meetings have been helpful.Struemph said, "I think by the turnout so far, they've been overwhelmingly supported and I'm just so touched that we have a citizens' base that is willing to come out and talk about these ideas."Trabue said, â??I think we're on the proper track. We're trying to plan our future and this is what you've got to do . . . you've got to plan ahead."Struemph says the next step is to gather all of the feedback from the meetings and present it to the City Council at its next meeting. From there, he says they could start working towards getting some of the projects designed.