The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 21, 2011

Superintendent’s goal: Rebuild schools in 3 years

By Kelsey Ryan

JOPLIN, Mo. — After getting several Joplin schools up and running in temporary locations around the city this summer, Superintendent C.J. Huff has set another ambitious target.

“My goal is to have everything rebuilt in the next three years,” he said Friday.

But before construction can begin, there are many preliminary steps: debris removal, demolition, bidding for plans, selecting architects, bidding for contractors and, of course, funding it all.

During its Aug. 3 meeting, the Board of Education accepted a debris removal bid of $95 per ton from Jet Stream, a debris removal company. Demolition will follow, cleaning up the lots that house what is left of Joplin High School, Franklin Technology Center, Irving and Emerson elementary schools, and East Middle School.

Huff said he would like to see all the debris removal and demolition completed in eight to 10 weeks.

East Middle School likely will be the first of the tornado-destroyed buildings to be rebuilt because there already are architect drawings and it can be rebuilt at the same location. Huff said the district wants its contractors for that project lined up in the next few months so ground can be broken after the property has been cleared.

Squaring up funding to pay for the work is another challenge the district faces.

Some of the cost of the rebuilding will be covered by insurance, but not all.

“Our insurance proceeds don’t pay to build back what we want; it pays to build back what we had,” Huff said. “So we should receive enough insurance proceeds to build Joplin High School the way it was, and that’s not enough, so we still have a gap there that’s going to have to be filled to expand that site into the school we want.”

“I want to dream big, but we also have to dream within a budget,” said Ashley Micklethwaite, school board president.

Huff said he hopes to have insurance issues settled within the next six weeks. Other funding will come from federal and state sources such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and donations. FEMA money will pay 75 percent of the cost of safe rooms. District leaders have committed to putting safe rooms in all the buildings, and Huff said those also may serve as community shelters, which would allow the district to obtain more federal and state dollars.

Huff said some state money also is available for technical school construction.

Before the tornado, the board had been testing the water for a bond issue for elementary schools and to address overcrowding at the high school. Huff said he does not want to commit to a bond issue until the district knows where it stands with insurance funding. One scenario could involve going to voters with a bond issue that would require no tax increase but would extend the district’s existing rate.

“There’s hope that we can get it all done without having to go to the voters,” Huff said.

Huff said district officials are talking with St. John’s Regional Medical Center about a donation of land to the district that potentially could house a new elementary school.

“Those conversations will continue,” he said. “I think that will happen. It’s just a question of where and how much we need to make that work.”

Huff said the high school likely will be rebuilt on its current property, just not on the exact spot as before because it was situated in a flood plain. Emerson Elementary also is likely to be rebuilt at the same location. Irving Elementary may be relocated because the current location has narrow side streets, limited parking and is situated along busy 26th Street.

Community Input

School officials are working with the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and the city of Joplin to gather information about what residents would like to see in their new schools. Huff said the district is likely to do a phone survey to get broader community input.

“You can have open forums, but it doesn’t necessarily represent the will of the community,” he said. “The best way to do that is to make those phone calls and say, ‘Here’s what we’re thinking,’ and ask, ‘What’s your opinion of this? What’s your opinion of that?’ We may have some larger focus groups that bring in a broader cross section of the community when we get closer to time and we start tweaking a formal plan.”

Micklethwaite, the school board president, said she thinks a scientific survey is important, and she noted that a committee, before the storm, had worked on a plan for improving district buildings.

“We certainly want to honor that work as much as we can looking at the new landscape,” she said. “Reconvene that team, and assess where we’re at now and what we can use from that work and what we can revamp. Just like with the temporary buildings, we talk to parents and teachers and students. We’ll continue that dialogue moving forward.”

There has been no talk about consolidating schools, Huff said, although some schools showed preliminary enrollment drops on the first day of classes. Final numbers may be available this week. Meanwhile, some schools, such as Stapleton and Cecil Floyd, are growing.

“Wherever we build a new school, we need to build a little bigger to help relieve some pressure off of those two schools,” Huff said. “We were a growing district prior to the storm, and I think we’ll probably grow more.”