Polson High School winter sports took a hit when an avalanche of ice, snow and bricks smashed through the roof of the locker rooms at the Linderman Elementary School on Saturday.
The incident occurred after a three-foot parapet atop the gymnasium gave way under the weight of snow and ice that had accumulated from a storm the week before, said Polson School Superintendent Rex Weltz.
The gymnasium is the facility that Polson High School basketball and wrestling teams use to host home games and matches.
While it appears that the load-bearing walls of the structure weren’t affected, Weltz said it’s unlikely the gymnasium will reopen again this school year.
Two structural engineers said Monday the gymnasium building was sound following the collapse of the parapet and damage to the adjoining locker rooms.
“We have developed a plan of attack based on their recommendations,” Weltz said.
Work started Monday to stabilize sections of the parapet that didn’t fall Saturday. In the near future, workers also will shore up the outside wall of the locker room to ensure that it doesn’t collapse.
“The south wall of the locker room does have a bow in it,” Weltz said. “We want to get that wall braced to make sure we don’t lose it if we get more snow falling off the roof.”
The school district was in the process of working with a structural engineer and an architectural firm to shore up the short wall that rings the gym’s roof when it failed.
“It was the perfect storm of events that led to this,” Weltz said.
It began with a storm that brought heavy snow and high winds to the area almost two weeks ago. That storm’s strong north wind created a heavy drift on the south side of the building against the three-foot brick parapet.
The parapet was separate from the main load-bearing wall of the building.
Weltz said the district’s maintenance director noticed the parapet was bulging last Monday.
At that point, the district closed the gym. While there was never a concern about the building’s roof collapsing, Weltz said the potential of the parapet falling on the locker room was a worry from the beginning.
Early on, Weltz said it was deemed too dangerous to put anyone up on the roof.
The structural engineer and officials from the architectural firm recommended tying the wall back in the building’s rafters. The district hired a construction firm that was scheduled to begin that work this week.
Before that happened, temperatures rose and the snow and ice on top of the gym roof began sliding down toward the parapet.
“It began acting almost like a glacier,” Weltz said. “It began making these big ice logs that were up to two-feet in diameter. Those came down and crashed into the parapet wall.”
About 2:30 p.m. Saturday, the wall failed and the snow, ice and bricks came crashing down through the locker room roof.
“There were a couple of sheets of ice,” Weltz said. “The first one landed on top of the roof. The second is now sitting on the locker room’s floor.”
As a result of the incident, Weltz said the gym remained closed. Due to some electrical and plumbing damage that resulted from the parapet collapse, the school’s library and music rooms also were vacated.
Weltz said he appreciates the efforts of the school’s administration, staff and the local community to pull together to find a workable solution to meet the challenge.
Until further notice, the district is asking parents to drop off and pick up their students at the front of the building and away from where the damage occurred. Buses also will be using the front of the school.
High school officials are working on a plan for practice space for student athletes and locations for home games that will have to be moved.
“Not having that gym hurts,” Weltz said. “We are going to be short of practice space. It will impact other organizations in the community, too. It’s going to put a lot of pressure on the facilities that remain open.”
Before moving forward, the district will do some additional tests on the gymnasium’s walls to ensure that it’s worth saving.
“Both structural engineers deemed the gym safe,” Weltz said. “They said there was no structural damage. ... That gives us hope that we can bring it back to life.”