By Kelsey Ryan
Despite getting the land for free, the Joplin School District may have to spend up to $250,000 to reinforce the foundation of the new Irving Elementary School because of the site’s undermining and soil conditions.
“We’re taking precautions,” said Randy Steele, Joplin School Board president. “It’s probably going to be different than any other site, and we want to make sure the school is safe.”
The old Irving Elementary at 311 W. 26th St. was destroyed in the May 2011 tornado. In December, the school board voted to accept a land donation from Sisters of Mercy Health System at 2727 McClelland Blvd. for relocating the school, citing crowding issues and heavy traffic at the old location.
St. John’s Regional Medical Center at the McClelland Boulevard property also was destroyed in the tornado, and Mercy is building a new hospital at 50th Street and Hearnes Boulevard.
Issues related to mining have been a problem before at the old St. John’s site.
In the fall of 2010, the hospital demolished a parking garage because of undermining. The garage had been closed in July of that year because of structural problems.
Architects and engineers for the school district surveyed at least a dozen sites at the St. John’s campus before deciding on a location with the least risk, said Jim Stufflebeam, architect for Sapp Design Associates Architects of Springfield, designers of the new Irving.
School Superintendent C.J. Huff said the district looked toward the south end of the property in terms of acreage and traffic, but that mining also was a factor. The site already had detailed mining maps, which was reassuring to district officials, Huff said.
The district will be receiving Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for the new school and is applying FEMA reimbursement funds from the old South Middle School, which also was destroyed in the tornado, to the new site. Huff said the $250,000 cost of the foundation was included in the funding calculation that was part of the $62 million bond issue that was presented to voters in April.
“Our challenge, obviously, was in trying to find a suitable site for Irving substantial enough in size to accommodate an elementary school based on current standards. (We needed) 16 acres or so for 600 students,” Huff said. “We were trying to keep Irving in the city limits. The tornado created a situation for a lot of potential acreage, but the Mercy site was one parcel and we didn’t want to replicate what we went through for JHS properties. The location was good, and the price was obviously right.”
Mercy also will provide free excavated dirt from its new hospital site and is preparing the old site for the new school, Huff said. Mercy officials said no estimate has been completed on the monetary value of the donated land.
Stufflebeam said deep mine tunnels under the bedrock about 140 feet down are not as big a concern as potential vertical mine shafts. After other locations at the site initially were considered, Mercy offered the south part of the campus to the school district.
“There are a few shaft locations on the south part of that campus, but most mines are on the northern half where the hospital was,” Stufflebeam said.
Stufflebeam said the foundation reinforcement is not just because of the mining, but also because of Southwest Missouri’s soil conditions. Engineers recommended the reinforcement. Typically, a building will have a concrete footing and a wall on top of it for support. But Irving will have concrete piers that extend to the bedrock.
“In theory, all the soil under the building could be washed away, if that’s even possible, and the building would still be standing on concrete piers and slabs,” Stufflebeam said. “The district wanted to make sure the building would not be impacted by any potential shifting of soil or unknown mine shaft that might open up underneath the slab. Engineers have never talked about this being unsafe in that part of the building might fall into part of a hole. It’s never been to that level of concern.”
According to a geotechnical survey, which was conducted by Palmerton & Parrish Inc. for $38,772 in February, a large mine-related collapse occurred Aug. 30, 2011, while site grading was under way for a parking lot for the temporary St. John’s. The collapse was to the southeast of the new school site and was about 50 to 60 feet in diameter, but the report noted that the mine feature is not typical of other holes on the campus. The report stated that the tunnel possibly extends under St. John’s Boulevard, and that the area should be used only for green space.
Mike Johnson, director of construction for the school district, said the district has used ground-penetrating radar on the site to see the extent of mine shafts.
“You just never know when a mine shaft will open,” Johnson said. “The testing wasn’t 100 percent conclusive, so we’ve designed a foundation if a mine shaft opened underneath, it wouldn’t matter. It’s like a bridge, the whole foundation of the building.”
Johnson said the cost of the reinforced foundation is “not so bad when the land is donated.”
Last month, the school district and FEMA released a draft assessing the impact that the construction of several new schools will have on the environment. The report is a necessary hurdle for the district in the construction steps, Johnson said.
“Before FEMA commits in assisting us with funding, they want to make sure there are not environmental or historical preservation issues,” Johnson said. “Most of the time, it’s an Indian burial ground or uncovering a Civil War cannon that needs to be preserved, to ensure against that before they bless you going forward with a federally funded project.”
At the high school site, several mine workings also were mapped, and several prospect holes and vertical mine shafts were found, the report said.
The district has had “considerable geotechnical work” surrounding the area where the new high school will be built, to the west of where the old Joplin High School was situated, Johnson said.
Johnson said that depending on what crews find once they have earth moving equipment at the sites, workers likely will fill the holes with dirt and put on a concrete cap. The buildings have been designed not to sit on any of the areas that are just prospecting holes, which are mostly on the properties the district purchased in the past year to expand the site and move the school out of a flood plain.
Johnson said that if more prospecting holes pop up, it would take about $3,000 to $4,000 to fix the problem.
The environmental report states that because of extensive soil contamination, the district has limited options for putting schools at locations that are not contaminated. And, testing for lead is required by FEMA, Johnson said. The district plans to retest each new site and will bring in uncontaminated soil if the locations have high levels. Johnson said the Jasper County Health Department will conduct the testing, and the samples must be tested before any construction can begin.
“What they find triggers anywhere from nothing to full remediation, depending on what they find and at what levels,” Johnson said.
The new Irving
IRVING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL will house between 450 and 600 students from the former Irving Elementary and Emerson Elementary, which also was destroyed in the tornado. The school district hopes to have the new school open by December 2013. The Emerson building has not been demolished because it may hold historical significance with the State Historic Preservation Office. School district officials say they may use the site for a future early childhood center.