State College high bleachers remain closed, but football field safe

mcarroll@centredaily.comOctober 4, 2012 

— High school football players ran through practices at Memorial Field just like any other week.

And when the Little Lions take the field tonight, the only thing out of the ordinary should be where their family and friends are seated.

Less than a week after the discovery of a sinkhole closed the home bleachers, State College Area School District officials maintained Thursday that Memorial Field is safe for players and spectators.

“There is nothing to suggest there is danger to the field surface or visitor bleachers,” said Shad Hoover, a geotechnical engineer working with the district.

District officials said Tuesday the home bleachers would be closed for the game tonight after the discovery of “underground instability” under part of the seating section.

“There are various stages of a sinkhole,” Hoover said. “At the field, we don’t have anything that has opened up. There is no evidence of a classic sinkhole everyone might be familiar with where you see a real big collapse of material, something you might see on the evening news.”

Officials discovered an issue while preparing the field in August. The concrete base had fallen several inches, leaving the metal frame hanging in the air. The district took steps to address the problem, but also brought in engineers to study the ground underneath.

Robert Davis, a structural engineer contracted by the district, explained that tests found a void in limestone bedrock — a clay-filled seam — under a section of the home bleachers.

“As a result of that, in the interest of making absolutely positive we protect the children, we wanted to make sure we closed down the bleacher,” Davis said. “So just in case, no matter how unlikely it is, there wasn’t the potential for a minor collapse of that feature.”

District officials said the move to close the home bleachers was purely precautionary.

“Our bleachers are a very old structure,” Superintendent Robert O’Donnell said. “So obviously any movement to a structure where you have 2,000 to 3,000 people on it, you’re going to act with concern.”

Davis said a catch basin, also under the home bleachers, picks up drainage from the field and stormwater from roughly 50 acres in State College.

“Sinkholes don’t collapse unless they are charged with water,” he said. “If we have a huge storm, for example, there is potential that some of this might move a little bit underneath the stands.”

But Davis said the clay under other sections of the field “is very stable” and has “been there for years and years.”

“We’re not concerned about it,” he said.

Davis said additional testing on the site under the bleachers likely will be required to determine the full scope of the issue.

Ed Poprik said district officials will present a more detailed report to the school board at its meeting Monday. The school board will have to consider options for the rest of this year, for next year and for the long-term future of the stadium, he said.

 

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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