The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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September 16, 2012

Joplin School District preps sites for rebuilding schools destroyed by tornado

JOPLIN, Mo. — Work has begun on those sites that will house new buildings within two years to replace Joplin schools that were destroyed in the 2011 tornado.

“I’m excited,” Superintendent C.J. Huff said Friday. “It’s nice to see some bigger projects, like Mercy (Hospital) and some of our schools, coming up out of the ground.”

Elementary school

Much of the rubble of St. John’s Regional Medical Center remains at the corner of 26th Street and McClelland Avenue, but farther south, on a 14-acre tract of the property across from Hometown Bank, crews are beginning to prepare for the construction of the new elementary building that will house students from Irving and Emerson elementary schools.

For now, most of the work is at ground level. The district has been trucking to the site loads of dirt that have been excavated from 50th Street and Hearnes Boulevard, where the new Mercy Hospital Joplin is being built.

Huff said activity will pick up soon.

“You’ll start seeing some movement over there in the very near future,” he said.

The design phase for the school has been completed, and bids for preliminary tasks — site preparation and laying the foundation, for example — have been awarded. The school will be built to house up to 600 students; an estimated 500 students currently attend Irving and Emerson, Huff said.

Mike Johnson, director of construction for the school district, said his staff has been working “behind the scenes” to get contractors lined up for the building.

“We’re gearing up for full construction mode there, and you’ll see that start to take off there next week,” he said.

Middle school

The site for the new East Middle School, and an elementary school that will house students from Duenweg and Duquesne schools, is the most visibly busy.

“It’s the furthest along right now,” Huff said. “I expect in the next couple of weeks, we’ll see some steel going up.”

Ground at the site on East 20th Street has been leveled, and construction crews are working to pour the foundation, he said. Some materials, such as steel, have already been ordered.

Johnson said: “Over the next weeks, you’ll see things actually coming up out of the ground. It’ll be the first one to show.”

The building will hold up to 450 elementary-aged schoolchildren and up to 700 middle-school students. It will be two separate schools but a few parts, such as a kitchen, will serve both sets of students.

High school

Just southwest of where Joplin High School once stood at 20th Street and Indiana Avenue, construction crews last week were installing a stormwater drainage system and moving utilities. They are also working to bring the site up to grade and preparing to pour a foundation, Huff said.

“I can’t help but imagine you’re going to see a lot more work going on in the next two weeks,” he said.

The new high school, with a capacity of 3,000 students, will be built as a series of five interconnected “houses,” with each “house” containing classes geared toward a different career path, such as business or health and sciences. It will include an auditorium, gymnasium, sports fields and more parking than was available at the old high school; Franklin Technology Center also will be integrated with the high school, rather than being a free-standing building as it was before the storm.

Huff said construction will begin on the southern end of the property and work its way northward. Bid packages for several structural aspects of the new building, including steel and concrete work for the footings and foundation, are expected to go out as early as this week, he said.

Johnson said he expects to have a full set of design documents for the school by early November, at which time he anticipates the remaining components to be put out for bid.

The elementary school and middle/elementary school are projected to open in December 2013; the high school and Franklin Technology Center are projected to open by August 2014. Johnson said the district’s goal in setting those timelines was to get students back into permanent schools as quickly as possible.

“It’s a very challenging, aggressive schedule,” he said. “But we’ve developed a schedule to meet that aggressive goal, and so far, we’re tracking that schedule.”


The new Joplin schools are being built with a combination of insurance proceeds, government funding and donations, as well as a $62 million bond issue that voters approved in April. The estimated cost of the rebuilding effort, which also includes adding safe rooms to most schools and other improvements, is about $185 million.

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    The constitutional amendment, sent to the voters by the Legislature this year, would temporarily increase Missouri’s sales tax by three-quarters of 1 percent, raising an estimated $5.4 billion for the next decade to fund transportation projects. That includes more than $114.1 million in state funds for projects in Newton and Jasper counties, on top of additional revenue for localities that would be raised.
    After the Missouri Department of Transportation downsized in recent years, these projects are now mostly designed and built by private engineers, contractors and laborers — many of whom have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a campaign effort to sway voters to support the measure.
    Last Monday — eight days ahead of the primary election day — supporters of the measure reported having raised more than $4.1 million for a campaign committee called Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs, which was established last fall to support the measure.
    The International Union of Operating Engineers in St. Louis and Kansas City have contributed nearly $250,000 to the effort. That total was dwarfed by the $649,398 put in by the Industry Advancement Fund Heavy Constructors. Between its Missouri and Kansas companies, APAC — a construction contracting company that specializes in transportation projects — has contributed more than $150,000.
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    Lamping said the money pouring into the campaign supporting Amendment 7 is indicative of the financial gain the measure bodes for contractors and laborers.  
    Lamping proposed a measure in the Legislature that would redirect one-eighth of existing sales and use tax revenue directly to transportation projects, but he said that measure was rejected by legislative leaders. The coalition “didn’t hear about it,” the outgoing senator said, “because it was my idea instead of someone else’s idea.”
    Lamping, who filibustered a similar measure in 2013, said Republicans have an ideological consistency problem on the issue. He pointed to the Legislature passing a sales tax increase only a few weeks after overriding Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of an income tax cut that will largely help businesses organized as limited liability corporations, like many of the companies that could benefit from the measure. Lamping said that the tax increase will mostly affect taxpayers who did not get a significant tax cut.
    “Who wants a tax cut in Missouri?” he said. “Businesses. (Republican leaders) wanted to make them happy and then they passed a tax cut. This is grand-scale special interest cronyism.”
    The ad campaign being funded mostly by the business interests features paramedics and construction workers claiming the measure would “fix our roads and keep Missouri families safe.”
    “We have a chance to give our highways and bridges the repairs they need,” says one ad, which is running in Joplin and statewide in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote. “We have a chance to fix what’s broken by voting yes on Amendment 7.”
    The commercial uses a lot of words to talk about the benefits of the measure, but two words in particular are noticeably absent from the commercial: “Tax increase.”  
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    Patek, a former state representative who now lobbies the Legislature, said he disagreed with Lamping’s notion that Amendment 7 is all about special interest gain.
    “There’s quite a bit to gain for Missourians,” he said. “We have serious road needs. We’ll win or lose by the benefits in Amendment 7. I’m not sure I agree with Senator Lamping’s assessment.”
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    “We think using the sales tax to fund road projects is poor policy for the state of Missouri,” he said. “It should be rejected.”
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