ERWIN — Unicoi County school officials are awaiting the results of tests being conducted on the sinkhole at Love Chapel Elementary School to help determine the stability of the school’s grounds and what direction may need to be taken with regard to the school’s future.
Director of Schools Denise Brown said drillers sent by the school system’s insurance provider, Risk Management Trust, which has an underwriter of Travelers and its own sinkhole division, were on site Friday and Saturday to drill several holes around the sinkhole. They said this was being done to collect soil and other samples to be used for tests that will be conducted by the insurance provider.
“The reason for it was to see how far did they go down before they hit some sold rock or limestone, to check the stability of the ground,” Brown said.
Crews drilled four holes that went from 95 to 120 feet deep, stopping every 5 feet to collect samples, Brown said. Brown also said she was advised these samples are to be sent to a laboratory for testing, the results of which are to be part of a preliminary report the school system hopes to receive either late this week or early next week.
Brown said when, or if, Love Chapel is to be used in the future depends on the test results and what school officials are advised by the insurance provider.
“I’ll stand on it’s the safety of the students first, and if they cannot convince us that it’s safe and that it’s something that they can repair, that will be a discussion we’ll have to have down the road,” she said. “Even if they did come back, my thing is I’m not going to upheave the students until we have a break to where it would be a good transition.”
The closest logical time for this transition would be the winter break, meaning the earliest students would return to Love Chapel is 2013. Again, Brown said this depends on what school system officials are advised.
The sinkhole on the school’s grounds was reported on the morning of Aug. 18 by someone walking in the area. Crews dumped around 100 tons of rock into the sinkhole, after which measurements were taken that showed the sinkhole to be around 120 feet deep, with the last 25 feet being water.
Classes at Love Chapel were canceled for the week of Aug. 20 after the insurance provider requested that no one be allowed in the building. On Aug. 21, the school system released a relocation plan for Love Chapel students that would see its kindergarten through second-grade students sent to Unicoi County Intermediate School and Love Chapel’s third-grade students relocated to Unicoi County Middle School until further notice.
The system’s relocation plan went into effect Monday, and Brown said the transition, including traffic flow around the schools, has gone well.
“It has gone exceptionally well,” she said. “We’ve had so much support from the parents and our employees and just a lot of help given throughout the community.”
Brown said she has also visited the classrooms of affected Love Chapel students and said they have transitioned smoothly into their new environments.
“They adjusted from day one,” Brown said. “For some, it’s sort of exciting to them to be in a new room and a different location. Teachers are back in the routine of teaching. Even day one, after we got all the traffic in, as I went to visit the classrooms, the teachers were already teaching and the students were already in a routine, and that’s just gotten better as the week has gone along.”
Love Chapel’s fate as a polling place is also still up in the air. Unicoi County Deputy Administrator of Elections Teresa McFadden said while no official action has been taken with regard to the school’s use as a polling place, she said the Unicoi County Election Commission has been checking on other options. McFadden said this matter is slated to be discussed at a Sept. 11 Election Commission meeting.