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Rain causes sinkhole to open in Ringgold Middle School lot

| Tuesday, June 17, 2014, 12:51 a.m.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
A sinkhole developed in the parking lot at the Ringgold Elementary school in Union Township last Thursday, no trespassing signs and caution tape help to keep people out on Monday, June 16, 2014.
This sinkhole was discovered in the parking lot of Ringgold Middle School.
This sinkhole was discovered in the parking lot of Ringgold Middle School.

A sinkhole that opened in the Ringgold Middle School parking lot will be filled, possibly this week.

But the perception of the school – at the center of debate for nearly two years – is more troubling, school board Vice President Bill Stein said.

“I think the psychological damage is worse than the damage of the sinkhole,” Stein said. “I'm sure it will put fear into people.”

A resident out walking late Thursday discovered the sinkhole.

It is the result of an abandoned mine tunnel that runs beneath the middle of the parking lot. The hole is 2 feet wide and as deep as 20 feet, Stein said.

Peering into the hole, the abandoned mine is visible, Stein said.

School administrators contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection, which is making plans to fill the hole.

The sinkhole was created by heavy rains last week, Stein said.

“With heavy rains, these old abandoned mines take in water, and water under pressure cuts like a knife,” Stein said.

“We don't foresee any problems with the building,” Stein said. “We've kept the property under 24-hour-a-day watch so people don't go to check it out and find themselves at the bottom of a mine.”

The building, which marked its 50th anniversary last year, was built on pylons and anchored to reinforce concrete columns that extend to the bedrock.

However, pyrite closer to the surface expands when it gets wet, rising up to the supports. That has caused the building to shift slightly.

“In my view, it emphasizes the need to go forward with the (building) schedule,” Stein said.

“We have to minimize the amount of money we are putting into Finley and build a new middle school.”

The district is proceeding with planning required for construction of a middle school. The building would replace Ringgold Middle School – the former Finley Middle School – which has been shifting for years.

The district has been waiting to proceed, hopeful the Corbett administration reinstates a school construction funding program.

The board worries that the state's PlanCon program won't be reinstated this year and might not be for two to three years.

PlanCon, short for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for state reimbursement.

The PlanCon forms are designed to document a school district's planning process, provide justification for a project to the public, ascertain compliance with state laws and regulations, and establish the level of state participation in the cost of the project.

A decision on whether to proceed with construction of a building, with or without state aid, does not have to be made until July 2015.

Under that scenario, a new middle school would be ready for the start of the 2017-18 school year.

“It's time to move rather than continually dumping money into this old building,” Stein said.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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