City acquisition of Hab Center campus up in the air, deadline from state quickly approaches
April 5 now looms even larger on the calendar for Marshall citizens.
Already the date set for an election with three contested council seats on the ballot and a proposed tax levy increase for Marshall Public Schools, April 5 also stands as a deadline set by the state for the city to reach a decision. That city must decide whether or not to accept ownership and responsibility of the campus grounds and facilities of the Marshall Habilitation Center from the state at no purchase cost.
What might seem like a clear and easy decision becomes somewhat murky when considering the costs for the upkeep or demolition of those buildings and the effect those costs will have on the city's budget. Councilman Vince Lutterbie reported estimations of those costs would be millions of dollars, perhaps as much as $30-million total.
"The state, as we all know, I don't believe, has our best interests at heart," Lutterbie said. "For the past 10 years, they've been closing that hab center down. They haven't been doing proper maintenance. They've closed buildings down, turned off the gas on some buildings, and not done any roof repair. The windows are falling apart. If you've driven through there, you know the grass is getting mowed and that's about it."
Lutterbie invited open discussion of the matter from the councilmen, administrators and citizens at the council's meeting Monday, March 21. While the councilmen and City Administrator Connie Latimer reported that the city had received multiple deadlines from the state on the matter for the past year, each having been extended, Lutterbie said this was perhaps a firmer deadline for a decision than any the state had imposed on the city in the past.
Each member of the council voiced agreement that should the city accept the property, that the entire Spainhower Building would be given over to the Marshall Public School district for its use. The school began leasing the first floor of that building in August 2015 for its alternative education programs, as well as its print shop.
Other uses discussed for the grounds included potential development of housing and portions of the campus going to Marshall Parks and Recreation. The city currently awaits feedback from the Zimmer Group, which is also currently exploring uses for the former Fitzgibbon Hospital building, to determine the viability of the hab center facilities for development. Latimer said she expects to hear back from the Zimmer Group on the matter before the week is through.
Councilman Charles Guthrey expressed his concern that while the costs of maintaining or destroying the buildings could be large, the city might not be able to afford not taking control of the property.
"We can not allow that property out there to become a derelict property to another developer," Guthrie said. "It's in our city. Ultimately, we're going to be responsible for it. We have to take care of it. So, I think we have to be responsible on how that property is going to be distributed, and you know, who's going to be in charge of it. We can help other government subsections. We should be able to do that. ...If we don't take it over, the state's going to throw it up for bid, and anybody's going to be able to buy it. And we have zero control over it, and if they get into that place and find out it's going to cost them millions or billions of dollars -- they walk away from it, and we've got a derelict set of property out there that we can't do anything with."
Lutterbie said the first year maintenance costs would reach a minimum estimate of $100,000. Guthrey agreed with Lutterbie that the city needed to hear more from the state before a decision could be reached.
"We have also not had anybody come talk to us yet," Lutterbie said. "An engineer, an architect, we haven't had any of the past administrators at the facility come and talk to us. We haven't talked to any maintenance people. We are in the dark about what is going to happen at the hab center and what is going to happen if we have to take it."
Councilman Dan Brandt said he believed the city had firmer commitments from the state than Lutterbie's estimates indicated. Latimer said the city and the school district had first talked to the state about the matter in June 2015. She said that at that time, the state had made assurances it would tear down whatever buildings the city didn't want. However, the state's fiscal year ended June 30, 2015, and the start of the new year meant a new budget, and that new budget did not include allowances for the state to finance any potentially needed demolitions or maintenance -- until maybe now.
"What they told me last week was that they had that money," Latimer said of talks with the Missouri Department of Economic Development. "The money's there. On the application that I was sent, it says there's a deadline. There's also a limit on what you can get. They told me not to pay any attention to the deadline, and not to pay attention to the limit -- to write down what we thought we would need money-wise and go ahead and submit that."
She estimated that in the past six months, working with the state on this matter had consumed 80-percent of her time.
"Could there be a lot of expense out there -- yes there could," Latimer said. "Could there be a lot of expense out there if another developer gets it, takes the cream, and leaves the rest and walks off -- yes. Do I believe that if another developer gets it, they have the best interests of the school district in their sights -- no, I don't. We've heard that too many times that if someone else gets it, they don't want the school there because that would be something that would be a detriment to maybe what they want to do or what they want to develop."
The council resolved to invite representation from the state government, as well as potentially current or former administrative personnel from the hab center to discuss the condition of the buildings and what assistance with upkeep and demolition, if any, the state will offer, at a special council meeting to be held at an undetermined date the week of March 28. The council's next regularly scheduled meeting will take place Monday, April 4, one day before both the election and the current deadline imposed by the state.
Contact Arron Hustead at email@example.com