By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
School officials are gearing up to preserve one of the last pieces of the old Joplin High School — the sign that for years has stood at the corner of 20th Street and Indiana Avenue.
But they’re still working out the best way to move it from the site.
“We are salvaging the sign, but the question is: How?” Superintendent C.J. Huff said on Friday.
The sign was still standing after the May 22, 2011, tornado, which destroyed the high school and ripped away from the sign the “J” “L” “I” and “N” letters from the word “Joplin.” A few creative and optimistic individuals later used duct tape to fashion an “H” and an “E” around the remaining letters so that the sign read “Hope High School.”
The primary challenge to moving the sign will be its size. Huff said the sign is “bigger than it looks” from the road and extends into the ground about as deeply as it rises above the ground.
Administrators have a few ideas for its removal, having already saved a few pieces of the old school. A glazed brick sculpture of an eagle that was on the exterior of the gymnasium was removed ahead of the building’s demolition earlier this year. Crews from Mid-Continental Restoration, of Fort Scott, Kan., were charged with the removal and repair of the bricks, which will be reassembled in the new high school.
Huff said a similar process might be implemented to move the sign.
“We’re looking at doing the same thing with the Hope High School sign,” he said. “Otherwise, I think we’d take a pretty good chance of it breaking.”
Huff said the Joplin Museum Complex has expressed an interest in storing the sign once it has been removed from its current location.
Museum director Brad Belk said he would not be involved in moving the sign, but he anticipates the museum to be involved in housing it, though details of the arrangement are still pending.
“All I know right now is that we are going to preserve it,” he said. “It’s unknown exactly where it will eventually be.”
Belk said he thinks the sign is worth preserving.
“It is a visual reminder of the storm, but more importantly, it is a lasting symbol of the community’s spirit of hope that is allowing the schools to be rebuilt, as well as our community,” he said. “Through the early days immediately following the storm, it was the single word of ‘hope’ that we embraced. Therefore, the wall must be kept because it has become an iconic symbol of our past.”
Joplin School Superintendent C.J. Huff said he anticipates work will begin on moving the old Joplin High School sign within the next few weeks, possibly coinciding with the “See You at the Pole” day of student prayer, which is scheduled nationwide during the last week of September.