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Love Chapel grounds study OK’d

The Unicoi County Board of Education voted to fund additional testing of the Love Chapel Elementary grounds during a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, Dec. 13.
The appearance of a sinkhole approximately 20 feet from the Love Chapel Elementary building in August prompted school system officials to close the school and move its faculty, staff and students to other Unicoi County schools for the foreseeable future. Kindergarten, first and second grade students were relocated to the Unicoi County Intermediate School; third grade students were relocated to Unicoi County Middle School.
Thursday’s unanimous vote by the board approved a contract with HAS Engineers and Scientists for $35,000 in additional testing on the more than five acres of property around Love Chapel. The school system will be responsible for funding this additional testing because, Director of Schools Denise Brown said after the meeting, the system’s insurance policy covers the school building, not the school grounds.
“Anything that is done on the grounds, as proactive work, has to be paid for by the school board,” Brown also said.
Brown said crews from HAS will be on the school grounds this week to begin seismic testing. Additional crews and drill rigs will arrive to begin drilling tests in early January. Since the appearance of the sinkhole, HAS has provided all of the testing at Love Chapel.
“At this point, before I can come back to the board with the proper information to approve whatever the recommendation will be from the insurance company, I feel the rest of the grounds at Love Chapel need to be tested first,” Brown said during Thursday’s meeting. “That way, if you have another issue with a sinkhole or shallow ground activity or something on that property, we can tell the insurance we can’t move forward.”
In an interview with The Erwin Record following the meeting, Brown said she believes additional testing is “very proactive.”
“I don’t think I can make a recommendation, or this board can make a decision until we have all the facts and information,” she also said. “This just gives us more information about all the property at the Love Chapel site … We felt the additional testing for Love Chapel was a very necessary thing.”
Brown said the system’s insurance company will provide recommendations to her regarding the future of the property, which is based on previous tests. Brown said she needs to be certain the rest of the school property is safe before recommending any action to the board.
“The only tests that were done previously were tests around the sinkhole and around the school,” she also said. “(The additional tests) will show us if there is other activity or anything else on the playgrounds before we can move forward and make any other decisions.”
Brown said previous tests have revealed a “linear trend” from the sinkhole that appeared on privately-owned property adjacent to the school in December 2011 to the sinkhole that appeared on school grounds in August.
Now that the board has approved additional testing by HAS, the company should arrive at Love Chapel this week to begin seismic testing of the property. By the beginning of January, drill rigs should be on the property to begin drilling approximately 16 borings, 100-120 feet deep, Brown said during the meeting.
Testing should take one to two weeks, if it is not delayed by weather. Once complete, HAS is required in the contract to submit a written report to the school system within six weeks.
Brown said the Love Chapel building remains stable and that “everything is exactly the way it was when we moved out.”
She also said students and teachers have adjusted to the move to the other facilities, but the situation is not ideal.
“The students and the teachers and the parents have been absolutely wonderful,” Brown said. “It is a hardship.
“It has went well, but we have had tremendous amounts of space issues. We have 18-20 teachers that have been uprooted out of their classrooms and traveling on carts. We have some classes on the stage, which is very hard to do with gym going on. And you have a principal that is having to go between two locations.”
Brown also said students are “doing exceptionally well,” but did express concern over how the move and space issues will impact student test scores.
“There are a lot of burdens we work out and make it work for our students, but there are a lot of things that go into play that I’m sure is a hardship on a lot of people,” she added. “But, again, everyone has been great.”
To pay for the $35,000 testing, Brown said during the meeting that funds previously reserved to put a new roof on Love Chapel Elementary will be used.
“This will be a cost of $35,000 that the insurance will not pay for, so the board is responsible for that,” she also said. “But I think it’s a very proactive on this board’s part to do that and get the information before we can make any further decisions.”
Board member Lisa White motioned to accept the contract with HAS; Judy Webb seconded White’s motion. Board chairman Renea Jones-Rogers, as well as Victor Price, Webb and White voted in favor of the contract with HAS. Board members Rick Butler and Tyler Engle were absent.
In other business, the board recognized Unicoi County High School students Emily Bennett, Austin Bennett, Brooke Shelton, Ryan Waldrop, Wayne Stanton and Ethan Potter for their successful results at a recent CTE-related competition.
The board also approved several resolutions, including those: to oppose legislation for creating statewide or alternate charter schools; to oppose legislation to create a voucher program; and to support appointed superintendents.

By Keeli Parkey
Staff Writer
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