Education

Wolf Branch hires architect to help fix sinking school — or build a new one

Mine subsidence work continues at Wolf Branch Middle School

Work continues at Wolf Branch Middle School after mine subsidence damage was discovered in September 2017. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is drilling to determine the depth and extent of the abandoned mine there.
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Work continues at Wolf Branch Middle School after mine subsidence damage was discovered in September 2017. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is drilling to determine the depth and extent of the abandoned mine there.

An architectural firm that will soon be helping Swansea’s Wolf Branch District 113 has experience building a new school for a Belleville district after its old one was damaged by mine subsidence.

Students and teachers in District 113 moved out of Wolf Branch Middle School in September after it was damaged by subsidence, or gradual sinking, caused by an underground mine.

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

District 113 School Board members on Monday chose Ittner Architects to help with either saving the school or building a new one.

Ittner previously worked with Belle Valley District 119.

The old Belle Valley North elementary school was damaged by subsidence around 2007. District 119 eventually moved students out, and Ittner helped construct a new building in an area where no mines were detected, according to Belle Valley Superintendent R.Dane Gale.

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

Gale said SCI Engineering, Inc. drilled to search for mines before the new Belle Valley School was built in a different location.

At Wolf Branch Middle School, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been drilling to determine the extent of the abandoned mine there. Brent Guttmann, an IDNR civil engineer, said they had drilled at 24 places and found 13 mine voids as of Tuesday.

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

“That’s approximately what we expected to find,” he said. “We do have portions of the school that are definitely undermined, and that is the cause of the damage to the building at this point.”

Board president Bob Lonsdale said Wolf Branch District 113 could eventually negotiate a contract with Ittner to either repair the middle school or to demolish it to make way for a new building. But their first job will be to turn the heat back on to portions of the building so that water in the pipes doesn’t freeze in the winter, according to Lonsdale.

Belleville has a long history with mine subsidence that is now affecting Wolf Branch Middle School. The insurance program to fix damaged homes got its start in southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO.

Over the summer, the building will also need cooling, he said, so the walls don’t develop mold.

Wolf Branch’s school board will negotiate a contract with fees for that work at a later date.

Photographer Steve Nagy contributed to this report.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

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