Monongalia school location disputed – by Ry Rivard

“SUDDEN, SEVERE DAMAGES”

from Ry Rivard’s article at the Charleston Daily Mail:

Plans to build an environmentally friendly school atop an abandoned coal mine in Morgantown face criticism from parents who say the site is inappropriate for an elementary school.

The dispute involves consolidating two Monongalia County schools, 100-year-old Woodburn Elementary School and Easton Elementary, which is about 85 years old.

Parents from both schools generally support getting and even sharing a new building, but a group of parents from Woodburn object to the planned location for the school near a high-traffic intersection on Morgantown’s Mileground.

Woodburn parents have begun a sophisticated campaign to criticize school officials’ actions, which they say have been hasty or opaque, and to push the plan to build the school in their neighborhood.

The conflict puts a shadow over the construction of what would be the state’s second “green” school. West Virginia University is also facing criticism. The university owns the land school officials want to build on, which the university plans to sell for about $2.5 million.

Parents are also concerned about the expense of making the site safe for students. An engineering report raises serious questions about the suitability of the site, which has been pastureland, for major construction.

Monongalia County school officials say the spot is ideal and that they can make the site safe for less than $1 million.

The report by Morgantown-based Triad Engineering found there is “very high subsidence potential” at the site. Subsidence is the settling or downward motion of earth.

After doing test drillings of the site, the engineers estimate 70 percent of the coal beneath the site has been removed by mining. Triad’s report says the bedrock between the mine and the ground is sandstone, a strong but brittle rock that is not capable of withstanding lots of stress.

The report found that, “subsidence events, should they occur at this location, will be created by the abrupt, catastrophic cracking and failure of the overlying sandstone.”

“Such a failure in close proximity to any proposed structure would cause sudden, severe damages,” the report found.

The previous mining could even complicate building efforts unless the mine is filled with grout.

“The introduction of the heavy equipment necessary for site grading will likely precipitate cracking in the sandstone overlying the mine voids and increase the likelihood of a subsidence event in the future, as will the loading imposed by the new structure(s),” Triad engineers said.

Monongalia County school officials believe they can fix the problem for less than $1 million.

School board vice president Joseph Statler said right now the county plans to spend about $600,000 on mine mitigation.

Statler, who retired from Consolidation Coal, said the plan was to put what’s known as a “sock” or “balloon” into the hole. Engineers then swell the balloon and fill it with grout to stabilize the area.

He said that would be more effective and less costly than other methods. Monongalia County already has experience filling in mined land. It spent $1.8 million to fill in old mine works beneath the new University High School, according to the Woodburn parents group.

County school superintendent Frank Devono said there was no subsidence now at the proposed site and the county would fill the mine void.

“We’ll certainly address that, no different than what we did up at University High School,” he said.

Parents say the grouting at the high school ran nearly $700,000 over budget. That building, though, is one of the largest high schools in the state.

Chris Haddox, the parent of two Woodburn children, said it’s hard for him to imagine the Mileground location the board favors is the cheapest.

“The board has been saying this is going to be the most cost-effective site,” Haddox said. “It’s hard for us to imagine it’s the most cost-effective.”

[see the rest of the article at the Daily Mail]

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