Joplin High School

  • Client

    • Corner Greer Architects
  • Project Type

Design Achievement - After a devastating tornado destroyed 10 Joplin schools in 2011, the District and community rallied to chart a course for uninterrupted education for their students. This effort began with the rapid design and construction of the James D. MacConnell award-winning interim high school, and continues in the creation of this new permanent facility constructed on the site of the former building. DLR Group’s design for the new comprehensive high school incorporates educational concepts to prepare students for a “Career to College” experience. The center of the school, known as “Eagle Alley,” is where this theory comes to life. The coffee shop, student store, and lease spaces offer business opportunities for entrepreneurs. Underclassmen have the ability to peer into career pathways of interest in technology, broadcasting, sciences, hospitality, culinary arts, automotive sciences, engineering, medical, and construction. Joplin High School is designed to let a student experiment with a career pathway as in-depth as desired in a flexible and collaborative environment. Technology is a seamless component of the building infrastructure and an asset to flexibility for teachers and students. The school’s landscape design provides a park-like setting for students and staff. Themed courtyards (arts, commons, science and marketplace, and legacy) encourage students and teachers to use the site with places for outdoor experiments, studying, dining, and socializing. Click here for coverage of the Joplin High School story.

Scope Summary - The 475,000 SF high school accommodates 2,500 students with the ability to expand to 3,000. In addition to the core curriculum, all Joplin High School students progress through one of five career pathways: business/information technology, human services, arts/communications health sciences, and technical sciences. Franklin Technology Center, the traditional Career and Technical Center, is integrated into the curriculum of the comprehensive high school as a career pathway delivery model for grades 9-12. The Commons is the social hub of the school and serves as the cafeteria and hospitality space for athletic activities and school functions. DLR Group provided architecture, engineering, planning, and interior design services in partnership with CGA Architects.

The Joplin, Mo., community celebrated a milestone in its recovery and rebuilding process with the dedication of the new DLR Group/CGA-designed Joplin High School on October 3. Special guests Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed students, staff and community members at the dedication ceremony.

Listen to the following addresses to the Joplin students, parents and community members at the dedication of the new Joplin High School:

Vice President Joe Biden

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon

Joplin Schools Superintendent Dr. CJ Huff

Shelter from the storm
One of the deadliest and most destructive tornadoes in the history of the United States struck Joplin, Missouri, May 22, 2011. The tornado traveled along a 13-mile path destroying Joplin High School, the only public high school in town, on graduation day.

DLR Group's fast track design transformed an abandoned big box retail space into a 21st Century high school in 55 days. The design was more than a stop-gap solution. It was an inspiration to students and served as a rallying point for the healing community. The school comprised six small learning communities that divided the larger student population into 200-student studios and offered a more intimate learning environment for students and staff. Small and large group collaboration areas with a variety of seating accommodated individual or group learning, while large openings, oversized pivot doors, and a diverse array of soft and structured furniture allowed students to customize spaces to fit their personal preferences. Many of these features are found in the design of the new high school.

History has shown us that crisis and innovation have resulted in systemic change. In the case of the design for the New Joplin High School- innovation and crisis occurred simultaneously resulting in a national model for the design of future-ready learning environments. Responding to the immediate needs of a community without a high school, the design team was given the task of planning, designing and documenting a 488,000 sf state of the art high school in 8 months. Flexible-innovative methodologies were applied in the educational planning, schematic design, and project delivery. The guiding principles for the design were:

  1. Building Relationships  
  2. Personalized Learning
  3. Community Shelter
  4. Critical Thinking


Moving from traditional space planning to flexible adjacencies
The traditional high school organization strategy is to provide consolidated shared resources that are often designed to accommodate highly specialized activities such as performance, athletics and dining.  The challenge with this strategy is that while these spaces meet the needs of highly specialized functions such as a musical performance, they rarely work well for anything other than that activity and ultimately lie dormant a significant portion of the day.  So how can these spaces be reconsidered to allow for a greater flexibility of use and thus a higher utilization rate over the life of the building?

