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When the roof of Barranca Mesa Elementary School’s gym blew off in May, school officials looked at the incident as a wake-up call. A recent investigation has caused the district and the board to ask some hard questions about building codes and climate change.
At a recent meeting District Assets manager Joan Ahlers reminded the board that not only has building code changed since most of the roofs in the district were installed (25 to 30 years ago) but so has the weather.
“With Barranca and Piñon, in light of the most recent wind event we’ve had, the question raised if the roofs were properly installed. The roofs were installed properly, but they were installed over 25 to 30 years ago... However they are no longer up to code so they all probably need to be replaced,” Ahlers said. “...For example, uplift in this part of the country was never really considered very heavily, uplift was only considered in areas of the country that had hurricanes and tornadoes.”
In recent wind incidents involving roof damage, students were not present. At Barranca, that incident happened on a Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday is a half-day at Barranca.
After some discussions with the district building superintendent Jeff Sargent, Ahlers noted that at least seven roofs need to be replaced.
“The question is how much time does the board want to gamble that a wind event like this isn’t going to happen when a kid is there,” Ahlers said. “I think the board sees where this is going. We’re playing a little bit of a cat-and-mouse game with Mother Nature... and children.”
She then left it to the board to make decision on how to proceed.
Ahlers estimated that to repair and bring the seven roofs up to code, which includes Chamisa and the high school, the district had at least $732,000 worth of roof work that needs to be done. Top priorities mentioned at the meeting were the roofs at Chamisa Elementary and the high school’s Wellness Center, both of which leak.
A part of Chamisa Elementary was heavily damaged recently when a frozen drainage pipe caused water to back up onto the roof and caused large amounts of water to flood the interior of the school.
Complicating matters is the fact that most of the schools on the list are also on another list, a list to be rebuilt through general obligation bond money at some point in the future. If they were to fix the roofs, it could end up being a waste of taxpayer money, or, even worse, the fixes could bar the district from acquiring matching funds from the state, money the district has put to good use and sorely needed in the reconstruction of the high school, the middle school and now Aspen Elementary.
Present at the meeting was Robert Herron, a regional manager with the N.M. Public Schools Facilities Authority. He advised the board that if the district hired an independent roofing consultant to identify whether or not a roof actually needs to be repaired or replaced, PSFA could provide them funding without fear of losing additional funding for future construction projects.
“I like Robert’s suggestion, because sitting right below safety on our list of priorities is our desire to rebuild our schools, honoring our commitments we made to the community,” said Board member Kevin Honnell. “One thing we don’t want to do is put in a new roof and then tear the school down a year and a half later to rebuild it. In the same vein, we don’t want to put in a new roof and find out we improved the quality of the school so much we no longer qualify for any matching funds which kills the project right off.”
In the end, the board directed the district to hire a roofing consultant as well as take $132,000 from $1 million of leftover 2009 bond money used to rebuild the high school and use it to fix the roofs of Chamisa and the Wellness Center.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt said after the meeting that they would be making good use of the roof inspector.
“Inspecting the roofs has always been a part of our 20-year facility plan, but I think the Barranca wind event has heightened our interest in taking a look at all of our roofs,” Schmidt said. “The board has given us guidance to bring in a third-party, independent roof consultant, and we want this person to walk all of our roofs.”