Parts of Timpview High School in Provo have settled up to 5.5 inches, with water expected to spread to other collapsible soils underneath the school, according to a draft of a 103-page report presented Tuesday to the Provo City School District Board of Education.
“This is the most dramatic differential settlement I have seen on a project,” said Dave Cox, a principal with VCBO Architecture who presented the report.
The report includes new information based on testing done on the site in the last few months. It shows that while the southern end of the school is seeing the most settlement, settlement could migrate to the school’s northern end as well.
“The new tests are new information in a bad direction for our budget, safety and student well-being over the last few months,” said McKay Jensen, a member of the Provo City School District Board of Education.
The district proposed a $245 million bond last year, $145 million of which would have gone toward a full rebuild of Timpview High School. The bond failed a public vote in November.
Since then, the board has not made a decision about what will be done with the school.
In 2014, the school was rated tenth on the district’s list of facilities with seismic concerns. The school’s deteriorating condition has escalated in recent years as rough winters have caused the soil beneath the school to shift, creating cracks in the walls and causing a piece of masonry to fall from the ceiling.
Jim Nordquist, a soils engineer with Applied Geotechnical Engineering Consultants, Inc., told the board that he looked to the school’s southern side to see why the building was moving. Test pits dug next to the school’s foundation found wet soil that would collapse when it got wet.
He thought he’d find collapsible soil in a few locations. Instead, they found them throughout the site.
The school’s southern side had settled up to five inches, which Nordquist called significant.
“I also anticipate over time that the water in the ground already has the potential of migrating further and causing more collapse and more differential settlement of the structure,” Nordquist said.
He said it’s a matter of luck until the soil underneath the rest of the school gets wet and begins to collapse.
“I think the honeymoon is over,” Nordquist said.
Cox said the team found a lot of water on the Timpview High School site.
“We are all a little bit surprised you aren’t seeing more settlement than you are,” Cox said.
Cox showed the board a topographical map of the site, which showed that the northern end of the school is seeing up to an inch and a half of settlement, an amount modern buildings are designed to handle.
The school has seen additional signs of settlement in recent months, such as additional cracks in the school, volleyball poles that won’t fit into holes in the gymnasium and sticking doors.
“It tells us we need to pay attention to it,” Cox said.
If the soil were to dry, the settlement would stop. Cox said the school could essentially be used as a dam to stop the water, or that a water collection system could be created.
Cox said the school was built in 1975, before seismic codes were updated and before there was much knowledge about collapsible soils.
The draft of the report recommends for the district to do a full seismic retrofit of Timpview High School. It also recommends for the building to be replaced because any new piers that are put in as a temporary measure would have to be redone if the school is rebuilt.
Cox said the district should do what it can with the funds it has available.
Jensen asked the team if other engineers would give them a different answer about the school’s condition.
“I would be shocked if you had any other engineer that looked at the same data and had any significant difference in what we are seeing,” Cox said.
The report is expected to be finalized within a few weeks.
Two members of the public addressed the board after the report was presented, urging them to look at options other than replacing the school.
Clancy Black said he preferred the idea of a $30 million option to place piers under part of the school over the concept of a full rebuild.
“That could buy us 15 years and be more cost effective,” Black said.
Doug Gale told the board he would like to see more options.
“I’m hoping these individuals who are highly trained can look at the grounds where the school is and provide you with some suggestions about some things that you can do immediately,” Gale said.