The Payson school board this week approved final plans for a state-funded replacement of the structurally unsound roof over the old high school gym.
The Arizona School Facilities board will foot the $750,000 bill for the project, which includes an extra $160,000 to remove ceiling tiles laced with lung-damaging asbestos.
The school board a month ago had balked at approving the first draft of the plans, mostly due to concerns about whether the roof would have a steep enough slope to induce heavy loads of snow to slide off.
The revised plans boosted the total price by about 1 percent, but embraced all the changes suggested by the board after the review of the preliminary plans.
The Arizona School Facilities Board has also approved the changes and will cover the cost of the repairs.
The engineering report that indicated the condition of the roof raised health and safety concerns prompted the state agency to approve the project, even though the state this year has all but eliminated funding for capital improvements in schools. Only “health and safety” repairs had a chance for funding — and precious few of those ultimately won approval.
“We are very appreciative to be able to go forward,” board president Barbara Underwood told a school facilities board project coordinator who attended the Monday board meeting. “We were putting a lot of people at risk.”
The main change in the plans involved raising the height of the roof enough at the peak to make it drop four feet for each 12 feet of slope, instead of just three feet.
The board had objected that Valley architects designing buildings in Rim Country often fail to consider the impact of the occasional heavy snowfall, which can put an enormous strain on a roof —especially one without a steep slope.
Architects also modified plans to include hidden rain gutters to divert water from the roof away from the roof of an adjacent building and from a paved area.
In addition, the architects eliminated proposed windows on the west side of the building.
The architects had originally assumed the district would want the windows to admit natural light. However, board members pointed out that the windows would create glare on the basketball court and make it hard to darken the interior for special events and shows.
So the architects eliminated the windows, which actually helped offset the increased cost of a steeper pitch and the rain gutters.
The board seemed aghast at the $160,000 price tag for removing the asbestos ceiling tiles — which accounts for 20 percent of the cost of the whole project.
“Is this normal for an asbestos removal?” asked board member Kim Pound.
“I’m afraid it is,” said Bill Close, presenting the plans for RT Architects.
Superintendent Casey O’Brien said the project includes $28,000 to pay for oversight of the process and $132,000 for the actual removal.
Workers with breathers outfitted in hazardous waste suits will have to keep the ceiling tiles moist as they remove them to keep crystals of asbestos from ending up in people’s lungs, where they can cause lung ailments like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Mined from the earth, builders frequently used the fibers mixed into ceiling tiles for their sound absorption and fireproofing, as well as in electrical insulation.
Asbestos in ceiling tiles poses no danger unless the tiles are broken up and release fibers into the air.
The gym roof project will require specially trained workers to lay plywood down on the gym floor and drape the interior of the gym with plastic sheeting when they remove the tiles.
The project will include sealing the entire building and setting up a self-contained air handling system with filters to catch any stray particles and protect the workers, who will each have their own masks and breathing apparatus.
Close said the changes requested by the board would only increase the total cost by about 1 percent — which works out to about $7,500.