The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

May 11, 2013

Two legislative proposals could provide millions for state parks, colleges

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Two proposals being weighed by lawmakers in Jefferson City as the session winds down could provide a shot in the arm for local campuses as well as state parks and historic sites in Southwest Missouri.

If they pass, everything from Reynolds Hall on the campus of Missouri Southern State University to the old CCC lodge at Roaring River State Park could be affected.

One proposal is Gov. Jay Nixon’s amendment to House Bill 19, which appropriates $121 million of surplus revenue for various projects statewide.

That decision came after Nixon announced that state revenue through April was 11.2 percent higher than at the same point last year. Missouri’s net general revenue totaled $6.67 billion from July through April, compared with $5.99 billion during the same period last year. (The state fiscal year beings July 1.)

That $121 million would be used for the Missouri Department of Transportation building, the Capitol and Fulton State Hospital, leaving $20 million for state park maintenance and renovation. The measure received final approval Wednesday when it was passed by the Senate.

“We’re thrilled that parks are on the list for more funding,” said Steve Nagle, president of the Missouri Parks Association, a private group that advocates for state parks.

But he believes that $20 million only scratches the surface when it comes to the deferred maintenance and other needs of Missouri parks and historic sites.

“It would take about $400 million to bring everything up to speed, and the needs are throughout the park system,” Nagle said. “A lot of park infrastructure is from the 1930s ... They did a great job; many of these buildings are still standing, and worth maintaining.”

Another $40 million for state parks could come from a second measure being debated in Jefferson City — a $1.2 billion statewide bond issue for capital projects.

The proposal is called the Fifth State Building Fund, because it follows four earlier bond issues. The state recently made its last payment on the 1982 $600 million bond issue that was used to build roads, parks and public buildings.

Legislators say now is a good time to take on the needed projects because interest rates are at historic lows. It sailed through the House on Thursday, but must still be approved in the Senate before the session ends Friday.

Ultimately, it also will need approval of Missouri voters, too.

Calls to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to see how a share of that $20 million to $60 million would be used at parks in Southwest Missouri were referred to Linda Luebbering, state budget director.

“We don’t know specifically which sites, at this time,” she said. “There is a long list of park renovation projects that need to be worked on.”

Nagle, of St. Louis, said 56 percent of all the buildings under state control are in state parks. Of those 2,043 buildings, 647 are more than 50 years old and 285 are on the National Register of Historic Places.

A 2009 list of park priorities compiled by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which manages state parks, identified a number of projects that still have not been undertaken. That list included restoration of the original lodge at Roaring River State Park, and a new interpretative kiosk at the Battle of Carthage State Historic Site.

The stone and timber lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and most recently served as the park store until a new one was built a few years ago; it has not been open to the public since then.

Many of the parks also need repairs to drinking water and wastewater systems, Nagle said.

“The parks department has only about 500 total staff for 87 parks and historic sites. They’re really dedicated and they’re real pros at working to keep electrical, plumbing and water systems working and still taking care of the visitors,” he said. “Getting these projects done would mean a lot of work for local contractors, too. That money goes into the local economy.”

Members of the Missouri Parks Association testified on behalf of the state bond, as did representatives of colleges and universities throughout the state.

The largest share of the bond issue — $600 million — would be allocated to construct, renovate and repair buildings on college and university campuses.

Other money would be set aside for Capitol restoration and for the state hospital in Fulton.

MSSU, Crowder

“Reynolds Hall has been at the top of our list for the last four years,” said MSSU President Bruce Speck. “We’d like to construct a new building, or if we couldn’t do that, remodel the current building.”

Speck said Reynolds, which houses science and math classes, was constructed in the 1960s and is one of the original buildings on the campus oval. He said the current building does not lend itself to modern-day science classes. He came to Southern from Austin-Peay, just as that university had completed work on its new science classrooms, he said.

“It was the most expensive science building in Tennessee and it had everything, including all the modern labs, cabinetry and safety systems,” he said. “Ours is almost like looking at a movie from the 1940s.”

The estimated cost of a new building is $26 million.

Rob Yust, vice president at MSSU, said the last building constructed with state money was the Health Sciences Building, which received money via the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative.

“That was at least five or six years ago; it’s been a long dry spell since,” he said.

At Crowder College in Neosho, the biggest needs are renovations to Newton and McDonald halls, said Alan Marble, college president.

“They’re both original to the campus, built in the 1950s by the Army,” he said.

House Speaker Tim Jones, sponsor of the bond proposal, said 20 percent of the $600 million would be set aside for public community colleges.

McDonald Hall is the college’s primary classroom building, with original biology and chemistry labs. Classrooms and administrative offices share space in Newton Hall.

Ideally, Crowder would look for a sponsor to fund a new classroom building, then would use state funds to renovate the other two existing buildings.

“We’d build the new classroom first, then we’d be able to move activities in there when the buildings were renovated. At the end, we’d have three buildings available to us,” he said.

Marble said Crowder also received a small amount of state funds from the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative — $2 million that was used to leverage donations to construct the Farber Building.

“Otherwise; it’s been a long time,” he said.

Fifth State Bond

The proposed Fifth State Building Fund also would allow up to $20 million to be set aside in a new Public Elementary and Secondary Education Revolving Fund to be used for public elementary and secondary education capital costs. Bond language also specifies none of the money is to go to state highway projects.

 

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