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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Valley school districts clear the roofs

School employees, residents help shovel sidewalks, too

The three Spokane Valley school districts took a look at the snow on their roofs and the rain in the forecast and collectively decided to cancel classes on Tuesday in order to shovel snow off of school roofs.

East Valley asked employees and community residents to come by any school between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday to help with snow-removal efforts. Many of the roofs on East Valley schools have been plagued with leaks, which led the district to try to pass a construction bond twice in 2008 to pay for repair and replacement.

“We realized we need to take it all off,” said spokeswoman Judi Christianson. “They’re aging and they need to be replaced.”

Local resident Dan Emert used his day off to help shovel the gym roof at Otis Orchards Elementary. He leads a Boy Scout troop at the school.

Otis custodian Boyd Schnell was clearly concerned about the flat gym roof. “We have an old side of the gym and a new side because it was doubled in size,” he said. “It’s got about two feet of drifted snow up there and it’s wet and getting wetter.”

Schnell and head custodian Mike Powers were limiting the number of people up on the roof to four. “It wobbles when you walk,” Powers said. “You can feel it shaking.”

Staff kept the heat on over Christmas break to help snow melt away. “That probably means we’re in better shape,” Schnell said. “But when you’re talking a gym roof, the water in the center has nowhere to go. I hope I’m wrong, but we’re going to lose some gyms in town. It’s never been this bad since ’69.”

Some signs of roof stress were visible, Schnell said. “We’ve already had beams separate on the stage,” he said. “We’ve got our fingers crossed.”

All over the district, teachers arrived to help with shovels in hand. Otis third-grade teacher Lauren Waterbury was shoveling the sidewalk in front of her school. “Mike and Boyd have been working their tails off,” she said. “We want to make sure when (the students) come that it’s safe.”

At Skyview Elementary several teachers and administrators lent a hand to the effort of clearing the main sidewalk of two inches of ice. Kindergarten teacher Haley Ochse used a metal shovel to jab and smash the ice. “There was an e-mail for help.”

At Broadway Elementary in the Central Valley School District a hired crew was spending a second day clearing the roof. The crew was leaving about an inch of snow behind to avoid damaging the roof and creating leaks.

“With shoveling off a roof, you have a chance at damage,” said head custodian Ron Overbeck. “There’s a rubber membrane over the whole roof.”

The blueprints to the school were spread over a table in the gym so school staff could check the location of all the drains and vents on the roof. Principal Eileen Utecht said she woke up at 2 a.m. n Tuesday worried about the storm drain in the parking lot being blocked. “These are the kinds of things you worry about,” she said.

Utecht was also worrying about the first day back for students. She planned to shift the location of crosswalks to make them safer and to have teachers stationed outside to lead kids through traffic if necessary. “We’ll see how things go,” she said.

Central Valley also cleared off a portion of the sidewalk along the southbound lanes of Pines so students walking to North Pines Middle School would have a place to walk. The district also prepared a letter to be sent home with students encouraging parents to drive their children to school if possible.

District spokeswoman Melanie Rose said there were no firm numbers yet on how much the effort would cost the district. Alliance Excavation was hired to shovel the roofs and the district has been paying for parking lot plowing and overtime for maintenance staff. The district did have some money in the budget for snow removal, but it won’t be enough.

“We weren’t really expecting this level of snow removal,” she said. “We’ll have to trim in other areas to offset the costs.”

West Valley had planned to open on Tuesday until they had a structural engineer take a second look at a few roofs. Ness Elementary was found to be near the load limit capacity and the district decided to shut down classes on Tuesday to take care of the issue and also shovel other roofs. “We have to check them all,” said district spokeswoman Sue Shields. “We just want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to be safe.”

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