Lutheran High School plans to rebuild near Cherry Hills Church

State mine subsidence insurance has a $750,000 cap on damages

After mine subsidence forced Lutheran High School to abandon its west-side Springfield campus in 2022, it is looking to rebuild on land owned by Cherry Hills Church, near the northeast corner of Chatham and Woodside roads.

"We're negotiating with Lutheran right now for them to buy 23 acres of farmland to the north of our property," said Brian Schwarberg, co-lead pastor at the church.

The building at 3500 W. Washington St., which housed the high school until 2022, will be razed later this year. Cracked and separated walls and dropped floors caused by mine subsidence made the building structurally unfit for continued use.

click to enlarge Lutheran High School plans to rebuild near Cherry Hills Church
George Perkins, president of the board of directors for Lutheran High School, at the school’s temporary location at Springfield First Church of the Nazarene. The school has rented space there for the past year after the existing building was heavily damaged by mine subsidence.
For the past year, the school has rented space at Springfield First Church of the Nazarene, 5200 S. Sixth St. Frontage Road East, and held classes in Sunday school rooms, said George Perkins, who heads the school's board of directors. There are about 125 students in the school, he said.

Perkins said Lutheran High School has done its homework regarding the new site. "We have met with the Regional Planning Commission. ... We have talked to the Department of Natural Resources to make sure that there are no endangered species there. And we have made sure that it's not undermined. That that was our No. 1 criteria; we're not going to go through that again," Perkins said.

The building on West Washington Street carried $11 million in fire insurance. But the state program that provides mine subsidence insurance has a limit of $750,000.

"The DNR guys who do this type of work said this is the first commercial building they've ever seen with mine subsidence," Perkins said. "It's usually a home that's damaged by mine subsidence. And honestly, $750,000 would cover the price of most homes in our area."

Perkins said two lobbyists are working with the high school to try and persuade the Illinois General Assembly to contribute more than the $750,000 limit to the school.

"They don't have to do it. But we hope the legislature does what is right. It's not just us (that is affected by the claim's cap)," Perkins said. "It could be a commercial building. It could have been an office building. It could be White Oaks Mall. Not many property owners in the city of Springfield realize that the potential is there.

"In the early 1900s, there were five working coal mines in the city of Springfield. ... It's my understanding the Capitol building itself is not undermined, but most of the rest of Springfield is."

Neither Perkins nor Schwarberg disclosed the anticipated purchase price of the land.

Perkins said at this point, it's just a guess when construction may begin on the site. He said he anticipates conducting fundraising for the new campus on both the national and local levels. Estimates place the price tag for the project in the $15 million to $20 million range, he said.

"We anticipate the building will be approximately the same size as our Washington Street building, which was about 56,000 square feet. And then we would have sports facilities: a softball field, a baseball field, a track and soccer field there. So, that will pretty much fill up the acreage. But we have not started the design process yet because we want to get the land first and then work from there."

Perkins said he anticipates Lutheran High will continue to use its sports fields on West Washington Street for the next several years, until its new campus is complete. What will become of that land remains a bit of an open question.

One possibility is seeing if the Springfield Park District, or some other entity, would be interested in purchasing the land for a park.

"It would be a fantastic spot for the park district to put some things in," Perkins said. "We've already got ballfields and obviously they could add whatever else they wanted to. But I would think for the park district, it would be great. We'll definitely reach out to them when we get to the point of selling and see if they're interested."

Lutheran High is part of the ministry of the seven Missouri Synod Lutheran churches in the Springfield area. Cherry Hills is a non-denominational church with an American Baptist heritage. It moved from Springfield's Cherry Hills neighborhood to its current location in 2006.

"We bought the land because we loved the location and the peace that it provides," Schwarberg said. "There's just a peace out on this property whenever you walk on it. ... (But) Lutheran approached us last fall and started the conversation. And we began to think to ourselves that we believe in their mission and their vision. It's similar to ours. We want to build up the next generation, which Lutheran is doing. And we share the common focus of wanting to point young people to Jesus. And we want to see them expand the kingdom. And so, we're excited to have them next door doing it."

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].

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