Signs of stress in structure lead to 'relocation' of students from new Union School

By Lauri Voter - Staff Writer
Union - posted Wed., Feb. 9, 2011
Contractors shovel the roof of the new Union School. Photos by Lauri Voter.
Contractors shovel the roof of the new Union School. Photos by Lauri Voter.

Snow-related issues led to a course of events that eventually culminated in the “relocation” of students from the new Union School on Feb. 7, and the closing of that school until snow is removed from its roof. Andrea Estell, chair of the Board of Education, declined to confirm whether or not the Feb. 7 occurrence was an actual evacuation, saying only that the students were “relocated” to the Board of Education’s officially-designated emergency site at the Congregational Church of Union.

During the regular Board of Selectman meeting on Feb. 7, the first and unexpected order of business on the agenda was concern about the “relocation” of students from the new Union School to the emergency site earlier that day.

According to First Selectman Albert L. "Andy" Goodhall, Jr., “We had some unofficial meetings with two different engineers. The students were evacuated today, if you want to use that term, because of concerns about the roof trusses, which are justified concerns, we feel.”

Following the relocation, engineers, school officials and the first selectman met at the school to assess the situation.

As a result of that meeting, the brand new school was officially closed until all snow is removed from the roof of the  building. It was decided that the snow must be removed by the roofing contractor, in order to avoid the possibility of voiding the one-year warranty. 

By Monday afternoon, employees from the roofing contractor, Connecticut Roofing, had already begun work clearing the roof.

Goodhall stated that there are “no signs of problems, there are concerns,” and continued by saying that the town’s contracted architectural firm, The H.L. Turner Group, Inc. [], would conduct a detailed study during the week of Feb. 7 to “determine what compromises, if any, there are.”

School was also dismissed early on Friday, Feb. 4. According to Estell, that is when “things looked different.”

We had some little tweaks and changes here and there that concerned us, so we called the engineer back, and we decided at this point, let’s just dismiss the kids early,” she said.

Goodhall expanded by saying that some cracks were seen in the seams of the drywall. Although they were reported, they were not considered worrisome.

It’s cosmetic, we’ll ending up fixing it. It can only be blamed on the building flexing,” said Goodhall.

According to Estell, after two engineers looked at the school on Friday, they suggested that the snow should be removed from certain areas of the roof. On Sunday, the roofing company removed snow, as instructed by the engineers.

The engineer had stressed to us some of the critical points that you would look for – plumb lines, twisting, beams either being deformed or deflected. We walked four or five times on Sunday through the day, checking, looking and listening,” said Ron Rickey, chair of the School Building Committee.

Everything looked fine," said Estell. Then, this morning [Monday, Feb. 7], we got a phone call that the custodial person was upstairs. He walked through and he noticed some signs of the stress in the structure,” explained Estell.

Although early dismissal does not result in a lost day as long as enough hours are in, the Board of Education opted to instead follow its evacuation plan on Feb. 7.

The bus had already picked up the kindergarten children and were not close enough to the school really to call an early dismissal, and the kids have missed a lot of school due to the snow, so we thought it would be the best idea, when the kindergarten bus came back, to bus the kids over to the church, to finish out the day,” said Estell.

According to Estell, once the students were moved to the church, school and town officials met with the structural engineer from Turner, as well as the town’s building inspector. They walked through the structure to find that some of the signs of stress had receded.

We want to go back through once the snow is off the building and have them [Turner] go piece-by-piece, truss-by-truss, and just check it out... rather than do anything foolish,” explained Estell.

They’re [Turner] going to survey every single truss, they’re going to look at the fasteners, connections, bearing points, check for deformities, check that they were properly installed,” said Rickey, who also explained that once Turner conducts the survey, checks for damage, and compiles a report, then school officials will know if any corrective actions are needed.

Ceilings moved, but also snapped back. We need answers. It’s just a bit of concern. Until we get the report, we don’t know. We’re out of money. If we have something to fix, we have liability to look at and insurance to look at,” said Goodhall.

The insurance company has been notified,” said Estell.

There is no crisis, but we do have kids out of school. We’ll probably have to have a policy later that if we have over 18 inches of snow on the roof, we’ll have to take it off,” said Goodhall.

Silbermann quipped that if the old Union Elementary School had not been torn down, its trusses would have given out, but not everyone agreed.

That building would have been perfect,” said Mike Jellen, member of the School Building Committee.

I think so, too. You never would have had snow build-up, because it would have melted off,” said Selectman Joe Kratochvil.

It’s a combination of a new building and a different winter,” suggested Estell.

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