The Department of the Interior has allocated more than $1 million to fill in a group of abandoned mine shafts and tunnels that run underneath three buildings at Frostburg State College in western Maryland, after two engineering studies determined that the tunnels posed an "extreme danger to the safety" of students and faculty.
Two of the buildings serve as deomitories housing more than 300 students, while the third structure is the school's central dining hall. All three facilities were built during the past eight years, according to a college spokesman.
Asked why the buildings were constructed above the abandoned shafts, the university spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said, "Half the city of Frostburg is built on top of old mines." The town lies along the Pittsburgh coal seam, about 90 miles southeast of Pittsburg and 150 miles northwest of Washington and was once a major center of deep coal mining.
Raymond Booker, an official in the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining, said the Frostburg College site was chosen by state officials in Maryland as a major public safety hazard. Booker added that the money to finance the filling program, approved by Congress last year, is drawn from a fee for the reclamation projects collected from coal operators.
The spokesman at Frostburg, a liberal arts college with 3,200 full-time undergraduate students, said the three buildings will not be closed during the construction work, which will take about a year to complete.
According to an Interior Department statement, the three buildings in question are built over the area of "greatest risk" on the 30-acre campus. "Several other buildings on the campus are subject to risks of varying degrees and other efforts to combat the subsidence problems have been conducted at the college in the past," according to the statement.
The plan is to inject Portland cement and fly ash grout in the fully or partially open portions of the Pittsburgh seam, which run either close to or underneath the three buildings. Booker of the Interior Department said the college has now changed its construction procedures and the designs for its new buildings.
When asked why the buildings were constructed on a site above known mine shafts, the Frostburg spokesman replied: "Beats me."