Heavy snow loads damage school buildings in Petersburg

A classroom with ceiling tiles missing and a garbage can set up to catch leaking water
Jim Engell’s high school social studies room is one of the classroom ceilings that sustained damage from heavy snow loads. (Photo courtesy of Petersburg School District)

Petersburg School District buildings sustained damage from the heavy snowfall in December and January.

Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter says most of the damage happened at the middle and high schools.

“There’s been damage on the front of the building near the library. There’s been damage on the back side,” she said. “The band is actually practicing in the auditorium right now because there were some substantial leaks.”

The ceiling of the band room sustained significant damage. There is a huge water stain many feet across and missing tiles indicating where the water had seeped through. Other classrooms also had some damage to their ceilings, as did the library.

Kludt-Painter says most of it stemmed from ice chunks building up on top of the roofs.

“Once they finally came down, they sounded like a car hitting the building, they were so huge,” she said.

The school district has been working with its insurance company and adjusters, who took a lot of photos last week. One of the causes of the leaks is the building’s flat design. The high school section of roof is 36 years old, and the middle school is just a few years younger. Another area of roof, including the gym, is around 40 years old.

“This is a huge campus with a lot of flat roofs, unfortunately in Southeast Alaska,” said Kludt-Painter.

The newer elementary school fared better. Kludt-Painter says that building is easier to maintain because of its single-story shape.

“The new — which is now 10 years old or so — the roof at the elementary held up pretty darn well,” Kludt-Painter said. “Over there, there were no leaks. There were of course, cracks here and there in some ceiling tiles and things like that, but overall the roof did its job.”

The cost to fix the damages is still unknown.

Large water marks and missing tiles in a classroom ceiling
The band room ceiling sustained damage from substantial leaks in the roof. (Photo courtesy of Petersburg School District)

A roof replacement for the secondary schools has been at the top of the district’s capitol list of projects. It’s also on the borough’s capitol projects list.

“It’s been a need,” said Kludt-Painter. “And of course it’s got the multi-level — I mean, it’s a beautiful building — but it’s a real problem when you have ice build-up and water and snow and all those things.”

A total roof replacement would likely cost millions of dollars. Kludt-Painter says the project will probably be done in pieces. Insurance will pay for some sections of it that were affected by the snow and ice.

Right now, the district has a maintenance director with three or four custodians. They are trying to fill the assistant maintenance position. The crew used a snow blower on parts of the roof over the Christmas break. That was followed by dozens of volunteers shoveling off snow after the break. But it wasn’t enough to prevent the damages.

School was closed at the middle and high schools during the first week of January because of the heavy snow loads on the roofs. The district will be making up those days on in-service days Feb. 21 and April 15 instead of extending the school year further into June.

KFSK - Petersburg

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