Engineers discuss erosion affecting Mountaineer Middle hillside

MORGANTOWN — Is Mountaineer Middle School standing on shaky ground?
Not exactly, representatives from the Alpha Associates civil engineering firm told the Monongalia County school board Tuesday.

However, a hillside that takes in a portion of the school’s Price Street campus is starting to give way.

And a retaining wall on the grounds is starting to buckle from the motion, Alpha’s president Rick Colebank told the board during its regular meeting.

Cracks are also appearing on the pavement at the bus loop turnaround in the parking lot, he said.

School bus drivers began noticing the cracks and uneven pavement two weeks ago.

The turnout and other additions were added in 2009, when the school, which was the original home of University High, was reconfigured for its new life.

Chuck Branch, an Alpha civil engineer, said the hillside shifted by as much as foot, according to surveys from two weeks ago to Tuesday.

The erosion, known topographically as a “scarp,” is now a conduit for rain water, Branch said, since runoff naturally seeks a low point.

“I know we’ve had about a 25 percent increase in rain to date from this time last year,” he said.

The current condition isn’t a disaster movie in the making, Colebank said. It doesn’t mean, he said, the school is going to cave in or the parking lot is going to swallow a bus.

“There are no safety issues,” Branch said.

However, he said, it’s not going to get any better, either. And other retaining walls on nearby College Avenue are also starting to give somewhat.

College Avenue connects WVU’s downtown campus with U.S. 119, meaning it comes under infrastructure purview of the state Division of Highways. DOH engineers, Branch said, were also out examining the retaining walls there. They don’t think the concern is immediate either, Branch said.

In the meantime, though, the school board said it’s going to be preventive in its repairs.

Winter weather patterns in north-central West Virginia mean snow, rain, freezing temperatures and 40-degree warmups, often in the same day or week.

“You’re gonna have to look at freezing and thawing cycles,” said Mike Kelly, the board’s vice president.

At the board’s direction, Alpha will continue surveying and monitoring the site. In the future, the firm, which is also partnering with another engineering company, will do core drilling to access the full extent of erosion.

Then, measures to repair the walls and parking lot by shoring up the hillside will begin — perhaps as early as March, the board said, once the full extent of the erosion is known.

The Mountaineer Middle campus isn’t alone in its topographical woes.

Increasing residential and commercial development across Morgantown and Monongalia County has brought with it buckled walls, flooded basements and eroded hills.

There’s another longstanding culprit. That’s why Mike Kelly had to ask.

“I might as well address the elephant in the room,” he said. “Is any of this also because of mine subsidence?”
It’s not, Branch replied.