Where Hope Lives, Part 1: Replacing ten school buildings, ten years after the Joplin tornado

Joplin Tornado: Stronger Together

Joplin Tornado : Stronger Together

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JOPLIN, Mo. (KODE) – The impact of the 2011 tornado was far reaching, especially to Joplin education.

Nowhere was that more prominent than at Joplin High School.

“It’s just kind of like one of those scenes that, you know, that’s the first thing you see in a war movie or something,” says Dr. Kerry Sachetta, former Joplin High School Superintendent.

Sachetta remembers first thinking there might be a little roof damage. It didn’t take long to find out he was way off.

“The gym was imploded,” recalls Sachetta.

He was the first one on campus after the tornado and started surveying the damage.

“I was disoriented, I couldn’t tell that Franklin Tech wasn’t what it was,” says Sachetta.

And it wasn’t just JHS.

Ten Joplin school buildings were damaged or destroyed on May 22nd.

“All the schools were in a line basically. You know unfortunately nobody thought about that. I think it was close to 4000 or a little over 4000 of our students had lost their school,” says Sachetta.

With a goal of starting the Fall semester on time, the first challenge was finding temporary schools.

He says, “My mind went to, just some big empty warehouse with plywood, you know like little six foot walls or something between classrooms.”

Buildings throughout Joplin were transformed, everything from an industrial spec building and a former warehouse to the old Shopko building at Northpark Mall.

“It was interesting when he told people, you had a campus in a mall that always raised eyes and got attention,” says Justin Crawford, Joplin Schools.

That was for Juniors and seniors only.

Space limitations meant Freshmen and Sophomores were across town at the old Memorial Middle School.

Large school events were staged at Memorial Hall and Franklin Tech moved downtown.

Architects and construction crews worked around the clock to open on time.

“I can remember people wanting to come in and get tours,” says Crawford.

“Really what I would call a top notch environment. And there’s some days I still miss that place I mean I really enjoyed it out there,” says Sachetta.

At the same time, planning was underway for a permanent home.

Joplin’s mining past created a few problems.

“All of Joplin’s undermined, and so of course we ran to that,” says Sachetta.

At nearly half a million square feet under one roof, the construction timeline would take time.

Sachetta points out, “I mean, it’s three and a half blocks long.”

The idea was to create a home for 21st century learning.

“You build the high school for hopefully 50/60/70 years,” says Sachetta.

Not just classrooms, though. The Eagles got new football practice facilities, three gymnasiums, fields for baseball, softball, soccer and tennis.

“The athletic facilities are top notch,” says Sachetta.

He also points to the performing arts space, Eagle Alley, and a technology center like no other.

With a long list of features, it’s hard to pick one favorite.

“It is the whole school I really like it. I guess I’m a little biased,” he says.

When he looks back at the process, Sachetta says support from the community was a central theme, both throughout the entire process and especially the first home football game after the storm.

He says, “It was really a night to celebrate that, you know this thing isn’t gonna keep us down, and I think that was a that was a night I’ll never forget.”

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