Town rallies to clear roofs, re-open schools
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Feb. 10, 2011
Vernon students had an unexpected week of vacation from Feb. 1 to Feb. 7, as winter storms piled so much snow on the roofs of school buildings that officials wanted to be sure of their safety before allowing students inside.
Before the Board of Education's special meeting on Feb. 7 to officially approve its budget for 2011-2012, Superintendent Mary Conway said that all schools were expected to re-open on Feb. 8.
Despite another snowfall that morning, all of Vernon's schools did indeed open.
That announcement came after Conway had e-mailed board members and staff with updates on the condition of the roofs, and specific issues at each school.
Mayor Jason McCoy sent out e-mails at approximately the same time, stating that the schools were safe.
"I am proud to announce that the school buildings no longer face imminent structural danger, as a result of dedicated workers and volunteers from throughout the community,” McCoy said. “After a briefing from my staff and the BOE’s structural engineer, I have decided to close down emergency operations and the Emergency Operations Center, as there is no longer an emergency situation or threat from imminent danger. The snow loads on the buildings have been inspected and certified by the engineer and they are within the code limits prescribed by Connecticut Code.”
Conway said that when she arrived at the Emergency Operations Center, the emergency had already been declared over, and the control of the remaining cleanup efforts at the schools was turned back over to her office.
Town workers began clearing the roofs on Feb. 2. By Feb. 4, the task had seemed so large that town employees were asked to volunteer, and members of the National Guard were deployed to help, via town requests to the state.
On Feb. 4, the town also sent automated phone calls asking Vernon residents to volunteer to help, and many did. McCoy said the volume of snow on the schools and town buildings was calculated, as were the man-hours required to remove it all, and it was clear that more people were needed.
An estimated 17.4 million pounds of snow were removed from roofs of municipal buildings, McCoy said, adding that the estimate was on the conservative side.
“People just showed up with snow shovels at the high school,” Conway said. “It was just phenomenal.”
Local vendors also donated food for hungry volunteers.
On Saturday, Feb. 5, McCoy had convened an emergency meeting of the Town Council to appropriate additional funds for snow-removal efforts. The council approved an amount of $90,000.
Of larger concern was Maple Street School, which had received significant water damage to four of its classrooms.
Conway said several options were considered for the remediation of the damage, including possibly having students utilize another school building temporarily, or perhaps the Board of Education building itself.
However, late in the afternoon on Feb. 8, it was determined that Maple Street School could re-open along with the rest of the district, and students in the four damaged classrooms would learn their lessons in other parts of the building. A reading room, a computer lab, and a boys’ bathroom also were damaged. Conway said the floor in the computer lab was also heavily damaged. Dehumidifiers are being used in the classrooms, and painters were being called to correct the cosmetic damage to ceilings and walls.
“The roof is cleared, and the building is safe,” Conway said. “We are 100 percent in our own schools, and we are delighted with that. We expect the cleanup to be less than three weeks.”
At Skinner Road School, there was concern over snow on the large canopies at the entrance of the school. Students were entering and exiting from the rear doors of the building until the snow was removed.
McCoy said the impetus for the school closing was that engineers had determined that some roofs were carrying loads upwards of 50 pounds per square foot – well above the general standards of 21 pounds per square foot, although he added that several schools and town buildings are rated higher.
Tests of the weight load on the roof of Vernon Middle School were at or near limits in a few areas as of Feb. 7, but Conway said cleanup was continuing in the areas of the roof where snow was still heavy, especially since the possibility of more snow could put those areas over the limit.
Conway thanked the district's custodians, many of whom had worked extra shifts, as well as contractors, who were still continuing the efforts.
Once all the schools are totally cleared of snow, Conway said she hoped such an effort would not be necessary again this winter.
“I can't imagine we're going to get another 80 inches between now and April 1,” she said. “We're not anticipating having to do this again. We will be talking about roof maintenance, as part of our preventive maintenance, as we go along.”
As of Feb. 10, Vernon schools had accumulated nine snow days. At a meeting on Feb. 9, the Board of Education voted to revise the school year, eliminating the vacation week from Feb. 21-25. This would allow for school to end on June 23, with RHS graduation taking place on June 22. If more than two more snow days occur, the plan is to begin to cut days from April vacation.