Public forums planned after recommendation of new Columbia, West Central school

West Central Elementary School. Globe | Roger Nomer

A small group of people today told the Joplin School District that they recognize issues exist for the two oldest schools, Columbia and West Central, but they're not sure which solution is best.

A total of six public forums are scheduled over the next three days to gauge input on the options for the schools, which are more than 90 years old. The district's long-term facilities committee recently presented four options to the Board of Education to address issues such as inadequate classroom space, structural problems and modular units in use:

• Combining the two schools at the current West Central location for an estimated $18.5 million.

• Renovating Columbia and building a new addition at its current site for an estimated $15.2 million.

• Razing Columbia and building a new school at its current site for an estimated $15.3 million.

• Combining the two schools at a new site for an estimated $19.6 million.

The committee has recommended the final option.

Those in attendance at the first session, held this morning at West Central, seemingly rejected the options that would involve repairing Columbia or rebuilding the school on its current site. Handwritten sticky notes left on large posters describing those options noted that "it does not make sense" to build on property that has mining and soil issues, and that "throwing money into a site that will not work" isn't a good idea.

Cathy Jo Loy was one of a handful of community members who attended this morning's session. Although her family lived on the south side of town, she opted to send her child to West Central for its small size and community feel.

"I still have strong feelings that we need to keep schools small," she said. "We want families to be involved in the schools, and they can't if they're far away."

After hearing the school district's presentation, Loy said she is concerned about the reports of structural issues at Columbia. But the ideal solution for her would keep both West Central and Columbia as separate neighborhood schools, she said.

Virginia Hogan and her husband, Howard, live in the West Central attendance zone. Howard Hogan attended West Central as a child, and the couple's four children also attended the school in the 1970s and 1980s.

"We had a great time," Virginia Hogan said. "The teachers were very good. There really wasn't any concern about the things that are concerning folks now."

Hogan said she appreciates that the long-term facilities committee is "looking to the future," but she acknowledged that she doesn't have a good solution for the district.

"I know something has to be done, and I don't know exactly what is the way to do it," she said. "I understand something has to be done with Columbia, and I understand that combining the two schools might be appropriate for the district."

Another session is scheduled at 7 p.m. today at West Central, 1001 W. Seventh St. Forums will also take place at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday at Irving Elementary School, 2901 McClelland Blvd., and at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday at Columbia Elementary School, 610 W. F St.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Emily Younker is the assistant metro editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.

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