A nimble approach to space flexibility begins to develop new operational and usage opportunities for spaces that would not typically be located adjacent to each other.  The interdependency of spaces with similar use have been tested to discover stronger opportunities related to core goals of the school.  For example, by placing a fitness and dining oriented space adjacent to each other, creative opportunities for use of the resultant space are created.

Optimizing teacher-to-space ratios
High space utilization was a focus on the new Joplin High School to ensure as many space needs and requests were achieved. All spaces were studied to maximize use. For example, teacher resource rooms were created to relieve the use of a 30 student teaching space being used by one person for planning. A range of different sized educational environments were programmed to provide space capacities and varying student to teacher ratios.

The organizational model for the new Joplin High School is a counter point to the traditional model
The traditional departmentalized organizational model for schools locates similar uses/curriculum together in large clusters of nearly identical spaces arranged along a connecting corridor.  Unfortunately, this presumes that every activity and learning style must be accommodated within a “one size fits all” model; makes collaborative work difficult; and can impedge interdisciplinary curriculum.

The instructional organization is not departmentalized but composed of four small learning communities of students and teachers for delivery of the ‘core’ subjects. The intent is to create an environment where a student does not get “lost in the crowd” but rather is mentored by a set group of teachers from the different core subjects. Teachers share a similar group of students creating a greater opportunity for connection from teacher to student and student to student. This organization assumes that a group of teachers and students jointly own a diverse suite of spaces that serve multiple functions and uses.  Joint group decisions would determine the utilization of seminar spaces, workshops, labs, small group, and teaming areas. Dedicated teacher resource areas support teachers ‘locally’.

The design concept creates a series of simple interconnected geometric forms which cantilever out of the landscape. The site interacts with and through the building with courtyards and outdoor teaching spaces — healing the land through a respect to the natural topography and a return to native planting. Building levels and siting take advantage of the sloping topography and provide a ‘walk-out’ basement with FEMA shelter compliance in the event of a future tornado.

The geometric forms are organized into four main bars of three levels each. The top level of each bar is composed of Small Learning Communities of decentralized core curriculum. The middle level contains academies of focused studies and the lowest level houses large fabrication labs which also act as community shelters. All of the building forms are oriented with the major facades facing North/South to provide better quality and controlled daylight and the building envelopes are designed to be environmentally responsive and energy efficient. Proposed exterior materials and color palette are intended to reinforce the unique regional and local sense of place.

Courtyards and indoor-outdoor connections
The interplay of the landscape and simple building forms reinforces the healing of the land. ‘Themed’ courtyards exist between the simple bars allowing the landscape to freely extend past the built forms, including: Arts Courtyard, Entry Courtyard, Science Courtyard, Marketplace Courtyard, Applied Learning Courtyard, and Fabrication Courtyard.

Centrally located at the junction of the commons and the arena is a Memorial Courtyard, which  contains sculptures, memorial trees, and artwork which celebrate students who lost their lives in the tornado.

Stepped landscape amphitheater forms extend from the Entry Courtyard into the building- connecting a lower and upper entry while providing single-point supervision for safety. The entry is also a student centered, technology-rich ‘hang-out’.

Eagle Alley
The student commons is split on two levels to provide different types of space for socializing. The lower level of the commons is at grade and titled “Eagle Alley”.  This area is home to several applied learning labs which are highly visible and connect to more public program areas. The Culinary Arts program has a mock-up restaurant, coffee shop, and “pop-up retail space” all run by the students.

North light in the new arena
The design for the new arena incorporates top loaded seating which is accessed on game-day through the memorial courtyard. The arena is oriented to capture north light through a long glass tube stretching the entire length of the gym and also by a series of filleted north facing lanterns.

Awards & Recognition

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  • Merit Award

    American Institute of Architects (AIA), Kansas City
  • William W. Caudill Citation

    American School & University magazine

Joplin High School

Corner Greer Architects