What do you do when your school suddenly sinks into the ground?
You do what the people of the Gillespie region have done.
You rebuild it, better.
The new, 95,000- square-foot Ben-Gil Elementary School should be completed this spring, providing a permanent home to the district’s pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students for the first time since the Benld School collapsed from coal mine subsidence in 2009.
The story of the collapse and the reaction to it will long be told in Southern Illinois, which in our memory never faced a similar situation. We’ve had schools damaged by fire, windstorms – even earthquakes – but never to this extent by mine subsidence.
That’s what makes the story out of Macoupin County so unique and the follow-up story so important.
The new school is being built to last, with protocols that stress student security and structural integrity. The school is becoming part of a campus that includes the middle school and high school for Gillespie.
Some 700 of the district’s 1,300 students will eventually be housed there.
If you had to come up with a game plan, we suppose you could not have come up with anything much better. Officials have designed a school that works in terms of energy-efficient construction and lighting; traffic flow; and gym space and commons area that can be used for community gatherings or for middle school or high school cultural events such as band concerts, musicals, and plays.
But it has not come without a price. The total projected cost is $27 million, with approximately $20 million awarded through the state’s Capital Development Board. The district paid $337,500 for the 15 acres in 2009. The remaining $7 million was raised through a bond issue.
To the extent that anyone could have foreseen this or prevented it, the district has a pair of legal actions pending over the collapse. It will be up to a court to decide fault.
For now, we are focusing on the district’s action plan, which precipitated a remarkably amazing recovery by anyone’s estimate and one that could become a precedent for districts in the future.