MSSU board hears details for former Joplin Public Library building

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Kimberly Barker, The Joplin Globe, Mo.
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Mar. 18—The Missouri Southern State University Board of Governors on Wednesday heard the college's vision for the reuse of the former downtown Joplin Public Library building.

The Missouri Southern State University Foundation entered an agreement on the building with the city of Joplin in March 2018. University officials have been working with the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, the city of Joplin and Joplin-area school districts on the plans, and recently presented them to Joplin City Council.

Dean Van Galen, MSSU president, said the concept has been branded as the LaunchPad project in which the university plans to establish a Missouri Southern Downtown Center within the building. The project will help create a "front door" to the college to engage businesses, prospective students, alumni and the community.

The project has a variety of components, including three culinary venues with indoor and outdoor seating, an entrepreneurial hub and economic development hub, as well as a remote/coworking resource center.

"The center would provide information and access to university programs for prospective students and the community," Van Galen said. "LaunchPad would also house the Small Business Development Center, currently located in Plaster Hall on our main campus. This would serve to increase the visibility and accessibility of the SBDC, which is really a critical driver for our region's economy."

The downtown building would also be used as an internship hub to connect and place students with local businesses and nonprofits to launch careers and strengthen the workforce pipeline.

"Nationally, and I think this is an interesting statistic, college students who have an internship experience, 68% are offered a full-time position by that business or organization," Van Galen said.

Lastly, it would also function as a Center for Advanced Professional Studies, a dual-credit program for high school students. This will be available to high school students in Carl Junction, Carthage, Joplin and Webb City.

Van Galen said this is a new program that will be hosted by the university and provide dual-credit opportunities as appropriate. Learning tracks may include health science, criminal justice, education, engineering, software, business and marketing, as well as media and marketing.

"High school juniors and seniors would devote half of their school day to CAPS courses," Van Galen said. "These high school students would work on projects at Joplin-area business, industry and nonprofit locations. Participating high school students from Joplin, Webb City and Carl Junction, to begin with, would solve real-world problems and be mentored by Joplin-area employers."

Renderings presented to the MSSU Board of Governors this week also featured several objectives, components and possible designs. Additions include three culinary venues with both indoor and outdoor seating, adult learn-to-code evening classes and conference room rentals.

The goal is to have the building renovated with opening no earlier than spring of 2023. Van Galen said it will be at least 18 months before it can become a reality.

Bill Gipson, MSSU Board of Governors member, asked about the cost of renovating the building in order to meet the listed objectives and how it would be funded. Van Galen said the estimated renovation cost will be approximately $10 million.

"Certainly, a big piece of it is envisioned to be public funding through the city, so this presentation was made to the City Council," Van Galen said. Nick Edwards, the city manager, "is continuing to talk to the council about some avenues to provide some perpetual public funding for the facility, so the university (or its foundation) would not own the facility. Ultimately, the university would be a tenant, if you will, in the larger facility."

The MSSU Board of Governors will next meet at 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 16, in the Billingsly Student Center's Connor Ballroom.