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Construction paused at new Clendenin Elementary after pyritic sulfur found in soil

CLENDENIN, W.Va. — The Kanawha County school system has paused construction on the new Clendenin Elementary School after pyritic sulfur was found in the soil.

KCS Superintendent Tom Williams said the county’s clerk of the works recently noticed significant iron staining in and around the foundation trenches. The soil was tested and pyritic sulfur detected.

Kanawha County School Superintendent Tom Williams
Tom Williams

According to Williams, pyritic sulfur can potentially be expansive which could compromise the new school’s foundation, some of which has already been poured.

Williams said the soil was tested before construction started but it’s very unusual for pyritic sulfur to be found in sandstone.

“Normally from my understanding (it’s found) in shale and we’re talking about sandstone at the Clendenin site,” Williams said. “It’s not normally tested for in this area because it’s just not down here, especially in sandstone.”

Pyritic sulfur impacted the Ramada Inn in Morgantown a few years ago but that was shale rock, Williams said.

The school system is now looking for experts to help with the next step.

Williams said they are trying to stay upbeat.

“The positive is that it was discovered now rather than later and if it’s going to be an issue we would rather take care of it now before the building is constructed than later,” Williams said.

The school is being built to replace the former Clendenin Elementary that was destroyed in the June 2016 flood. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved $27 million in federal funds for the project in June 2020 which was to represent 90% of the total cost. The school is being built at a mountaintop site just off of U.S. Route 119 on Wolverton Mountain Road near Clendenin.

Kanawha County School Board members toured the site last week. (Photo/KCS)

Williams said the state School Building Authority will be reaching out to FEMA in the next few days to alert agency officials on what’s been found.

“This may prove to not be a problem at all and that’s what we’re hoping but to be overly cautious we thought we would pause now and get an expert in here to make sure,” Williams said.

Williams said he’s hoping the pause in construction will be a short one. He said that would be the best case scenario.

Williams said a further delay is heartbreaking to the Clendenin community which has been through a lot since the devastating flood that occurred more than 5 years ago.

“The folks in Clendenin and Elkview have been more than patient during the entire process. We’re determined and it will be built. We just have to follow all of FEMA’s rules and regulations, which we have been, and go from there,” Williams said.

Officials were hoping for an August 2022 completion of the building.

Members of the Kanawha County Board of Education toured the site earlier this month

Meanwhile, construction is underway in Kanawha County for a new Herbert Hoover High School which is ahead of the Clendenin project. FEMA has approved for $52 million for the Hoover work.

Question and answers provided by Kanawha County Schools

What is the soil condition?

Pyritic sulfur has been identified in the soil, which can potentially be expansive, compromising the integrity of the foundation and floor slab.

How was the issue discovered?

The Clerk of the Works identified iron staining on fill materials at the site adjacent to concrete that was placed. Following site observations during concrete placement of significant iron staining in and around the foundation trenches, a sampling plan was proposed in order to determine the total sulfur content of the fill material placed within the interior (sub-slab) areas of the proposed building.

When was this discovered?

A couple of weeks ago. We immediately worked to have additional geotechnical samples taken and that is when the pyritic sulfur was discovered.

Why didn’t we know about the soil condition before construction started?

KCS followed all testing/sampling as required by FEMA and the State. As a federal project, this project has been under more scrutiny than other school building projects. This is an unforeseen situation and this material is not typically found in this type of stone or in this part of West Virginia.

Who is doing the additional investigation?

We are working to quickly find an expert in this specific type of soil material.

Who asked the contractor to pause work?

Kanawha County Schools asked for the pause of the building construction after discussing the situation with the project team and the review of a letter requesting additional investigation from the geotechnical engineers (based on their recent samples).

How long do we anticipate the extra investigation taking?

We do not know at this time.

Will this delay the project?

We do not know at this time.

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