Hospital campus not an option, McCune-Brooks returned to city

Amye Buckley

A proposed Missouri Southern expansion to Carthage will not take place.

An agreement signed in January 2006 by former University President Julio León and former Carthage Mayor Kenneth Johnson called for Missouri Southern to assume control of the McCune-Brooks Hospital building when it moved to a new facility.

Southern’s option on the building expired in December and was discussed during the March 14 Board of Governor’s meeting.

Citing expenses involved in repairing and remodeling the healthcare facility to become serviceable as an educational institution, Dr. Dwight Douglas, Board of Governors chairman, said the Carthage expansion was not an option for Southern at this time.

Rooms inside the facility would need to be expanded to serve as classrooms.

Repairs to the roof, a service elevator and heat exchanger would be required before Southern would have considered occupancy.

“Since the letter of intent expired on December 31 of 2007 the issue essentially is dead as far as the University is concerned and the University will not be going forward with developing that facility,” Douglas said after the March 14 Board meeting.

“The University has always had to watch its cash reserves,” he said. “We did not plan on an expenditure somewhere between $400-500,000 before we could even more into the facility and that’s a large amount of money for us to come up with.”

Carthage Mayor Jim Woestman said he received a letter from University President Dr. Bruce Speck the week after the meeting, but he is chagrined at the lack of communication from Southern.

From earlier discussions, Woestman expected Southern to adopt the building for use as a training facility for nurses and possibly develop a culinary school.

A cooperative program with the Carthage School District had also been discussed.

During the March 14 Board meeting, members discussed the possiblity of holding classes in Carthage, but deferred the question to the administration.

“Number one we’re very disappointed in MSSU and number two, then we have to start from scratch,” Woestman said. “Your flag had been flying over that building for a year and a half and you had all the blueprints of that building and you had taken stuff out of that building so we made the false assumption that you were going to take it.”

Carthage is working with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, exploring the possibility of moving the crime lab – now located on campus – to the vacant building, but funding may once again be the issue.

Appropriations towards the building as an extension of Southern’s campus were dropped Feb. 20, and now will wait until the next legislative session.

Carthage, meanwhile, is paying utilities on the building.

“You’re talking about $4000 a month when it’s not operating, Woestman said. “Of course when it is operating it’s much higher.”

The situation has left Carthage in a holding pattern as it waits for state funding to arrive and tenants to move in.

“We have people looking at it, in fact we’ve got two, three other inquiries – one of them looks very, very positive, but it’s not a done deal yet,” Woestman said.

Southern officials said part of the problem with the failed deal stemmed from a lack of planning.

“One of the reasons that we’ve gotten ourselves in this problem,” Douglas said, “is we haven’t had a coherent strategic plan to have in place of where we want to go.”

A strategic planning committee was recently appointed and Douglas says the members will play a key part in Southern’s future plans.

“We have to decide what resources we want to put, particularly in distance learning, and what we want to put in brick and mortars and that’s a big decision to make in where the future of higher education is going,” Douglas said.