REDMOND, Ore. - The winter of 2016-17 was one for the record books in Central Oregon and much of the state. Multiple storms dropping two feet of snow at a time caught K-12 educators in the region off guard, causing numerous school cancellations and forcing administrators into snowy, uncharted territory.
Friday marked one year since a winter storm caused the closure of M.A. Lynch Elementary due to roof snow load concerns, and as Superintendent Mike McIntosh puts it, caused him to “lose 10 years of his life” due to stress.
The Redmond School District’s decision to cancel school at Lynch was largely prompted by the gym roof collapse at Bend-La Pine School District’s Highland Magnet School at Kenwood Elementary the same morning. Luckily, no one was in the gym at the time and no students or staff were injured.
Built in 1965, Lynch’s roof was constructed with two huge, wood glulam beams. Bearing the full weight of several feet of snow, the beams began to sag and dropped the ceiling about four inches - enough to lower the ceiling tiles and prevent doors from opening and closing.
After hearing about the roof collapse in the neighboring district, and with several feet of snow piled up on Lynch’s roof, McIntosh said he couldn’t risk the lives of students and staff. He sent everyone in the building home the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 12 and immediately began a plan for snow removal at Lynch and other district buildings.
McIntosh looks back on that day and the immediate days after not in the fondest of terms.
“Boy, that day did a number on me and our entire team,” McIntosh recalled in a news release Friday from the school district. “We had just returned to school after several days due to snow cancellations, the roof collapsed in Bend and my staff at Lynch can’t even open and shut their classroom doors. That was all I needed to know; I instructed Lynch to send the kids home. It’s never an easy decision to cancel school, but when it comes to the safety of our kids, it’s a no-brainer.”
The district’s other building roofs were not experiencing the same immediate threat as Lynch, but several feet of piled and drifted snow was a whole new challenge for the district. In addition, the district office received many calls from other buildings reporting new creaks and leaks they hadn’t experienced before with wet and falling ceiling tiles. A roof collapse at any of their buildings wasn’t something the district was willing to risk, McIntosh explained.
Removing several feet of snow off of a 30,000 square foot building isn’t as simple as sticking a couple of people on the roof with snow shovels, Tony Pupo explained. Pupo serves as the Director of Operations for the district and oversaw the snow removal effort at Lynch and other school buildings.
The district first sent local engineering firm Ashley & Vance Engineering of Bend to every school building to assess the seriousness of the snow load at each building. Newer schools (Ridgeview High School, Sage Elementary) with sloped metal roofs did not require attention like the older buildings (Lynch Elementary, Tumalo Community School) with flat, thermoplastic polyolefin surfaces.
After prioritizing the buildings, the district contracted with a disaster recovery firm to deploy workers with snow blowers and shovels. Over 100 workers worked day and night, often until 1 a.m., to quickly remove the snow and ensure the safety of students and staff.
The winter that seemed to never end finally did, although it left district buildings with some scars and repairs to make, and served as a reminder about the importance of building maintenance and safety.
“It was quite a few nerve-racking days for the district, but we made it through without any injuries to students, staff, or the folks helping us with snow removal,” McIntosh said. “It was definitely a wake up call about the need to address critical maintenance and safety issues at our schools and possibly replace others before the next major winter weather event strikes.”