The city of Hannibal is on the “fence,” at least temporarily, about putting a fence around the former St. Elizabeth Hospital.

The city of Hannibal is on the “fence,” at least temporarily, about putting a fence around the former St. Elizabeth Hospital.

According to Building Inspector Joey Burnham, the decision to recommend not placing a fence around the Virginia Street property came after a conversation he had with City Attorney James Lemon.

“We discussed it and he thought, and I did too, that it’s better to see what happens with Mr. (Steve) Owsley before we spend our money on it,” said Burnham following the Dec. 5 meeting of the Building Commission at Hannibal City Hall.

The possibility of fencing the former St. Elizabeth Hospital, which is owned by Owsley, was brought up by Mayor and Building Commission Chairman James Hark during the Building Commission’s Nov. 10 meeting.

“I’d hate to attach such a financial burden to taxpayers,” said the mayor, who cited the potential for loss of life as the reason for the city to consider putting up a fence. Hark expressed concern for the lives of unauthorized people entering the facility and for emergency responders, such as those who ventured in to search for youngsters who had been seen going into the structure prior to a blaze on Nov. 4.

Hark asked Burnham to seek a quote on what it would cost to put a fence around Owsley’s Virginia Street property. Fire Chief Sean Hampton asked that the quote be presented at the next scheduled meeting of the Building Commission, which occurred on Dec. 5.

On Dec. 5, Burnham advised the Building Commission of his conversation with Lemon regarding putting up any fencing.

Following the Dec. 5 Building Commission meeting Burnham advised the Courier-Post that because he and Lemon agreed on taking a wait-and-see approach he hadn’t yet looked into the cost of fencing.

If the city ever moves forward with fencing the site it’s possible the city could be reimbursed for that expense. In addition to asking for the property to be secured, Lemon has requested that Circuit Court Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd also order Owsley to pay the expenses the city has incurred dealing with this matter, which could possibly include the cost of the fence.

According to Lemon, his request for compensation was not addressed during Owsley’s late November show-cause hearing.

“This (Shepherd’s) order is solely to get the building sealed and what will happen to Mr. Owsley if the building is not sealed. However, the issue of restitution is still on the table,” said Lemon on Nov. 29 following the hearing when Judge Shepherd gave Owsley a 15-day window to begin sealing the property. “Any money the city has to spend in order to seal this building potentially we can ask the court to give us a judgment against him. How much good that will do us I don’t know. I think it is probably most realistic to try to figure out a way to get Mr. Owsley to seal this building and do so in as much of a timely fashion as we can get it accomplished.”

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com