DALLAS - Although a return date for students at Sand Hill Elementary School remains undetermined - and officials have yet to receive a full report of damage caused by mining - officials with Marshall County Schools say they are not going to close the school.
The 56 students at Sand Hill were originally scheduled to return to their building this month from Hilltop Elementary, where they have been attending class since November. The students were moved to ensure their safety as crews from Consol Energy Inc. mine around and under the Sand Hill building.
School officials learned earlier this month that mining is the source of significant structural damage at the school, which was scheduled to be finished by the middle of January. Superintendent Fred Renzella said there are some stress cracks in the block structure of the school. The front door of the building also has been damaged, along with the surrounding structure.
Sand Hill Elementary School remains empty, but Marshall County school officials say the situation won’t be permanent.
Renzella said he had not yet received the full written report, though he expected to receive it sometime this week.
Despite the status of the project and the students' return date being in limbo, Renzella said parents have no reason to be concerned about the future of the school, as the district realizes its importance. He said a public meeting was held with parents prior to Consol's mining took place to ensure that there is no intention of closing the building.
"Every school district faces the challenges of declining populations, and when state funding is based on child count, sometimes difficult decisions need to be made," he said, adding that in the case of elementary schools in Limestone and Sherrard, the buildings were beyond repair and a new school, Hilltop Elementary, was built to consolidate the two communities.
However, Renzella said it would not be in the district's best interest financially to close the Sand Hill building.
"We have done analysis at different times, and it wouldn't be that cost effective to close that facility," he said.
Additionally, with open enrollment allowing students to transfer to neighboring districts if they so choose, Renzella said the closure of Sand Hill could cause for a loss of students to the Ohio County School District, as the school sits just a few miles from the county border. Renzella said he did not know official numbers, but he suspected some students already attend school in Ohio County because it is easier for them to do so.
"A lot of times, it has more to do with their parents' work schedule or the availability of child care," he said. "That is something we take into consideration."
Renzella said teachers and other school officials at Hilltop are updated in terms of the progress of the Sand Hill project. If a parent has a question, Renzella said he or she needs only to ask his or her child's teacher or the principal.