Cracked Ceiling Closes Down Old Gym

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A roughly 80-foot-long crack in the old Payson High School gym ceiling has prompted safety concerns and forced school officials to order the basketball court off limits until repairs can be made.

Fortunately, an outside engineering firm has concluded the roof’s structure remains sound and has recommended minor changes to fix the crack, which could allow the district to re-open the gym.

The crack has been evident for years, but recently PHS physical education teacher Bill Goodwin and PUSD Maintenance Director Todd Poer noticed the split had worsened.

“He (Poer) followed up with our insurance company,” said schools superintendent Casey O’Brien. “They deal exclusively with school facilities and they recommended that we not use the gym until we had their engineer take a look at it.”

About two weeks ago, the court section was closed, which forced Goodwin and girls physical education teach Kelly Krieg to hold classes either in the two old gym weight rooms or outside on the track.

Those students who had lockers in the two basement locker rooms on the East side of the gym had to be reassigned others.

Either Goodwin or Krieg had to escort students across the gym floor beneath the crack when they entered the building to clean out their lockers.

Goodwin said closing the gym was a huge inconvenience, but was necessary in the interest of student safety.

Closing the gym meant freshmen and junior varsity basketball teams could no longer play or practice there. PHS athletic director Rob Varner, also the principal at Julia Randall Elementary School, immediately moved games and practices to the new gym facility at JRE.

For the Holiday Hoops girls basketball tournament played in late December, some games originally scheduled for the old gym were moved to JRE.

However, the engineer called in to inspect the gym ceiling and roof told school officials there are no structural defects that warrant closing the gym.

“That’s the good news, but the gym is fairly old and with settling, there has been movement in the beams and rafters; consequently ceiling cracks,” said O’Brien. “It is safe to use.”

“But the one caveat to that is that should we see a load in excess of 10 pounds per square foot, which equates to two feet of snow, we would close the gym until the snow melts.”

That was the recommendation of the engineer who inspected the gym and O’Brien says the district will follow his guidelines.

Currently, district workers are making repairs that include “stitching” across the drywall crack with 8-foot, 1x6 timbers.

The repair method was recommended by an engineer, but “the only permanent remedy for the cracking is to replace the roof, ceiling support structure and the ceiling,” said O’Brien.

The stitching is expected be completed this week and the gym could reopen today, Jan. 14.

However, “we will only reopen if we have the green light from the engineer to do so,” said O’Brien.

Old-timers will remember that the roof of the gym collapsed in 1967 under a heavy snow load after a storm paralyzed the Rim Country with up to three feet of snow.

Since then, many PHS and visiting coaches have questioned the architecture of the gymnasium and questioned the decision of building a facility with a more or less flat roof in a mountain area where it snows.

Some have concluded that the Valley-based architecture firm that designed the building did not take snow load into consideration.

O’Brien believes that snow loads of the past decade “have contributed to the (current) problem.”

The stitching will slap an architectural Band-Aid on an aging facility the superintendent would like to see replaced by a new gym.

That option, however, is cost prohibitive with the budget constraints the district is now operating under, school officials said.

During efforts to reopen the gym, O’Brien is lauding Poer for “his vigilance in this matter.”

“Student safety,” the superintendent added, “is always our first priority and Todd acted immediately once he determined there was a potential problem.”

O’Brien also thanked Varner for allowing the PHS basketball teams to use the JRE gym and continue practice and playing schedules without interruption.

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