Officials at Wolf Branch Middle School started noticing cracks and buckling floor tiles around the start of the school year.
Over the weekend, they saw the effects of more of the ground’s movement under the school on the walls and floor, according to District 113 Superintendent Scott Harres. He said engineers who were called to monitor the movement recommended that the school close off some rooms to students and staff as a precaution.
The superintendent wrote an email to parents Monday announcing the temporary closure of the middle school’s cafeteria and gym, among other rooms in the eastern portion of the building, where the movement is being investigated. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is involved.
Harres said a cause of the movement hasn’t been determined yet.
“Safety has been, and will continue to be, our number one concern,” Harres wrote. “... The structural professionals are quickly, but carefully, working on a plan to address these issues so that we can once again occupy all parts of the building.”
The school also closed its weight room and locker rooms. The experts have told Harres that there isn’t an “imminent danger” in those rooms and that the rest of the building is safe, he said.
Wolf Branch Middle School was built in 2002, according to Harres.
He said if any emergency construction needs to be done to prevent further damage to the building, there might be federal grants available to pay for it. As a “back-up plan,” the District 113 school board was scheduled to consider allowing the superintendent to skip the bid process for construction to make emergency repairs, according to Harres.
The school board met at 6:30 p.m. Monday. Board members would vote again before the district entered an agreement for construction, even in an emergency, Harres said.
District officials don’t know how long the rooms will need to be closed while professionals investigate the ground movement. In the meantime, Harres said students will either eat their lunches at tables set up in a hallway or at tables outside. The janitorial staff worked to clean the area where students would eat outside, and the middle school provided hand sanitizer stations near the outdoor tables, according to Harres.
Physical education classes will also be moved outside for now. Harres said staff are finding other places inside where P.E. classes could be held if weather prevents them from going outside.
When basketball season starts, Harres said the middle school students’ after-school practices will be moved to the elementary school. Some of those practices could be pushed into the evening hours, his email to parents states.
There will be eight basketball teams sharing the gym and multi-purpose room at the elementary school: girls and boys teams for fifth through eighth grades.
Community groups that planned on using the district’s gyms and cafeterias are being encouraged to seek out other places to meet because all Wolf Branch events will be given scheduling priority at the elementary school, Harres said.
School buses typically drop students off at the eastern entrance to the middle school building, which will also be closed as a result of the ground movement. Buses will now drop students off at the west side of the school, where students riding the bus will enter. Parking won’t be allowed in that area to give the buses plenty of room to navigate, according to Harres.
The district is asking all other students to come and go through the building’s front entrance.
The middle school has slightly less than 400 students enrolled this year, according to Harres.
He said “structural personnel” will be monitoring the ground’s movement on a daily basis.
“We hope that you understand the reasoning for our cautious decisions, and accept our apology in advance for any inconveniences that they may cause,” he wrote to parents.
Less than a mile away, Wolf Branch Elementary School staff haven’t noticed any ground movement, Harres said.