Education

Here’s how much Wolf Branch has spent so far on mine subsidence damage

Here are Wolf Branch’s plans after evacuation of middle school building

Wolf Branch District 113 Superintendent Scott Harres says he hopes the damage at Wolf Branch Middle School caused by mine subsidence can be repaired so students can move back in eventually. Starting Monday, Sept. 18, the entire district will be ho
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Wolf Branch District 113 Superintendent Scott Harres says he hopes the damage at Wolf Branch Middle School caused by mine subsidence can be repaired so students can move back in eventually. Starting Monday, Sept. 18, the entire district will be ho

After evacuating a building damaged by mine subsidence in September, a Swansea school district is looking for cost estimates for the repairs.

Wolf Branch District 113 is seeking the help of architects who have experience with mine subsidence.

In the district’s most recent message to parents, Superintendent Scott Harres said the subsidence, or gradual sinking, could continue at Wolf Branch Middle School for “quite a few years” if officials don’t take action.

School board members want an architectural firm to provide “expedited services” to determine the cost to repair the damage at Wolf Branch Middle School and the cost to rebuild the school, according to the district’s website.

They will vote Monday on hiring a firm.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been drilling at the middle school to help District 113 decide how to move forward with the building.

IDNR has spent $253,098 in federal money on the project. The drilling is to help engineers map the tunnels of the abandoned mine under the building. The money also paid for a chain link fence for the site.

The funding source was the Abandoned Mined Lands Reclamation Council Federal Trust, according to IDNR.

Cost of drilling
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has spent $253,098 in federal money at Wolf Branch Middle School. The funding source was the Abandoned Mined Lands Reclamation Council Federal Trust, according to IDNR. Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Students and teachers from the middle school have been moved to the nearby elementary school building.

This week, most of the district offices also moved out of the middle school building and into a trailer, which will cost Wolf Branch $450 per month. It sits behind the elementary school.

Harres has said the middle school’s architects and engineers took “precautions” against mine subsidence during construction of the building 15 years ago. But he couldn’t say exactly what those precautions were, citing his position as a teacher at the time those decisions were made.

“It’s my understanding that they did take certain precautions,” he said previously. “I was a fifth-grade science teacher at the time in the other building, and my only concern at that time was exciting kids about science.

“... From what the engineers from the Department of Natural Resources have told me, there’s a number of things that could have occurred, and so I don’t know that (the builders) could have done anything that would have given a 100 percent guarantee.”

091117snCrackWalk
A student walks by a one-inch wide crack that was several feet high at Wolf Branch Middle School in Swansea before students and teachers evacuated the building. Steve Nagy snagy@bnd.com

The district couldn’t produce certain documents related to the middle school building, including an engineering study or other assessment of the land, when the News-Democrat requested them under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

“We have made a diligent search for the requested records and, at this time, the records cannot be located,” Harres wrote in response.

The administration at the time the plans for the new building were coming together were aware of the potential for subsidence issues, according to school board meeting minutes from 2001-2003 that were provided by the district. School board members voted in 2002 to purchase $350,000 subsidence insurance for each building.

They believed the middle school would be “subject to the same level of subsidence risk” as the existing school, meeting minutes state.

Superintendent Scott Harres explains what is going on and the contingency plans they are making for students.

As mine subsidence damages the Swansea school, officials begin moving supplies out of the building and to the elementary school.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

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