Aerial photo of East Pythian Street shows green field surrounded by road and railroad tracks.
Drone photos looking north west at the proposed site of a new Pipkin Middle School. (Photo by Bruce Stidham)

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Springfield Public Schools is once again on the hunt to find a place for a new Pipkin Middle School. 

Concerns about trains and emergency access, as well as response from the City of Springfield and community members, pushed the district to back out of a deal to buy almost 21 acres of land on East Pythian Street near U.S. Highway 65.

Following a recommendation of district officials as part of a review process, the Springfield Board of Education on Tuesday supported backing away from putting a new Pipkin on the site. The district will start another search for about 10 acres of property that could hold an expanded midtown middle school. 

“We want the best for our Pipkin families and our students,” Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Grenita Lathan said. “We feel like we conducted our due diligence on locating a property, but once we received all the feedback and continued to do our research, we decided to step back and go in a different direction.” 

Pythian problems for Pipkin

The rear engines of a freight train pushing coal cars passes through the railroad crossing at E. Pythian Street on tracks that border the western edge of the proposed site for a new Pipkin Middle School. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

An upgraded Pipkin Middle School is one of the construction projects promised as part of Proposition S, a $220 million bond issue voters authorized with a 78% approval rate.

Announced less than a week before the April 4 election, the district in March entered into a contract with 4GS Investments to purchase the site, located at 3207 E. Pythian Street. School officials were excited about the amount of space and the opportunity to bus in more students for better attendance. 

But concerns over the site emerged after city reviews of the property sale. The  Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission in July voted 6-1 against the acquisition. Commissioners said a school did not belong in an area zoned for heavy industrial use, and worried that a nearby railroad crossing would block firetruck and ambulance access to the school in the event of an emergency. 

Pythian Street is the only road that accesses the property, and the road ends near the property’s southeastern corner. BNSF railroad tracks run north and south along the property’s western edge, causing potential issues for traffic blockage — especially in the event of emergencies that require ambulances or firetrucks.

U.S. Highway 65 runs north and south along the property’s eastern edge, and does not allow access to Pythian.

Springfield Deputy Superintendent of Operations Travis Shaw said SPS officials were aware of challenges the property presents, including the proximity of railroad tracks that would frequently block the only point of access to the school. 

Initially, the district thought it could address all of those concerns, but further study of the challenges showed solutions may be difficult and expensive.

“They weren’t insurmountable, but were they going to be expensive? Certainly,” Shaw said. “In the beginning based on conversations that we had, we were very optimistic that we would have a solution for a secondary access specific to emergencies. As we worked through our due diligence, we no longer had that optimism or confidence.”

Cora Scott, director of public information for the City of Springfield, said the city government is ready to help the school district find a new location for Pipkin, now that East Pythian has been eliminated as a possibility.

“The city has helped in the past, and will continue as needed to help the district look for a property,” Scott said. “We certainly understand the challenges, and acknowledge that this is a very challenging issue for the schools to find a location.”

Starting a new search

Replacing nearly 100-year-old Pipkin Middle School is a top priority of a task force that voted to recommend a $220 school bond issue in the spring. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

The school district hopes to find a 10-acre property within the Pipkin attendance boundary similar to the 9-acre property that holds the new Jarrett Middle School. Such a property would be able to hold a new building, an outdoor athletic field, drop-off and pick-up lanes for both parents and buses, and plenty of parking. 

That “perfect site” will be challenging to find, Shaw said. Part of the reason SPS initially picked the Pythian property was because finding land elsewhere was difficult. 

The current site of Pipkin is on 3.07 acres at 1215 N. Boonville Ave., a landlocked location bordered by a Greene County government operational center, Central Assembly of God Church and a handful of homes. 

One option that may already be ruled out is partnering with the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. Shaw said park lands come with federal restrictions that either limit the property to only park use, or require open public access that would threaten student safety and security.

“We have explored every single park within this boundary, and the main obstacle we continue to receive is that they are all under federal guidelines for land and water conservation,” Shaw said. “That piece alone has really kept us from being able to do anything with any of the parks within the area.” 

Lathan said the school district is not starting from scratch, however. The previous work from the Community Task Force on Facilities, an ad hoc committee used for determining Proposition S projects, will be used in the future, Lathan said. 

In a joint statement, task force co-chairs Bridget Dierks and David Hall said they supported the district’s commitment to vetting the Pythian property, and supported the continued effort to find a new site. 

Cost projections, construction deadlines

New designs and floor plans for Pipkin Middle School will be evaluated Tuesday by the Springfield Board of Education. (Image courtesy Paragon Architecture, SPS)

The decision to back out of buying the East Pythian Street land will carry extra financial costs. A $25,000 “good faith” down payment made to 4GS Investments will not be returned as part of the contract. Springfield Public Schools officials did not reveal the agreed purchase price, because the property will remain on the market. 

Shaw said costs incurred in the pursuit of the Pythian site will likely be duplicated once a new site is identified. 

Paragon Architecture and Navigate Building Solutions will be retained for the project, and Shaw said they hope they can find a property that can use those designs. Construction timeline estimates for finishing Pipkin by 2026 will be pushed back. 

Despite the setback, school officials on Wednesday said they felt positive, and that community response helped the board make its decision.

“We feel good about the initial decision, and about the process from when we made a decision on that selection to getting us to this point,” Lathan said. “I feel that this is a win all the way around for our district and community.”

Springfield Board of Education President Danielle Kincaid said she agreed wholeheartedly. The March vote to buy the property, and Tuesday’s vote to back out of it, were both 7-0 votes in favor. 

“The process worked the way that it was intended to work,” Kincaid said. “During that process, it became clear that this was not going to be the best option, so it worked the way that it was supposed to work.” 

Springfield Public Schools officials are optimistic that a new site can be found, and that a new Pipkin Middle School can be ready for students by 2028. 

Shaw said that the district has plenty of resources to continue an already months-long search, and that previous work won’t be wasted. Lathan also said some options from the initial search remain. 

“We can continue to follow the recommendations from the task force, because that has always been front and center even with the decision (to select Pythian),” Lathan said. “We will go back to those recommendations as we continue to secure a new site.”

Joe Hadsall

Joe Hadsall is the education reporter for the Springfield Daily Citizen. Hadsall has more than two decades of experience reporting in the Ozarks with the Joplin Globe, Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine. Contact him at (417) 837-3671 or More by Joe Hadsall