There are likely many high school students who would rather be at the mall than sitting in class, but the students of Joplin High School actually go to school in a mall - well, an abandoned one. After an EF5 tornado destroyed the city of Joplin, Missouri in May of 2011, the superintendent insisted that school would begin on time the next fall - but with less than 3 months to go, they had to think of a clever solution. DLR Group and Corner Green & Associates selected an abandoned mall nearby and retrofitted a department store into a school for 1,200 11th and 12th grade students. Not only did school start on time 55 days later, but it is a completely digital school, occupied 100% of the time with next-generation educational tools that make other brand new facilities look positively old school.
The devastating Joplin tornado killed over 150 people and destroyed many of the area schools including the high school. Rather than bus students to neighboring schools districts, the superintendent promised that there would be a new school in Joplin. Within two weeks after the disaster, the district hired DLR Group and Corner Green & Associates to build a school, but there wasn’t enough time to build one from scratch. Their solution was to repurpose an existing building and transform it into a school. They selected the former Venture department store, installed temporary offices on site and immediately set to work on the 96,000 sq ft space by adding movable walls, wiring, lighting, computers, new furniture and much more.
School began on time in August just 55 days after the tornado destroyed the high school. What’s perhaps even more impressive than the incredibly fast turnaround of the adaptive reuse project is that the school is an experiment in next generation education strategies. Classrooms are centered around shared social spaces unlike traditional long corridors and students are grouped into six 200-person “learning communities” that are meant to encourage collaborative teaching. While 96,000 sq ft sounds like a lot, they need the entire space and every classroom is in use during every hour. Walls can move to accommodate larger or smaller classes and there is no library, in fact every student is issued a laptop and media rooms let students access course material. The school also features a coffee shop run by business and marketing students, a “genius bar” for IT help, and a small health club that serves as a gym.
Joplin High School is set to begin it’s 2nd year in the renovated department store and it was also recently awarded a Merit Award for AIA’s 2012 CAE Educational Facility Design Awards. The layout for the high school is more reminiscent of some of the new co-working projects and innovative office buildings we’ve been seeing of late. This inspiring story of a high school that didn’t quit is also an amazing testing ground for emerging concepts in educational design. In order to meet the tight deadline of the school year and the space requirements, the designers really had to think outside of the box, a big box store that is.
Images ©Corner Green & Associates