The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 22, 2014

Work on new JHS pushing toward August completion

JOPLIN, Mo. — It’s “all right” being a student at Joplin High School’s Memorial campus, according to Audrey Ross, but it’s nothing compared to what next year could bring.

“Everybody’s pretty anxious about getting in the new school,” said Ross, a sophomore. “(Memorial) is an older building, and the classrooms aren’t as nice. We just want something new, something that stays.”

She’s not the only one who is anxious about the rebuild project. With the recent completion of three other newly rebuilt Joplin schools, all eyes now seem to be focused on the Joplin High School and Franklin Technology Center construction site at 20th Street and Grand Avenue.

Up to 300 workers are at the site daily, Monday through Saturday, to push toward an August completion date — a target less than five months away.

“It’s tight, no question about it,” Superintendent C.J. Huff said of the timeline. “But Universal Construction (the company overseeing the project) is still very confident that we’re still going to make it.”

Work at the site is progressing in phases, with some portions of the building much further along than others.

The four main classroom wings, which are connected via windowed walkways, are among the most complete pieces. They are roofed in, with most of the light and ceiling fixtures in place. In some of those areas, crews are painting, installing cabinetry and preparing to lay carpet; in others, workers are hanging Sheetrock and priming the walls for paint, said Mike Johnson, director of construction.

Work on the main gymnasium, two auxiliary gymnasiums and the Franklin Tech portion is not as far along but still progressing. Crews are also beginning to do curb and gutter work in the areas where the parking lots and driveways will be.

Huff said only the performing arts area in the northwest corner of the site is not expected to be ready by the start of the fall term; the overall construction timeline has never projected that it would be finished by August. The auditorium is the key holdup, having been delayed partly because of the discovery of mine shafts.

But crews are trying to complete other parts of the performing arts area — primarily the band, choir and orchestra practice rooms — by the time school starts, Huff said.

Jason Bishop, with Universal Construction Co., confirmed to the Board of Education at its February meeting that the school, with the exception of the performing arts area, is tracking for August completion. He said crews are “trying really hard” to have the music rooms ready by August.

“We do have our work cut out for us there,” he said. “We’re going to do some critical thinking and figure out how we’re going to bring it into that August completion.”

Cost overruns

One of the biggest challenges that construction crews have faced with the project has been the weather, Huff said. Several weeks of rainy weather last summer interfered with critical groundwork, creating a “worst-case scenario” that ultimately prevented workers from completing the structure’s roofing by the time the snowy winter hit, he said.

“It has made, from a construction management standpoint, the scheduling of various trades much more difficult,” he said. “We need a relatively normal spring and summer to pull this thing off. We’re under roof probably 85 percent or better, but we need to get this thing dried in.”

The project’s budget — originally estimated to be about $104 million — is currently running at about $109 million because of rising construction costs, Huff said.

Funding sources include insurance proceeds; a $62 million bond issue approved by voters in April 2012; Community Development Block Grant monies made available through the state and federal emergency management agencies; Economic Development Administration grants; and donations, many of which were earmarked for specific purposes.

When asked whether the district will have enough funds to cover the cost of the project, Huff said yes.

“It’s going to be tight, but we knew it would be,” he said. “It always is when you get to the end of a construction project, but we’re going to make it.”

Curriculum shift

The building won’t be the only new piece of high school life that will require some adjustment by students. The school’s curriculum and course catalog have also been overhauled and will be fully implemented in the fall.

The new curriculum will shift to a model based on preparing students for one of five identified career paths: human services; arts and communication; technical sciences; business and information technology; and health services. This model is designed to teach students not only skills and knowledge related to careers that fall within their chosen path but also “soft skills” that would give them a boost in a job setting, such as maintaining good attendance and completing work on time.

Course offerings will also include more Advanced Placement and dual-credit classes, as well as individualized opportunities similar to an independent study. Flexible scheduling, a shift away from the traditional 8-to-3 day containing six or seven class periods, will mean that some students could begin their school day at 7:30 a.m., while others might pursue online classes.

One new course that will be required of all students beginning next year is called Transitions.

Designed to support relationships and guidance, the course will assign students to a teacher or adviser with whom they will meet regularly throughout their high school career. Activities such as setting goals, learning how to write a resume and filling out job or college applications will be part of the course goals and objectives.

Principal Kerry Sachetta said a long list of behind-the-scenes work must be completed between now and the start of school. The enrollment process has begun, and administrators are looking at students’ class requests and determining whether personnel shifts are needed. Teachers and administrators across both campuses and Franklin Tech are trying to figure out how to merge their meeting schedules, improve their communication with one another and develop security measures for the new building, he said.

“We’ve got to work together in a big way for the culture and climate of the school,” he said.

Then there will be the task of physically moving the two campuses and technical school into the new building, Sachetta said. He hopes the primary classroom wings will be completed by early summer so staff can start moving furniture in, but the Franklin Tech equipment and the library materials could take a while to move and organize. Meanwhile, orientation sessions for all grades — not just for freshmen — have to be pushed off until it is safe to occupy the building, he said.

“To do something of this magnitude, we have a lot of work to do yet,” he said. “But next year is going to be a big deal. It’s going to be my most exciting year in education, I can tell you that.”

Sophomore Eric Grant, another student who is eager to see the new school open, might agree with him. He said splitting the high school between two campuses, while functional, has created a unique situation.

“I feel like it’s somewhat taking away from the high school experience because there are only two grade levels,” he said. “I’m wanting to see what it’ll be like with all four of the grades (in one school).”

Grant said the new school brings with it the promise of a fresh start and a change of scenery.

“I’m really looking forward to having new classrooms, new desks, new materials,” he said.

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