The warm winds that swept the Spokane Valley this week could have been from the collective sigh of relief exhaled by school officials, firefighters and residents tired of the daily struggle battling huge amounts of snow.
Most schools were closed until Thursday, though East Valley schools opened two hours late on Wednesday. The schools were closed during the beginning of the week so the roofs straining under the weight of snow made heavier by the rain could be shoveled.
East Valley made the unusual step to request help from employees and community residents. About 60 people showed up at local schools on Tuesday to help, said district spokeswoman Judi Christianson. Even Superintendent John Glenewinkel showed up to lend a hand. “He’s a good shoveler,” said Christianson, who also helped clear sidewalks. “It was fun. I could not lift my arms and shoulders (that) night.”
Every school had its roof cleared. “I can’t bake enough cookies for our custodial and maintenance staff,” she said. “They’ve been working around the clock.”
Central Valley hired crews early in the week to work on school roofs, but the crews were sent home on Wednesday. “We were up on all the roofs and found that a lot of snow had melted so we sent the crews home,” said spokeswoman Melanie Rose.
More parents than usual were driving students to school at some schools, said Rose, but the first day of classes on Thursday went well. “We had extra help at a lot of our elementary schools to help the kids who were walking around the berms,” she said. “The kids seem really excited to be back.”
Freeman School District opened on Tuesday, then closed on Wednesday for snow removal on roofs. Superintendent Sergio Hernandez said the district sent out an e-mail requesting volunteers to help shovel. About 40 people showed up to help and Hernandez also went up on the roof to help. “It was just a small community effort,” he said.
West Valley closed early in the week to clean off Ness Elementary and Millwood School, which were both found to be nearly at the roof’s load-bearing capacity. “We didn’t know if the rain was going to make them better or worse,” said district spokeswoman Sue Shields. “Luckily the rain is helping.”
Classes seemed to be going smoothly on Thursday after the district’s extended Christmas break. “We haven’t heard of any trauma or drama,” she said.
The schools weren’t alone. Many businesses sprouted work crews on their roofs after some shops came tumbling down under several feet of snow. Other businesses such as the Value Village at Sprague and McDonald shut down as a precaution after the roof showed signs of stress. The store was closed nearly a week before reopening on Tuesday.
Pool World general manager Mark Henderson had crews up clearing his roof after a business next to the north side Pool World collapsed. “We put a bunch of people up there and got it done,” he said. “It’s a difficult winter.”
Even those who spent the last three weeks helping others hampered by the weather didn’t escape unharmed. Spokane Valley Fire has seen damage to several fire stations, said Deputy Chief Larry Rider. Gutters have been torn off and air conditioning units have been damaged by falling snow and ice. “We had two roof loads dump off and flatten fences,” he said.
Five of the district’s 11 buildings have damage related snow or water. “It’s been a challenging three weeks of maintaining emergency facilities that are open 24/7,” he said.
Station 1 on Sprague Avenue across from University City has been particularly battered. Cracks in the foundation are letting in water generated by the melting snow. “Station 1 is taking on water,” Rider said. “We have roof damage, we have drywall damage and we also have water coming in through the floor in a couple places.”
The district recently finished a remodeling project at the station. “Now we’re going to do some more,” he said.
All that’s left now is picking up the pieces. The foremost thing on the minds of many students and parents is whether the snow days will have to be made up, as some school districts did last year.
“We’re already hearing that question,” said Rose. “Because an emergency has been declared the school board could decide to apply to have those days waived, exactly like last year.”
A decision on that could be weeks away. “That dialogue hasn’t even begun,” said Christianson. “We have options.”