Helping Joplin heal

On Sunday, May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado hurled through the city of Joplin, Missouri, claiming 158 lives, inflicting 1,000+ injuries and leaving millions of dollars of destruction in its wake. St. John’s Regional Medical Center, the city’s hospital and lifeline, was one such devastating loss. As hospital staff and community volunteers quickly and safely worked to transport hundreds of patients away from the wreckage, St. John’s officials devised a plan, and a promise, to build again. They contacted our Olsson Missouri office to begin the rebuilding—and healing—process.

The giant scope and urgent nature of this project required teamwork at every turn: numerous architects, engineers, contractors, government agencies, disaster relief organizations, local residents and businesses working together toward a common goal—to heal a community. We utilized a variety of our engineering services (land development, transportation, traffic, airports, environmental, materials testing, construction observation, and municipal infrastructure design) and engineering experts with our civil team lead Jared at the helm to bring this goal to fruition.

Emergency Engineering Services

With the medical center upended, emergency interim facilities—ranging from waterless tents to modified trailers to a 400-piece component hospi­tal—were needed to provide continuous medical services to the community. We aided in the planning and permitting, provided extensive geotechnical engineering and environmental assessments, de­signed ADA-accessible parking lots, and determined site elevations and gradings. Today, the component hospital still stands—and stands proud; it was donated by Mercy Hospital Joplin to Kansas City University and has been transformed into KCU Joplin medical school.

Site Survey and Selection

Selecting the permanent site for the new Mercy Hospital Joplin was no easy feat. Joplin was an old mining town where vertical shaft mining was conducted to retrieve lead and zinc as part of the war effort. And there were shafts and holes—think Swiss cheese—everywhere. When surveying sites, we did our homework, interviewing historians in the community with knowledge of the mining areas. The selected site had very little/no evidence of mining shafts and was conveniently located. Win-win.

Roadway Improvements

The selected site required roadway reconstruction to improve traffic flow. We reconstructed the perimeter roadways of Missouri Route 86, 50th Street, Indiana Avenue, and the adjacent Interstate 44 interchange and designed a multi-lane roundabout, providing the quickest way in and out of the hospital for patients, visitors, and the public.

Mercy Hospital Joplin was completed (under budget) in March 2015, just 39 months after the tornado struck. The work earned ENR Midwest’s 2015 Best Project Award for Health Care and the Ozarks Chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers 2013 Award.

Setting the standard in tornado readiness at the hospital level, this storm-hardened, 900,000-sq.-ft., 424-bed facility includes Level I trauma, medical surgery, critical care, women’s and children’s care, behavioral health, and rehabilitation, to name a few. With hard work, much tenacity and teamwork from countless volunteers, professionals, and citizens alike, the community of Joplin was able to heal. And is stronger than ever.

Jared Rasmussen
Geography Leader
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