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Columbia Elementary School, Joplin.

Joplin (Mo.) district will build 1 elementary and close its 2 oldest elementary schools

West Central and Columbia elementary schools will be closed, and a combined school will be built at another location.

Following weeks of discussion, the Joplin (Mo.) school board has voted to combine West Central and Columbia, the district's two oldest elementary schools, into one building to be constructed at a new location.

The Joplin Globe reports that safety concerns at Columbia were a key factor in persuading the board to support the project. The newly constructed shelter there cannot be certified as a safe room by the Federal Emergency Management Agency because of cracks in the walls resulting from mining activity and poor soil conditions.

“The thing I can’t get past is we can’t change where Columbia sits, and I wish we could,” said board member Lori Musser, a former principal at Columbia. “To me, that’s just an unsafe location. I’d love to renovate the building, but all the renovation in the world isn’t going to change what it sits on."

To pay for the school construction, which is estimated to cost $19.6 million, the board will ask voters in April 2020 to approve a bond issue.

The district’s long-term facilities committee recommended pursuing a new school.

The proposal to combine West Central and Columbia at a new location drew opposition from many Columbia families who asked the board to find a way to preserve their neighborhood school.

Tracy Horton, president of the Columbia PTO, said after the vote that she was upset by the board's decision to replace Columbia.

"It was sobering that it was a unanimous vote, and it was encouraging to hear nearly all the board members say they were wrestling with the issue," she said. "I can tell it was deeply considered. But I respectfully disagree with their decision."

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