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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mine subsidence damages Tour de Coal's home base

I was saddened to find out today at STLToday.com that Benld Elementary School -- the home base of the annual Tour de Coal ride in Benld, Ill. -- was severely damaged Saturday, probably by mine subsidence. Most likely, the school will be closed for the rest of the year.

Paul Skeans -- superintendent of the Gillespie School District, a co-organizer of the Tour de Coal and one of my cycling buddies -- was really proud of the building. Up until Saturday, it was a nice, modern building -- it opened in 2002 -- that served its students and staff well, and it was a great place for a home base for a bike ride.

But, sadly, it's not surprising that mine subsidence damages buildings in the Benld-Gillespie area, which is located roughly halfway between St. Louis and Springfield, Ill. The region is dotted with dozens of old coal mines, hence the name of the ride. Mine subsidence also is common in communities in the metro-east, including Belleville, O'Fallon, Collinsville and Glen Carbon, because of the many abandoned coal mines in the region.

"Floors heaved, floors cracked and floors are separated," Paul told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today. "Walls are splitting apart. It's like there's been an earthquake."

I'm pulling for Paul and the students, teachers and leaders of the Gillespie School District that repairs the school needs will be ready for the start of the 2009-10 school year. But it sounds as if the building is in such bad shape that the district may need to build a brand new building.

By the way, this year's Tour de Coal is slated for Saturday, Sept. 26, and registration is now open for the event. We hope we don't find another location to be the host of this year's ride.

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