Joplin Schools marks new year with new school at Dover Hill
May 3—To understand the Joplin School District's biggest change over the past year, it's best to start with a visual.
Get in your vehicle and head north on Main Street. Go past the post office at the corner of Main and First streets, and even north of the intersections with A through F streets.
You'll know it when you see it. As you crest the overpass above the Landreth Park ball fields, Dover Hill comes into view.
Except that it's not Dover Hill anymore — at least, not the public park. It's now Dover Hill Elementary School, the newest building in the district and home to hundreds of pupils, teachers and staff who moved there from the oldest buildings in the district.
That sight you get as you continue north toward Main Street's intersection with Murphy Boulevard is intentional. District officials and the school's architects and construction crews wanted the building to stand out, to be a beacon on the hill as you're coming from the south and to be a welcoming entry into the city as you're coming down Main Street from the north.
"For me, coming over the viaduct and seeing that Eagle at night, it pops," said Aaron Hight, senior project manager of Crossland Construction Co., in December of the large Joplin Eagles logo on the school's south exterior, easily visible to motorists heading north on Main Street.
About the school
Dover Hill, 1100 N. Main St., opened on Jan. 4 and houses up to 450 students who previously attended Columbia and West Central elementary schools.
The school, built on land donated by the city of Joplin, was constructed via a $25 million bond issue approved by voters in June 2020. Projections showed final construction costs coming in under the approximately $27 million budget set by the Joplin School Board.
The building was designed by CGA Architects and the DLR Group, with assistance from Allgeier Martin & Associates. Crossland Construction managed the project.
The architecture is modern, with bright colors and a layout conducive to 21st-century learning, but the school does pay tribute to Columbia and West Central through part of its exterior design, which in places resembles the two-story, brick structures of the old schools.
The staff open house was held on a Friday afternoon for teachers to see the modern architecture, bright colors and overall design of the new building. Classrooms opened to students starting Wednesday, Jan. 4.
"We are so excited to be opening Dover Hill Elementary for the students, staff, parents and community," Superintendent Kerry Sachetta said in a statement. "The new building will address the needs of our students and staff extremely well with the demands of education today. Dover Hill Elementary is another fine example of our community recognizing a need and coming together to support our students' best interest."
At Dover Hill, kindergarten through second-grade classrooms are located on the ground floor and the remaining grades, third through fifth, are on the upper level. Many of the grade levels have collaboration spaces that open up to multiple classrooms. The front entrance feeds into the media center that contains a mural that pays homage to Joplin and its history.
Special education teachers will have the opportunity to move into the new school in August, the beginning of the next school year. The special education suite features individual restrooms, technology and classrooms that double as safe rooms. All the windows in the building can withstand wind speeds up to 200 mph.
The district held multiple open houses at the school before it opened for classes in January.
"This school is so big, and it's very shiny," fifth-grader Emerald Berkey said at an open house for Dover Hill families. "We've seen pictures, but this is cool."
Dover Hill's principal is Bret Ingle. He will be succeeded in July by Jason Weaver.
The old schools
Both West Central and Columbia elementary schools were originally built in the late 1920s during a period of updates across the Joplin School District to support the city's growing educational needs. The schools each housed kindergarten through fifth-grade students who would eventually attend North Middle School.
The location of Dover Hill strategically joins these two zones to bring together a population of students who will continue their academic pursuits together while maintaining a neighborhood community, district officials said.
So what happens now with Columbia, 610 W. F St., and West Central, 1001 W. Seventh St.?
The district has a few options with West Central, which is in good shape structurally. Per a memorandum of understanding with the city of Joplin, the school district must demolish West Central at its own cost within 36 months of occupancy of Dover Hill — unless it has another use for the old building or can sell or transfer the property to another user.
No public discussions have yet been held on the subject of West Central's future.
There are fewer possibilities for the Columbia site. The school has had problems with the ground stability, which has caused walls to crack and the structure to shift in recent years.
The school district is required by its memorandum of understanding with the city of Joplin to raze Columbia within 12 months of occupancy of Dover Hill. Administrators have already begun that process, with the Joplin Board of Education in January declaring Columbia as surplus property.
Declaring the building as surplus property formally launches the process of demolishing the school, said Dave Pettit, facilities director, in January. Other tasks that must be completed before the school comes down would include asbestos testing and soliciting bids for demolition, he said.
"To be able to get those steps started now will hopefully get us the best prices as we begin to look at the things that we will have to bid," he said. "Also (it will) help get that taken care of so the building is not sitting there not being (used)."
Also included in the surplus declaration is the safe room, which was built on the property after the May 2011 tornado. It will be separated as surplus property from the school building because it's possible that some companies could be interested in purchasing the safe room, administrators said.
Two modular units that had been in use as classrooms at Columbia also have been declared surplus property, although it's not likely they will be sold because of their age, administrators said. They were the last trailers in use as classrooms in the district.
"I am excited for the fact that we will not be having modular classrooms anymore for our students, that we've upgraded our facilities and our kids are going to be inside," Sachetta said in January.