Thursday, November 21, 2013

Federal report: East Middle School received "minor damage" in tornado

For the past two and a half years, students and staff at East Middle School have made the best of education in a glorified warehouse, often arriving at the building only to be greeted by the aroma from the neighboring dog food factory.

Their concerts, plays, and athletic contests are held at other buildings and for their assemblies they meet in the commons area and sit on the floor.

 In less than seven weeks, the warehouse will no longer serve as a home away from home for East students, some of whom have been there since the day it first opened in August 2011. (Note: The accompanying FEMA photo was taken at ceremonies opening the warehouse East Middle School.)




They will move into a brand-new building, one that is specifically designed with 21st Century learning in mind- a building that never needed to have been built.

Though the May 22, 2011, Joplin Tornado destroyed the auditorium and gymnasium at the two-year-old East Middle School, the classroom section was left intact, suffering some roof damage and water damage when the sprinklers went off.

Even though less than three months remained before the beginning of school, representatives from Crossland Construction told Joplin R-8 officials East could be up and ready to go by August 15. The classroom section would be ready and even the gymnasium could be built by that time. They might have had to use a temporary building or two and ongoing construction would be a necessary nuisance, but the students and staff, many of whom had been traumatized by the tornado, would be at the same school, in familiar surroundings.

At a meeting of school personnel held just three days after the tornado, EMS Principal Bud Sexson said construction work would begin soon and they would be able to be back in the building by opening day.

And that is exactly what should have happened, according to a 400+ page investigation of the Joplin Tornado issued today by the federal National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Of the entire school complex, the south end, where the Gymnasium and Auditorium were located, was closest to the estimated center line of the tornado damage path (see Fig. 3–52), and was affected by an estimated maximum wind speed of 170 mph ± 20 mph (EF–4 range) from a northwesterly direction. Along the length of the complex, there was a sharp gradient in wind speed with the north end affected by much lower wind speeds compared to those that affected the south end. Consequently, and due to the fact that most building sections of the north end of the school had shorter span roofs, these sections (north of the Gymnasium and Auditorium) sustained only minor damage to their building envelopes, while the Auditorium and Gymnasium buildings sustained total structural collapse of their roof systems and partial collapse of their perimeter walls.


If the damage to the section of the campus that was needed in order for school to be held was "minor" as the NIST report indicates, then why have East Middle School students spent the past two and a half years in a warehouse on the far outskirts of the district?

Shortly after the tornado as dreams of finding silver linings from funnel clouds were dancing in R-8 administrators' eyes, the idea of having a 21st Century middle school to go along with the new high school/Franklin Tech and the new Irving was hard to resist and buying up additional land surrounding East and also building the second elementary school there was also something new and innovative that no one else was doing.

The only thing that stood in the way was FEMA. The following passage is taken from FEMA's report:

A cost/benefit analysis was conducted and determined that the facility was not salvageable. Repair of this structure would essentially mean reconstruction of a majority of the exterior, windows, heating and air units, duct work, lighting, wiring, electrical supply components, contents, wall coverings, flooring, parking areas and structural support components. The financial outlay and other construction concerns associated with repair of an aging structure to such an extent would be cost prohibitive. As a result, repair and restoration of the structure was not a viable option. As a result of the storm, an opportunity was made available by the Joplin School District to purchase additional property to the East of the existing East Middle School campus. This additional property was obtained because of the recent investment in the property for initial purchase and the general acceptability of its location. The purchase of these additional properties will allow East Middle School to be reconfigured at its existing site and allow for the construction of a new elementary school as well at that location. After analyzing the human and natural environment factors the school district chose to remain at this site because the District already owned the property, utilities were readily available at the site, combined with the fact that the land area of the campus was recently expanded, the Joplin School District intends on reusing this existing site for facility reconstruction.

The complete FEMA report, which includes much material that appears to be copied and pasted from material submitted to the agency by the R-8 School District, also includes a long recitation of all of the steps the district has taken to involve the public in its decision-making process.

