The Cleveland (Tenn.) school system says that holes have opened up in the ground at two schools where geothermal wells have been installed.
The Cleveland Daily Banner reports that a hole was found on the property of Mayfield Elementary School, and a similar problem was discovered at Arnold Memorial Elementary School. Correcting the problems could be costly for the district, officials say.
"Back in the beginning of April, we had a hole open up in the parking lot at Mayfield Elementary," says Hal Taylor, director of operations for Cleveland City Schools. "The hole, on the top, was approximately 12 inches across, but it was much bigger under the asphalt. What we basically found is that we had some soil conditions deep down that were causing a problem."
Then the principal at Arnold reported a hole there. "We go over there, and there is a hole which is basically 16 feet deep and is one of the geothermal holes,” Taylor says.
Eighty-eight holes were dug for geothermal wells in the football field at Arnold. The one they found had experienced a “dropout,” meaning the ground above the geothermal equipment had caved in. The flaw also has been found with other holes.
“All of them were just filled in with dirt,” Taylor says. “None of them were filled in correctly. … Basically, all the dirt was settling in these holes.”
Because of the problems, students and others are no longer being permitted to use the field at Arnold. Fencing is to be installed around the edge of the field to keep people off it.
Taylor says that the same contractor — Mid-South Geothermal, LLC — led the installation of the geothermal wells at Arnold and Mayfield.
Because the installation of the geothermal wells deviated from the original construction plans, the flaws could be considered “poor construction practices” from a legal standpoint, officials say.
“We have proof,” Taylor says. “Concrete doesn’t just disappear.”
The school board's site committee directed administrators to draft a formal letter to Mid-South Geothermal to inform it of the problems at the two schools and see if the firm will carry out repairs.
Taylor says fixing the problems will require “an extensive amount of work,” which could be costly.
At Mayfield, this would involve tearing up the school’s main parking lot and one of the playground areas to get to more of that school’s 100 geothermal wells. Once the work is done, there would be the additional cost of pouring a new parking lot.
“Geothermal is excellent from an energy standpoint, but it has to be installed correctly,” Taylor says. “That is what we have here; it was not installed correctly.”