GLE & Bryant Roof Maintenance Well Documented
By Gary Niemi
Time continues to move us closer to the School District Referendum in April. I think many of our District residents will find it helpful to get more information about the issues that we face in managing all the District facilities. A primary goal of the upcoming referendum is to enhance the school environment for our students and staff. This will promote learning and teaching by continually improving the physical structures and increase our ability to let all our children live, learn and work successfully.
As the Director of Buildings and Grounds for the District, it is my job to lead department personnel to operate, sustain, maintain, repair and protect all District facilities efficiently and effectively. The great people that work in Buildings and Grounds take care of many of the basic needs of our students and staff, such as physical and safety. We try to make sure that school conditions support and promote learning.
A fundamental part of this is protecting our indoor school environment from the elements. Water, in the form of rain or snow, constantly tries to get inside our buildings and create problems. It is not only damaging by itself, but it also creates conditions that can damage the building structure, finishes and equipment, as well as affecting indoor environmental quality.
The pictures shown below were taken of the roof at Bryant Elementary School, and show typical failures seen every year during roof inspections. They are caused when small gaps in the glue or sealant get wedged open by membrane shrinkage and pieces of the roof membrane are then pried apart by the action of freezing water.
We have made many informational presentations about the April Referendum and our proposed plans. During these presentations, I have been asked, “why do we need to replace the roofs on these schools,” and “how come we did not do a better job of maintaining them so they don’t need to be replaced?”
These are both valid questions that are posed because people want to know that we have acted professionally and been good stewards of the taxpayer money and other resources we have received to operate and maintain our schools. On the other hand, I am aware of others who state that we have not maintained these roofs properly. This statement is simply misinformed.
Our current electronic work order system has documentation of sixteen roof repairs at Bryant and ten roof repairs at Great Lakes in the past seven years. That’s more than two per year at Bryant and about three every two years at Great Lakes. We also perform a yearly inspection of all roofs in the District. These inspections include Bryant and Great Lakes.
Prior to our current work order system there is evidence on both of these roofs of earlier roof maintenance and repairs in the form of patching and sealing material. We have a concerned, professional staff that is dedicated to keeping our buildings maintained. They work hard to find and then fix any leaks in these roof membranes.
There are many factors that contribute to the roof leaks at Bryant and Great Lakes. Two of the most significant factors are the age of the roof membranes and the fact that these roofs are ballasted. First, let’s look at roof age. These roofs have a rubber sheet that is the water resistant layer. This rubber shrinks as it ages, and twenty years ago the rubber formula was not as stable as it is now.
Shrinkage puts the roof membrane in tension and essentially rips open any small holes or gaps that occur. A process similar to you ripping open a plastic bag.
The second factor is the rock ballast on the roof membrane. The rubber membrane is not fastened to the building, except at the edges, and the rock ballast is used to weigh down the rubber sheet so the wind does not blow it away. The rock ballast can hide items such as screws and nails that were dropped on the roof during construction. It can also fracture due to age and temperature changes.
Either of these can then puncture the rubber membrane. Since the rock ballast covers the entire roof it hides any punctures or seams that open up. We end up shoveling many tons of rock ballast around the roof in our efforts to locate leaks.
A few years back, we started working with the engineers and architects at LHB to assess our facilities and list and prioritize our building needs. Roof issues, especially those at Great Lakes and Bryant, rose high on the list in this process. Because of the cost of replacing these roofs, these two projects became part of our “must have” list for the Referendum.
After reviewing our maintenance records, and considering the age of the current roofs at these two elementary schools, LHB Architect Kevin Holm made the following recommendation:
“Patching of the roofs at Great Lakes and Bryant has been in progress for 8-10 years. The increase in required patching frequency and the degradation of the existing roof materials now make maintaining the roof a financial loss due to required man hours, success rate and damaged materials within the building. In addition, the time and cost associated with maintaining these roofs that are beyond life expectancy is taking money from maintenance budget to repair and extend the life of viable systems that if neglected will degrade quicker. Replacement of roofs is a natural progression in the care of all buildings.”
I understand and appreciate the concerns of those who feel that the District should “fix” our existing roofs. In fact, we will continue to attempt repairs until we can replace these roofs. However, we cannot turn back the hands of time, and the cost of trying to repair these existing roofs will greatly exceed the replacement cost.
The continued development of new leaks in these roofs, and the rising cost of repairs will definitely detract from our children’s learning environment. The effect of this status quo “solution” is exactly opposite of the primary goal of the upcoming Referendum. We must replace these roofs now so that we can use the money that would have been spent on repairs to invest in school projects that boost the educational environment.
We need to heed Will Rogers, who said, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
For more information about issues with roofs at our schools, see this article from Explore Superior published on December 2, 2015: Roof Concerns at Elementary Schools