Watery pitfalls, sunken soil plagued Junction High from very beginning

SENTINEL FILE The Daily Sentinel, Page One, Jan. 28, 1960.

Should voters approve a bond measure aimed at constructing a new Grand Junction High School, District 51 leaders will look to avoid the underground lakes and building troubles that, quite literally, sunk the current high school early in its history.

The 63-year-old school is due for replacement, pending voter approval, after Board of Education members voted to put a $179.5 million bond issue on the November ballot.

But the current facility got off to a swampy start, which District 51 leaders don't plan on repeating when the time comes for a new building.

According to articles published in The Daily Sentinel in 1960, poor construction at the then-new Grand Junction High School resulted in the building sinking more than 6 inches into the soil.

The problem was linked to drains built under the school that never had pipes attached to funnel water away from the foundation, sending 160,000 gallons of water under the building.

"...The four-year-old building, rent and torn with cracks, continues its slow submergence," Daily Sentinel reporter Dick Woodbury wrote in January 1960. "Eerie groans and creaks rebound through the halls at night, watchmen said, some of them as loud as gunshots."

Grand Junction High School was also built on a shallow foundation, said current Director of Maintenance Eric Nilsen, which was out of step with good building practice at the time and today.

"They didn't put in pillars or piling or anything like that, which really surprises me because most of our old buildings have deep foundations even if they're on wood pilings," Nilsen said. "We never see shallow foundations on buildings in the valley with the kind of soils we have, and why they did that, I don't know."

Most school buildings are built on pilings that are drilled down to bedrock, Nilsen said, which provides a stable foundation. New additions to Grand Junction High School were built on deep foundations and have not had issues with sinking into the ground, he said. The new facility would be built in the same area as the current high school, though with modern architectural and construction practices to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Nilsen said he's also aware of some minor settling that happened inside the school where uranium mill tailings were dug up and removed after the school was built.

"We've been given pretty clear direction from our Board of Education to do adequate soil exploration before we even begin a design process on that school," Nislen said. "We're going to go into that with our eyes open and know exactly what's under that footprint."

Recommended for you