An article in the August/September 2012 issue of Reason.com features comments from Superintendent C. J. Huff, explaining the problems the district had dealing with FEMA.

East Middle School is a less happy story than Joplin High. Having opened only in 2009, 
the school was declared a “total loss” after the tornado. Because reconstruction has 
involved the federal government, the project initially was delayed for months. “We’re 
having to follow a different set of rules,” Huff says, “because federal dollars are 
involved.” 

One of the things that was at issue was a federal requirement, known as the "50 Percent Rule," that a building "is considered repairable when disaster damages do not exceed 50 percent of the cost of replacing a facility to its pre-disaster condition, and it is feasible to repair the facility so that it can perform the function for which it was being used as well as it did immediately prior to the disaster."

What was it that pushed a two-year-old building, that had been considered state-of-the-art, into being classified as "a total loss?"

Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer revealed that information at a principals meeting in August 2011 at the administration building at 32nd and Duquesne.

It was all about the bricks, Besendorfer said. "We couldn't find any bricks that matched," she said. "They looked horrible."

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I AM SO ANGRY IT IS NOT DESCRIBABLE!!! Why am I paying extra taxes to fund such unnecessary spending as this? Can someone explain to me why these people are NOT IN JAIL? Is THIS what Huff and Bess have on the Board--the deception to build this school that never needed to be built? So Angie could have another dream school with matching bricks? It would've looked better than the ugly monstrosity they built and been much cheaper. How many old folks and young beginning homeowners are feeling the pinch to support this? It's time for the law to step in here. Enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

Think of the damage they did to the kids while this was going on. Think of the wasted tax dollars on the warehouse and building this. It is inexcusable. Unbelievable. Such depravity is just unequaled. Please run these people out of here. I never want to see them or hear them again. I do not want to see them in the schools pretending they give a damn about anything except building up their stinking reputations. Well, that plan backfired, didn't it? Their reputations literally stink now. And we have to foot the bill for years to come. Absolutely unreal.

Anonymous said...

Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer made up...

Anonymous said...

Damn it all. If this ain't as bad as it gets I don't know what would be. Greedy jerks.

Anonymous said...

Opportunistic scumbags.

Anonymous said...

Time to get out those pitchforks and lanterns. That's what the super says he'd do if he knew tax dollars were wasted.

Anonymous said...

This is why my taxes have more than doubled. Lots more than the price of a stupid happy meal. It just has to stop.

Anonymous said...

I despise those people. They've destroyed the district and are ripping off the town and living big while they're doing it. No morals and no shame. No decent people would want to associate with them.

Anonymous said...

Who all got their pockets lined with that silver to get this done. FEMA officials and who else must have to let this happen.

Anonymous said...

Next will be what they've done with the high school, I suppose. I'm sure they'll be out of money to finish it or it'll be crappy so they can get it done. It's too damned big and way more than anyone needed. I have no faith at all in those stupid career ideas. Everything else they've done has been a disaster. Like we didn't have enough problems without hurricane Angie wiping us out.

Anonymous said...

If they'd used a little sense they could've come out ahead or equal on this deal instead of makin us millions in debt for schools and German furniture that no one needed. Shameful abuse of the public. The only way the community will work with them again will be to lead them to jail or the edge of town.

Anonymous said...

Huff is as crooked as they come. Only complete idiots would believe anything he says. Some of us have been saying it for months. Here's more proof. Still employed though, isn't he? Should've been fired a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if they had to really work for what they've got instead of having their hired thugs and flunkies do everything they'd be more careful with other people's money. This kind of disregard and disrespect comes from having life way too easy.

Anonymous said...

These people lie like the rest of us breathe. And the board let them fire all those good folks why? Is the board stupid? Ripoff con artists.

Anonymous said...

That's what you all get for jumping on their bandwagon and voting for those schools so fast. Now all of you are stuck with the cost and the mess for decades. I'd say stop them in their tracks on their future plans until they can prove it'll work. Everything they've done has failed terribly. I doubt it's going to get better with you all sitting on your hands, either. Shame on you, Joplin, for letting this happen. You could've had some great things but now you've got a heap of troubles. I'm glad I left when I did.

