High School Gym Roof Repair Plans Approved

Payson schools land $733,000 in state funding, but hope for a steeper roof, rain gutters

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You won’t have to worry about the high school gym roof collapsing once the Payson Unified School District finishes a $733,000 state-approved reroofing project — but you’d best watch out for the icicles.

The Payson school board approved a plan to shore up the aging gym’s roof, which has already won the state school facilities board approval. In fact, the school facilities board approved only $2 million worth of school improvement projects statewide this year.

“We’re pretty fortunate” to have gotten the project funded this year, said Superintendent Casey O’Brien.

“Of course, it helps when you have an engineer saying ‘it could fall down.’”

Project costs ballooned when engineers discovered asbestos in the ceiling tiles. The builders will now have to wrap the interior with plastic, seal off the floors, wet down the ceiling tiles and carefully remove them through a plastic-wrapped tunnel. The extraordinary precautions to make sure that no one breathes in loose asbestos particles when crews take out the tiles will add about $160,000 to the project’s cost.

As a result, the school facilities board has warned the district it will not pay for any extras and the district will have to pay for any over runs out of its own money.

That means no rain gutters on the repaired roofline, since it would cost thousands of dollars to install gutters and drainpipes — including drainage pipes under the expansive paved areas under the eaves of the gym.

And that means kids will have to keep an eye on the dagger-like icicles that sometimes hang down four-feet or more from the edge of the roof.

Board member Rory Huff asked for updated estimates on how much it would cost to increase the pitch of the roof, so that snow will slide off before the weight gets too great — which decreases the life span of the roof.

The district’s contract architect agreed to work up estimates on what it would cost to make the roof steeper, which would likely raise the overall height by about five feet. He said he will also research whether the school facilities board would pay for the change, since it would increase the life span of the new roof.

Huff suggested the district use a four-to-one pitch instead of the designed three-to-one pitch. He said buildings with three-to-one pitches “have been nothing but problems in the past,” even if they do meet the town code for snow loads.

The architect said if the gym has a steeper roof, it won’t blend in as well with the existing, adjacent buildings.

“It may not look like the other buildings, but the other buildings have been nothing but a problem in the past.”

Board president Barbara Underwood said “I’m not sure the school facilities board will go for the extra expense” of a steeper roof.

Several years ago, a judge ruled unconstitutional the state’s property-tax-dependent system for financing public schools. The system relied on local property taxes, which meant districts with high home values had a lot more money to spend on each student than lower-wealth districts — including Payson.

The ruling forced the state to alter its school financing system by setting up the school facilities board to approve and fund core school improvements. In addition, the Legislature set up “equalization” funding to average out per-student spending. The equalization formula provides Payson with about $3 million annually, which represents about a quarter of its operations and maintenance budget.

The system still allows voters in individual districts to approve budget overrides, which Payson voters did last year — providing the district with an extra $1.2 million. Voters can approve bond issues for certain limited projects, although all the core teaching facilities are funded through the school facilities board.

However, in the past few years the Legislature has all but eliminated funding for the school facilities board, which means districts statewide can only get funding for emergency repair projects — like roofs that might collapse. So while the district lucked out in getting funding for the re-roofing project this year, it has to defer to the school facilities board in designing the project.

The district’s maintenance supervisor said he would much rather have both a steeper roof and gutters along the eaves, to prevent the formation of potentially dangerous icicles. However, installing the gutters would require connecting the downspouts to a drainage pipe — which could requiring jackhammering a 20-foot width of pavement.

Underwood suggested the district try to stay far enough below budget that it would have money left over to add the gutters and drainage. “If there is savings and we end up with money at the end, could we look at gutters then?”

The architect said the schools facilities board “is not interested in doing things they don’t have to do to solve the problem” — the structural integrity of the roof.

“Do we have any money of our own?” asked board member Barbara Shepherd.

“I can’t absolutely say no,” said O’Brien, “but I’m not optimistic.”

The district hopes to get final approval from the school facilities board for the project in the next month and to seek project bids in January. The work would begin in April and wrap up before the onset of the summer monsoon season complicates construction.

Underwood urged the architect to check on a steeper pitch and gutters with the school facilities board, but not to make it sound like a complaint. “Considering how little money they have, we’re very grateful” for the funding on the gym roof project.

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