Despite a historic four-day snowfall that buried Central Oregon, Bend-La Pine Schools decided Wednesday to not remove snow from its 15 buildings with flat roofs.
This decision was advised by local engineer Jon Walker, whose firm helped inspect the district’s roofs after the gym roof at Highland Magnet at Kenwood School collapsed under heavy snow on Jan. 12, 2017, according to Julianne Repman, the school district’s director of safety and communications.
But on Wednesday, Walker advised Redmond School District to remove snow from the flat roof of M.A. Lynch Elementary, which has a tendency to sag under heavy snowfall. The school was built in 1965 and suffers from structural problems.
Bend-La Pine School Board members and the superintendent said they trust Walker’s judgment.
Repman said Walker and his team from Walker Structural Engineering measured the weight of snow on the district’s flat-roofed buildings on Wednesday. He told district officials the weight of the snow wasn’t heavy enough to justify removing it from school roofs, Repman said.
Walker’s reasoning for not removing the four-day buildup was because the snow was lighter and drier than typical, meaning it weighed less, according to Repman. Walker also noticed the snow was melting and going down the drains, which were clear, Repman added.
Snow has been piling up on buildings around the region. The National Weather Service reported Monday that snow reached about 25 inches in certain parts of Bend and 48 inches in La Pine. By Wednesday afternoon, there was about 2 to 3 feet of snow in most areas, and flurries kept falling throughout the day.
According to Andy High, Bend-La Pine’s school board chairman, the district put protocols in place to regularly check the weight of snow on flat-roofed buildings after the Highland Magnet at Kenwood School gym roof collapse. Before the gym collapsed, the district had only began removing snow from the roof of one school — Pilot Butte Middle — despite repeated warnings from city and county officials for community members to clear their roofs.
High said the board knew of the plan to not remove snow Wednesday, and affirmed his trust in Walker’s engineering team.
“We have a lot of faith in them,” he said. “I’m not nervous a repeat could happen. Obviously, anything can happen at any time … but I feel very comfortable.”
Bend-La Pine School Board Vice Chair Carrie Douglass agreed with High.
“We are comfortable and aware of the plan,” she said.
Superintendent Shay Mikalson said he was comfortable with Walker’s decision, and said the district has changed the way it inspects buildings.
“In the days following (the roof collapse), we … made fundamental changes to our procedures and preparedness,” he said. “I am extremely proud of the work we have done, and it’s allowed us to be more proactive and agile.”
Mary Russell, who has a daughter in eighth grade at La Pine Middle School — one of the 15 buildings with a flat roof — said she thought the district’s decision to not remove snow from school roofs was “appalling.”
“We’re having to remove the snow off our (home’s) roof because there’s been a foot of snow,” she said. “Why wouldn’t they want to err on the side of safety and remove the snow?”
Bend-La Pine Director of Facilities Mike Tiller and Walker did not respond to requests for comment.
Redmond School District plans to remove snow from the roof of Lynch Elementary Thursday morning, based on Walker’s recommendation, said Rainier Butler, district spokesperson. The district is handling the school with an “abundance of caution,” he said.
“It wasn’t built with the best construction,” Butler said. “It certainly wouldn’t pass muster with today’s building standards.”
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