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Fulton State Hospital set to move emergency command and other services into new building

Efforts to rebuild Fulton State Hospital have reached a "milestone," in the words of Gov. Jay Nixon.

The first new building in the reconstruction project is complete and expected to become fully operational next month. The Energy Control Center and Services Building will house several functions, including the emergency command post, power supply, computer services, maintenance and food preparation for patients.

"Over time, this project will reduce costs at Fulton (State) Hospital related to repairs, utilities, workers' compensation,and overtime," Nixon told reporters and a group of local officials. "This is quite simply a transformational project, and it is truly amazing to see it come to life."

Bob Reitz is CEO for Missouri's only state-operated mental hospital.

EYP | Parsons Brinckerhoff | Heery
Credit EYP | Parsons Brinckerhoff | Heery
Artist rendering of new Fulton State Hospital, which is scheduled to open in 2018.

"Our dietary services staff, who prepares over 1,200 meals each day using 25 different diets, will no longer have to work in a 1937 building that has no air conditioning whatsoever ... imagine that on a day like today," Reitz said. "They will no longer have to use food service equipment that was bought second-hand before I was born, and I'm 60 years old today, by the way."

The new facility has solar panels on the roof to increase energy efficiency, and new generators will also provide power in the event of an emergency or power outage.

"We have two generators at this (building) that will back up the entire facility," said Cathy Brown with Nixon's Office of Administration. "That includes every single (electric) outlet in this building as well as the new hospital."

The current services building and the Biggs maximum security building were both built during the Great Depression, and both will eventually be torn down. Debra Walker, Public and Legislative Affairs director for the Missouri Department of Mental Health, says the Biggs building was actually a WPA project, which was authorized by president Franklin Roosevelt.

Demolition work has already begun on some of the other older buildings.

Fulton State Hospital was built in 1851, and is the oldest state psychiatric hospital west of the Mississippi River. Due to its age and conditions it is considered by many to be the most dangerous place for Missouri state employees to work.  Despite the age of the hospital, Walker says all of the buildings currently in use are less than 100 years old.

The new hospital complex is scheduled to be completed and open in 2018.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Aerial view of Fulton State Hospital, 1934.

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.