Activity Center

1937 Junior High building replaced with new Activity Center ‚Äč
Posted on 08/22/2022
Rendering of the new Poplar Bluff Junior High Activity Center.

The district’s oldest building on any campus will be replaced with a new 8,700-square-foot Activity Center at Poplar Bluff Junior High School, something of a passion project for those closely involved.

Designed locally by Dille and Pollard Architecture with construction led by C.E. Norton, the $2.6 million building addition on the backend of Fred M. Morrow Stadium will feature a large multipurpose room, three classrooms for Project Lead the Way and band, a weight room, restrooms and storage.

“I love the rich history of this campus, as long as you keep maintaining and adding measures to improve our facilities for the students,” said Junior High Principal Candace Warren, who has spent the duration of her tenure in the same building. “The bones of these historic buildings are amazing, the oldest in the district, and can last a lifetime.”

Along with Junior High’s main gym, the former industrial arts building, once housing shop class and special education, is original to the campus site – dating back to 1937, according to district records. The weight room, also 85 years old, is presently located upstairs from the old gymnasium lobby.

When the FEMA building and classroom addition were constructed in 2016, a future plan was penciled in to vacate the external building and move industrial arts into the lower gym, however officials determined upgrading the heating and air, as well as providing the ADA accessibility needed would not be most economical, according to school administrators.

“The master planning on a campus like this evolves over time. Hopefully not too much, but you want to revisit it every so often,” explained architect Brett Dille, who recalls taking woodworking in the external building under the instruction of the late Thomas Baggett. “This was a ‘rethink’ in that area.”

During its March meeting, the Board of Education unanimously approved the low bid from C.E. Norton Construction to serve as manager at-risk over the project, with Strack Excavating performing the demolition in May in an effort to maximize the property’s existing footprint.

“I have always taken great pride in our schools and even greater pride [being] involved in making our school district a better place for our kids,” professional engineer Ed Norton said. Norton noted that his family business spans three generations of employees, and all the office staff are former Mules, including himself, who attended Oak Grove growing up.

Warren, who credits R-I Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Dr. Amy Jackson for reviving the project, along with Maintenance Director Al Ursery for drafting the floor plan, envisions the Activity Center to serve a multitude of functions on campus. Having replaced industrial arts, the popular PLTW Gateway electives medical detectives and design & modeling will be relocated in the new classrooms, with an additional space created for band to practice.

The multipurpose room will be reminiscent of the former annex at the High School, continued Warren, to be used for physical education circuit training, cheer practice, to run sports drills, hosting house meetings and more, with its 12-foot high ceilings and smart board projector. She mentioned that it would also be convenient to have student-athletes exit the facility right onto the field during football games. “There have been several plans for the building over the years, but we feel like this best meets all of our students’ needs," Warren stated.

Dille pointed out that the high visibility of the location when traveling north on Westwood Boulevard is worth maximizing. R-I Superintendent Dr. Scott Dill expressed hope that the Activity Center will be the first part of a larger restoration of the stadium “to ensure the field is maintained at a high level for utilization of students and of course the community.”

“There is a lot of nostalgia in that building and old stadium, and the construction of this new facility on that historic site will breathe new life into the campus,” Dill said. “The usable classroom space will streamline and enhance the educational efforts of the Junior High campus, and provide modern learning spaces specifically designed for the activities significant to those programs.”

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Cutline: A rendering of the new Poplar Bluff Junior High Activity Center to the east of Fred M. Morrow Stadium was presented to the Board of Education by Dille and Pollard Architecture in February.

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