February 19, 2011

Town rallies to help re-open schools Article | ReminderNews Vernon CT

Article ReminderNews: "Town rallies to help re-open schools"

Vernon students had an unexpected week of vacation from Feb . 1 to Feb . 7 , as winter storms piled so much snow on the roofs of school buildings that officials wanted to be sure of their safety before allowing students inside .

Before the Board of Education’s special meeting on Feb . 7 to officially approve its budget for 2011-2012 ,  all schools were expected to re-open on Feb . 8 . Despite another snowfall that morning , they all did .

Mayor Jason McCoy sent out emails at approximately the same time , stating that the schools were safe .

“ I am proud to announce that the school buildings no longer face imminent structural danger , as a result of dedicated workers and volunteers from throughout the community , ” McCoy said . “ After a briefing from my staff and the BOE’s structural engineer , I have decided to close down emergency operations and the Emergency Operations Center , as there is no longer an emergency situation or threat from imminent danger . The snow loads on the buildings have been inspected and certified by the engineer and they are within the code limits prescribed by Connecticut Code . ”

Conway said when the emergency had been declared over , the control of the remaining cleanup at the schools was turned back over to her office .
Town workers began clearing the roofs on Feb . 2 . By Feb . 4 , the task had seemed so large that town employees were asked to volunteer , and members of the National Guard were deployed to help , via town requests to the state .
On Feb . 4 , the town also sent automated phone calls asking Vernon residents to volunteer to help , and many did . McCoy said the volume of snow on the schools and town buildings was calculated , as were the man-hours required to remove it all , and it was clear that more people were needed .

An estimated 17 . 4 million pounds of snow were removed from roofs of municipal buildings , McCoy said , calling that estimate conservative .
“ People just showed up with snow shovels at the high school , ” Conway said . “ It was just phenomenal . ”

On Saturday , Feb . 5 , McCoy had convened an emergency meeting of the Town Council to appropriate additional funds for snow-removal efforts . The council approved an amount of $ 90 , 000 .
Of larger concern was Maple Street School , which had received significant water damage to four of its classrooms .

Conway said several options were considered for the remediation of the damage , including possibly having students utilize another school building temporarily , or perhaps the Board of Education building itself .
However , late in the afternoon on Feb . 8 , it was determined that Maple Street School could re-open along with the rest of the district , and students in the four damaged classrooms would learn their lessons in other parts of the building . A reading room , a computer lab , and a boys’ bathroom also were damaged . Conway said the floor in the computer lab was also heavily damaged . Dehumidifiers are being used in the classrooms , and painters were being called to correct the cosmetic damage to ceilings and walls .

“ The roof is cleared , and the building is safe , ” Conway said . “ We are 100 percent in our own schools , and we are delighted with that . We expect the cleanup to be less than three weeks . ”
At Skinner Road School , there was concern over snow on the large canopies at the entrance of the school . Students were entering and exiting from the rear doors of the building until the snow was removed .
McCoy said the impetus for the school closing was that engineers had determined that some roofs were carrying loads upwards of 50 pounds per square foot – well above the general standards of 21 pounds per square foot , although he added that several schools and town buildings are rated higher .

Tests of the weight load on the roof of Vernon Middle School were at or near limits in a few areas as of Feb . 7 , but Conway said cleanup was continuing in the areas of the roof where snow was still heavy , especially since the possibility of more snow could put those areas over the limit .

Conway thanked the district’s custodians , many of whom had worked extra shifts , as well as contractors , who were still continuing the efforts .
Once all the schools are totally cleared of snow , Conway said she hoped such an effort would not be necessary again this winter .
“ I can’t imagine we’re going to get another 80 inches between now and April 1 , ” she said . “ We’re not anticipating having to do this again . We will be talking about roof maintenance , as part of our preventive maintenance , as we go along . ”

As of Feb . 10 , Vernon schools had accumulated nine snow days . At a meeting on Feb . 9 , the Board of Education voted to revise the school year, eliminating the vacation week from Feb . 21-25 . This would allow for school to end on June 23 , with RHS graduation taking place on June 22 . If more than two more snow days occur , the plan is to begin to cut days from April vacation .

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