By Kelsey Ryan
After 10 schools were damaged or destroyed a year ago, the Joplin School District took strides Tuesday toward rebuilding with ceremonial groundbreakings for four new schools.
The groundbreaking for Joplin High School and Franklin Technology Center at 2401 S. Indiana Ave. was staged as part of the city’s Walk of Unity, in which thousands walked from west to east in the reverse of the May 22 tornado’s path.
“I can’t say thank you enough to the support of the people of this community to put us in position of where we are today to celebrate this momentous occasion,” Superintendent C.J. Huff said at the groundbreaking ceremony for Joplin High School.
“I want to thank the taxpayers for having the confidence in us to do what needed to be done for our kids, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to bring our Eagles home.”
Many of those who watched the groundbreaking were Joplin High graduates or future Joplin High students.
“I’m really excited for the new high school,” said Ryleigh LaMarr, who participated in the Walk of Unity and watched the groundbreaking. She will be a freshman in the fall and will have her junior and senior year at the new school if it is completed by the district’s goal of August 2014.
“We’ll be able to get a better education,” she said. “I think we’ll be able to make the best of our high school years better. I came here today because I’ve lived here all my life and Joplin means so much to me, and I just love seeing all the progress we’ve made. I love my town.”
Randy Steele, school board president, noted that the original site was 34 acres when the school was built in 1954. The new site will be 66 acres.
“Since 1885, we’ve had a long history in educating our high school students and getting them ready for colleges and careers,” JHS Principal Kerry Sachetta told the crowd at the ceremony.
“Today marks a new chapter in our journey. Over the last 12 months, we have researched, discussed, collaborated, designed, and everything we’ve put together we believe will be a 21st century high school, a school that will serve our students like no other school.”
The total cost for all of the district’s projects is estimated at $185 million, district officials say.
Hundreds of students, family members, teachers and administrators gathered for the first groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning at the site of the new Irving Elementary, which will hold pupils from Emerson and Irving elementary schools. Both schools were destroyed in the tornado, and the students have been attending other buildings as interim schools.
“What a glorious day this is,” said Debbie Fort, Irving Elementary principal.
The new school will be located at 2727 McClelland Blvd., on land donated by Sisters of Mercy Health System.
“Being here today is sort of a milestone for us,” said Michelle Shaner, whose family’s house was damaged. Her family was selected to help in the groundbreaking. “All of my kids have been in Emerson School,” she said. “I guess being part of history and seeing good things happen.”
Shaner’s daughter, Journey, 6, will attend Irving Elementary. Journey worked with the architects of the new school in the design phase.
“The kids are excited,” Michelle Shaner said. “She got to be part of the dreaming of the school, and now she’s going to get to see that come to pass.”
EAST MIDDLE AND ELEMENTARY
In the afternoon, the district held two groundbreakings at the future site of East Middle School and Elementary, which will share a campus at 4594 E. 20th St. in Duquesne. The elementary school will hold students from Duenweg and Duquesne.
At the groundbreaking, a representative of the General Mills Foundation announced a gift of $100,000 to the district to go toward the middle school and elementary school.
“I went to East for sixth grade, and then I went to the warehouse (in the Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park) for seventh grade,” said Amy Walser, who used a shovel to help with the groundbreaking. “I just think it’s amazing how much in a year, how strong we’ve become and how much we’ve been resilient and come back.”
ON APRIL 3, school district voters passed a $62 million bond issue that officials said was necessary for the rebuilding of the buildings that were lost and for installing permanent storm shelters at every school in the district.