Rebuilding for the Future

The devastating tornado that struck Joplin, Mo. in 2011 destroyed the city’s high school but not its spirit. This is the story of how a resilient community and some fast-moving designers transformed a former big-box store into a 21st century learning space for displaced students.


By Dave R. Macaulay | Photography by Alistair Tutton Photography

“You’ll see teachers teaching in the traditional sense, with four walls and the door closed,” explains Greer. “But there are some who will move out into these common spaces and try them. Most schools that want to move toward a 21st century learning model are never afforded the opportunity to try it first. It’s a whole new way of thinking.”

Rounding out the program is the multi-purpose Commons. Within this space, The Scramble offers catered lunches via a buffet line, with food cooked in a modular unit in the parking lot. During the rest of the day, the area becomes a performance and rehearsal space with risers for band or choir practices. Along one edge is a student-run coffee bar and store, which opens out to the Media Center—the school’s library filled with donated books, CDs and DVDs.

Immediately adjacent is the Help Desk, modeled after an Apple Genius Bar to service and support the Macintosh laptops carried by all JHS students, faculty and staff. And finally, the Fitness Center to the rear of the building serves as an exercise facility; the space is filled with donated workout equipment, flooded with daylight and connected to an outdoor plaza.

Although this interim high school is only designed to be in use until a permanent high school is ready in August 2014, it stands as a shining example of how new learning environments can transform education—and how communities can adapt and endure, even in the midst of great misfortune. Perhaps that’s the true measure of a 21st century school.

David R. Macaulay is the author of Integrated Design: Mithun (2008, Ecotone Publishing) and The Ecological Engineer: Glumac (2011, Ecotone Publishing) and writes on all aspects of architecture, planning, and interior and landscape design.




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joplin schools
3901 E. 32nd Street
Joplin, MO 64804
(417) 625-5200

 Project Team 
design + planning
DLR Group
7290 W. 133rd Street
Overland Park, KS 66213
(913) 897-7811

dlr project team
Jim French, AIA, senior principal, educational planner
Kevin Greischar, AIA, principal
Scott Heidmann, senior associate
Brian Murch, AIA, senior associate
Mike Lindsey, LEED AP, associate
Miranda Kumler, AIA, LEED AP, associate
Lindsey Piant, AIA, LEED AP, associate

architect of record
Corner Greer & Associates
716 S. Main Street
Joplin, MO 64801
(417) 206-3134

corner greer project team
Chad Greer, AIA, principal
Doug Corner, AIA, principal
Steve Baldwin
Kristin Doner

general contractor
Crossland Construction

electrical engineer
Crocker Consulting Engineers, Inc.

Alistair Tutton Photography


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