By Emily Younker
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.”
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.
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.
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.