Education

Plan in place to stabilize Swansea school damaged by subsidence, so rebuilding can begin

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

State officials have a plan to stabilize a mine that collapsed under a Swansea school so the district can begin rebuilding.

Five months ago, the ground beneath Wolf Branch Middle School dropped almost 25 inches when the abandoned Summit Mine collapsed, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The agency said it caused "extensive structural damage" to the building.

More than 450 students and their teachers evacuated in September after cracks and buckling floor tiles were discovered. Classes and after-school activities moved to the district's nearby elementary school.

The plan to stop the subsidence, or gradual sinking, involves pumping a concrete mixture into the mine, a process known as grouting. It is estimated that the project will begin in mid-April and will be completed by early summer, IDNR stated in a news release Wednesday.

The project will cost nearly $1.9 million in federal money from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

IDNR previously used $288,374 in federal money to hire engineers to drill into the ground to determine the mine’s location and condition. The money also paid for a chain link fence that was put up around the building.

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.

Wolf Branch District 113 has had expenses related to the subsidence, too.

When administrators moved out of the middle school in November, the district starting leasing a trailer to house their offices for $450 per month. School board members also hired Ittner Architects to eventually take care of the district’s construction needs at the middle school.

The building is 16 years old and cost $16 million to construct.

According to IDNR's release, District 113 plans to rebuild the damaged portions of the building with district money. The portion that is "heavily damaged" will be removed, and the district will have help with the cost from the IDNR Abandoned Mine Land Program. That state program is funded by fees from coal mine operations.

"The efficient leveraging of available funds will allow the school building to reopen and, most importantly, to ensure a safe place for the children to learn," Tom Benner, director of the IDNR Office of Mines and Minerals, stated in the release.

After the grouting project is finished, Wolf Branch Middle School will be monitored for a number of months before any rebuilding can begin, District 113 Superintendent Scott Harres wrote in a post to the district's Facebook page Wednesday.

District 113 officials had been meeting with IDNR, the Illinois State Board of Education and State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, about possible financial help since September, according to the timeline of events related to the subsidence that was added to the district's website.

The timeline starts with Aug. 21, when a small crack was discovered in a hallway at the middle school.

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

By Aug. 28, a week later, some floor tile had buckled about 20 feet from the original crack, so the district brought in the building’s architects and engineers to take a look.

IDNR got involved Sept. 11 and has been investigating since.

The school district stated on its Facebook page that the timeline will continued to be updated at wbsd113.org as new information becomes available.

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