By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Every Tuesday and Thursday, more than 40 residents stretch and bend in exercise classes at the Joplin Senior Center.
Though the custodian shuffles around tables and chairs to make room, space is tight.
“We really need a larger space. The exercise program has been a huge success, so much so that we sometimes find ourselves bumping one another,” reads a letter to the city signed by 72 people who frequent the Senior Center at 22nd Street and Jackson Avenue.
That’s not the only problem there, though.
There’s no more music.
Though the city replaced the roof of the building after damage by the 2011 tornado, it leaks. The piano got wet and now it needs to be tuned.
“It would be nice to hear it played again at lunch times,” the letter states.
In the kitchen, the floor is worn and a makeover is needed, too.
And what’s more frustrating in a game of dominoes than getting beaten? Try playing on wobbly tables, not to mention trying to eat lunch on them.
That’s why the city received this letter in May:
“Dear council members,
“It is our understanding that the state recently granted Joplin $113 million for tornado relief. We would like for you to specify a portion of that gift to the Senior Citizen’s building.”
A newly introduced $130 million proposal, called the Joplin Community Phase II Recovery Plan, will use $113 million in Community Development Block Grant money, a $14 million one-time allocation from the state, and city matching funds where required, for a variety of projects.
One of those — a $40 million “Joplin Commons” athletic and recreation complex — would incorporate a new senior center. Not only would seniors get exercise space and new meeting and meal areas, but a therapy pool also would be included.
“I hope that what they’re thinking about it is going to be good,” says Linda Fullerton, one of those seniors who signed the letter to the city council. “I hope they don’t shortchange the older people. They’re all fired up now” about the proposal.
Fullerton said that she goes to the current senior center for exercise classes but there are many more people who rely on the meals for their nutrition at what she considers a reasonable price of $3. The center also brings in free health exams such as blood sugar and blood pressure tests, which some could not otherwise afford.
“It has a lot going on. It’s a pretty vital place, really,” she said.
Joplin Parks and Recreation Director Chris Cotten said the complex also could address wishes expressed by a number of groups in the community. It would have an indoor competition pool, long sought by swim team representatives, as well as indoor basketball courts and soccer fields for both local play and tournament business. It also would contain three meeting rooms for groups, athletic teams or family gatherings.
A Little League complex also is proposed. Cotten said that the current ballparks are difficult for volunteer parents to maintain.
An outdoor skatepark and BMX park could continue to bring in competitive events such as JoMoPro as well as providing a place for recreational riding and boarding.
While an athletic and recreation complex might be the most visible investment, most of the money — about $70 million — would be used to repair and replace Joplin’s sewer and stormwater systems, as well as streets, curbs and guttering damaged by the 2011 tornado.
City staff has analyzed the tornado zone to determine how many sidewalks need to be replaced or added in order to increase the ability of residents to have more areas where they can walk. Additionally, the streets were checked for ramps to enable access by disabled or elderly people. The findings were that 416 intersections need ramps.
Sewer and stormwater lines in the hardest hit area of tornado damage have been checked by camera for damage and leaks. The city proposes to do the same for the rest of the tornado zone and then repair the lines and manholes.
The city’s survey of damage also calls for the repair of curbs and gutters damaged by the tornado or the movement of heavy equipment in the tornado zone during the cleanup.
A $14 million state allocation proposed for Joplin would be used toward the costs of these projects.
Just for jobs
Another goal of the proposed spending is job and business expansion.
The plan designates $3.6 million for street and sewer system extensions to develop a new section of the Crossroads Industrial Park.
“The proposed streets and sewer will open up nearly 200 additional acres of Crossroads for development,” said Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. “The major development of the park to date has been along County Road 190 and 26th and 32nd streets because those are accessible sites and also the main corridors for utilities.
“While we have had great success, we are to the point where we need to be able to show companies the additional acreage and assure them that the key infrastructure is in place to allow them to move immediately on their project. The more shovel-ready a site is, the more attractive it is to companies seeking easy solutions for their expansion needs,” he said.
He sees the industrial park as a contender for new development with the proposed addition, as well as an Interstate 44/49 interchange that is under construction.
An additional $500,000 would be put into a job training fund. There is not much state money to fund training programs because of state budget cuts, but there is high demand among small businesses, which have little access to training assistance, said O’Brian.
He believes there is a chance to match some of the allocation with other federal grants for jobs to train from 250 to 1,000 people, both upgrading the skills of local workers and providing incentives for other workers to move here.
Another $500,000 is proposed to seed a GreenTown neighborhood.
GreenTown Joplin encourages the construction of sustainable and energy-efficient housing, The organization’s goal is to build four to 10 houses to demonstrate those types of construction techniques.
This money could be used to provide infrastructure for that neighborhood, which Catherine Hart, general manager of GreenTown Joplin, describes as one to be comprised of durable, energy-efficient homes.
“We’ve been working with the city for several months to envision what a green neighborhood would look like. We are thrilled for the city to provide a half million dollars,” she said.
The housing could be made available for low- to moderate-income homeowners, in keeping with requirements of the CDBG program.
“We’re looking at it to be a really special place for people to come.”
What follows is a breakdown of proposed spending of more than $130 million for the Joplin Community Phase II Recovery Plan:
• $21 million for sidewalks and disability ramps
• $12 million for sanitary sewer repair
• $17.5 million for storm sewer repair and replacement
• $14.7 for curb and gutter repair
• $3.7 million for street paving
• $1.6 million for tree planting
• $750,000 for mental health services
• $10.35 million for the 20th Street streetscape
• $3.6 million for Crossroads Industrial Park street and sewer extension
• $500,000 for job training
• $40,416,000 for the Joplin Commons project
• $500,000 for Green Neighborhood
• $3.5 million for grant administration auditing and services
The plan notes that these are preliminary cost estimates.