Walls cracking, pavement buckling at Wolf Branch Middle School

SWANSEA, Ill. – The Wolf Branch School District 113 held an emergency board meeting Monday night to try and address the problem of wall cracks, as well as buckling tile and pavement at Wolf Branch Middle School in Swansea.

Some areas of the school building are now closed while investigators determine whether the worst of the ground shifting is over.

The board unanimously approved a plan Monday to give the superintendent authority to expedite the contracting process if emergency help is needed. Wolf Branch School District 113 Superintendent Scott Harres said the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a program that could fund emergency repairs if any sudden changes put the safety of student in jeopardy. He said the vote Monday night was a way to have a backup plan.

The district sent a letter to parents notifying them about the problem and explaining what steps will be taken to address the situation.

“Safety is the number one concern. We’re not going to make any decisions without safety being paramount to everything,” he said.

The district noticed some cracks in the building at the start of the school. An engineering firm was called in when floor tiles started buckling. The firm determined students and staff should be kept away from some areas of the building until a thorough investigation can take place.

Harres said the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is now investigating and hopes to have a report completed in a couple weeks. He said the report should give district officials a better sense of how to move forward.

The likely culprit is mine subsidence. It’s an issue that’s a problem in southern Illinois. The ground shifts when old mines give way. Some parents worry about the future of the building and whether the problems will create distractions for students.

“It’s always concerning when there is mine subsidence,” said Nancy McVey, a Wolf Branch parent. “But the district’s been putting out a lot of information about it, so I think that eases everybody’s concerns.”

Harres said some of the areas students can no longer access are the locker rooms, the gymnasium and parts of the cafeteria. He said meals can still be prepared but the dining area is no longer accessible. He said students ate lunch outside Monday because the weather was nice. Tables will be set up in hallways on days when eating outside is not an option.

The school will also move its basketball games and practices to the district’s elementary school located just down the street from the middle school. Harres said after talking with DNR officials, he’s hopeful the worst of the problems is over.

The building is approximately 15 years old. The district does have insurance. Harres said the district is insured up to $750,000 for mine subsidence. He said when purchasing the insurance, that was the largest amount allowable.