Mine subsidence forces Metro East school district to close middle school

SWANSEA, IL - Classes at Wolf Branch Middle and Wolf Branch Elementary Schools are cancelled for Thursday and Friday.  Wolf Branch District 113 Superintendent Scott Harres said the decision is the result of shifting ground underneath the school that’s caused damage to primarily the east end of the building.

We reported Monday on DNR investigators inspecting Wolf Branch Middle School.  Investigators have now determined it’s not safe to serve lunches due to damage in the cafeteria area.  There are cracks in spots and in some places the floor is buckling.  Without having the ability to provide lunch, the decision was made to move to the elementary school.

“The chief concern is the safety of the students,” said Harres.

He hopes middle school students will eventually be able to return to their building but says there is enough room at the elementary school to allow for the move. The superintendent said an effort would be made to keep the middle school students and elementary school students separated.

Volunteers were boxing up supplies, loading them in trailers and taking them to the elementary school Wednesday night.  One of the trailers came from Belleville East High School.  Harres said volunteers from throughout the area are chipping in to help.  He said help is coming from staff, parents, local businesses and the union representing teachers.

“We want to support our school,” said Cori Stancsyk, parent of two students in Wolf Elementary.  “Basically, all everyone is doing is rallying around the administration and the teachers and just trying to do our best to be supportive.”

Laura Turner is the parent of a child enrolled in an autism program at Wolf Branch Elementary.  She said the program is run by the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative.  She said the program is moving to another school because of the middle school move to the elementary school.

“Autism kids don’t react well to change at all,” said Turner.  “I’m hopeful that my child will be okay but then there’s other kids.  Autism is a spectrum and you can have some kids that deal with it well and others that just have complete meltdowns.”

Harres was not superintendent of Wolf Branch District 113 when the building was built some 15 years ago.  He is not certain what steps were taken to determine whether building a school over an old mine would lead to problems.  Harres said he’s heard architects and engineers involved with the original project say there were precautions taken.