Anonymous said...

I've heard rumors that the main reason East got so damaged was that they used substandard materials and construction and that the surviving structure was not safe.

Anonymous said...

Wait just a minute here! Joplin R-8 could have ordered some custom made bricks to match the two year old bricks and East could have been beautiful two years sooner for less? The alternative would have had R8 Cognoscenti accept less than they wanted?

You should know by now that there are limits to what reasonable people can expect to be done. Pie in the sky dreamers; thinking the kids could learn when the bricks don't match. What will be next?

Anonymous said...

Wait just a minute here! Joplin R-8 could have ordered some custom made bricks to match the two year old bricks and East could have been beautiful two years sooner for less? The alternative would have had R8 Cognoscenti accept less than they wanted?

You should know by now that there are limits to what reasonable people can expect to be done. Pie in the sky dreamers; thinking the kids could learn when the bricks don't match. What will be next?

Anonymous said...

I remember reading an article about the rebuilding of Greensburg, KS, after their tornado. It is a much smaller community, of course, but the article was all about how that community came together and had a vision for a new, improved, progressive, innovative, green city. And they built that. I read that article after Joplin's tornado, and I knew that sadly, a similar success story was not possible in Joplin. Too many people aren't paying attention; the rest (most) are ignorant and proud of it. I'm so grateful that I left when I did----there was simply no chance that things would get better. All of the new jobs are retail and restaurant jobs, so anyone under 40 with a degree and marketable skills should stop fighting to make Joplin better and get the hell out instead. It was awful before the tornado and it's worse now; the place should have been allowed to die.

Anonymous said...

Huff and the board are getting served next week by an attorney from St. Louis who represents a student that had the director of nursing at FTC assault her yesterday. Huff had been notified several times that a nursing student was being harassed and threatened and did nothing. He also didnt tell the board of education about the incidents so now they are getting sued. Huff stated that the incidents didnt rise to the legal definition of harassment yet the joplin police consider shattering windshields, slashing tires, and emailing threats of bodily harm a felony. I guess Joplin School District had its own laws.

It will be interesting to see how the joplin school district responds to a law suit of such gravity.

There goes the insurance money from the tornado....

Anonymous said...

There have been many different lawsuits that the board wasn't told about. Do you really think that the pervert that took the pictures and videos of the girls had no consequences for the district? Of course the board wasn't told about that either. There is a reason there was no publicity. There have also been lawsuits as a result of the former director of buildings and grounds and his behavior. Of course the board wasn't told about those either. Doubt the board will be told about the lawsuits coming very soon since they never even got the certified letter addressed to them nor were they told about the letter. It's all about to fall apart.

Anonymous said...

I wondered why they were in such a rush to tear down the damaged east school, from the road it sure didn't look that bad. I listened to Mr. Huff talk about it after the tornado, I had a little trouble following him, FEMA would only pay 50% if they rebuilt it & their insurance would only cover 75% of it, so they would be better off to call it a total loss and rebuild. Wouldn't they have got 125% of it covered had they just repaired it? Or is that old school math...

Anonymous said...

I am glad someone spoke up on this. I have a 20 year background in construction. My wife and I walked in that building the day after the tornado (before they fenced it all up) There was minor damage. Roof damage at worst in the main classroom areas. We walked down the hallways and the floor was a little wet but that was about it. The tornado was at f2-f3 when it passed over East middle school. If it was damaged to the point of unrepair, then it was built poorly for a 2 year old building. I didn't see anything that would have warranted tearing down the building.
Secondly, I talked to a higher up school employee a few weeks ago. He specifically told me that the tax payer are going to be severely pissed off when they find out how many things that our "district" promised the people for their new school has already been cut out. I am surprised at the number of tax payer that voted in favor of a tax increase "for the kids". The school district got insurance money plus FEMA money to rebuild the school. Now they got our tax dollars on top of that and still don't have "enough money" to keep the promises they made.