[wpaudio url=”http://www.mycitizensnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/LRMS-Roof.mp3″ text=”Soggy Days at Long River”]
PROSPECT — A quarter of an inch. It’s a seemingly negligible measurement, in the scheme of a 59,736 square-foot roofing project, but it is, in fact, the most important one.
When Long River Middle School was constructed, in 1971, building codes required its “flat” roof to slope a quarter inch per linear foot, to facilitate draining. Almost four decades later, as the Region 16 school district plans to replace the school’s original roof, building codes have changed. The roof must now slope a half inch per linear foot, and it’s that quarter-inch difference which is largely to blame for a projected $1.9 million price tag, on which Prospect and Beacon Falls residents will vote at a March 30 referendum.
“If you have a span of roof, and let’s call it 60 feet,” said Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Jim Agostine, diagramming the LRMS roof on a piece of paper in his office last week, “what that means is you have 30 feet from [the drain in the center] to the edge. You’re going to have a new 15-inch elevation that pitches to that drain. … Now you’ll notice that the original soffit of the building has to be increased in height by 15 inches. So the whole perimeter of the building has to be re-soffited, in order to do that.”
Soffits are the framework beneath the roof’s surface; the project would entail not only replacing the surface, which leaks, but also the framework. Essentially, the school must get taller to accommodate a steeper roof.
The pitch change comes with two additional complications: One is that the roof’s 60 penetrations—drains, skylights and the like—would have to be reset. Another is that points where roof meets wall would be higher than before, meaning a contractor would have to relay some of the school’s exterior brick and replace the flashing that protects joints from leakage.
“That drives the cost right up through the roof because that’s very tricky work, it’s very specific work, and it’s skilled work,” Agostine said. “If you mess up flashing, you might as well not replace the roof.”
Still another cost-climber is asbestos remediation.
One problem that does not plague Long River’s roof is mold, a pleasant surprise, given its age and composition. When the original began to fail, in the late 1980s, the district, rather than tear off the roof, covered it with a rubberized material, which Agostine likened to a rain jacket. Despite the fact that moisture collects between the rubber layer and the original roof, causing heaving in the winter and vapor bubbles in the summer, BL Companies, the Meriden-based firm that performed preliminary design work, found no evidence of mold.
However, there are other signs of damage to the building, according to Long River Principal Jayne Lanphear. Positioning five-gallon buckets under leaks is standard procedure during a storm, she says. After a particularly heavy snowfall in December, several ceiling tiles collapsed, causing damage to the school’s computer lab, choral room and multiple classrooms; the district estimated the harm at $5,000.
“The minute we get a hard rain—or even a sprinkle—we get anxious,” Lanphear said. “A lot of the water on the roof has been frozen, but now we’re in the spring thaw. So even if it’s nice outside, it might be raining in here.”
Education officials advocating repairs have made an ally of their most influential neighbor. Prospect Mayor Bob Chatfield, who says he often visits the school, which sits behind Town Hall, plans to vote in favor of the roof project.
“I’ve seen the buckets in the hallways and the water on the floors, which is dangerous. And two thoughts I have: One, hopefully because they’re doing a raised type of roof application that it might save some heat. And two, if something’s not done, I’m afraid we might have a mold problem [in the future,] and that wouldn’t be healthy either.”
The proposed project would replace roughly two-thirds of the school’s total roof area; the remaining third was part of Long River’s 1995 expansion and is still in good shape. BL Companies, which would serve as project supervisor, has recommended a three-ply modified bituminous roofing material, which it describes as an asphalt-polymer blend, guaranteed by the manufacturer to last 30 years.
While the project’s estimated cost—and the figure that will appear on this month’s referendum—is $1.9 million, the actual burden on local taxpayers would be significantly less. The state would cover 70.71 percent of the cost, more than $1.3 million, leaving Region 16 to pay for the $573,000 remainder.
Based on enrollment, Prospect would be responsible for $347,198 and Beacon Falls for $225,762.
All of those figures could be smaller, if the district receives a contractor’s bid of less than $1.9 million.
“Right now, it’s very favorable, in terms of pricing,” Region 16 Interim Business Manager Hugh Potter said. “We’re going to be able to get some low bids and really good roofing contractors that are experts in this built-up roofing process. I think we’re going to be able to get very, very competitive numbers.”
The school board plans to spread the cost over a four-year bond and hopes to secure a low interest rate in the neighborhood of 1 percent.
Chatfield, who has already pitched a 5 percent budget increase for his town, in 2010-11, says he does not believe municipal spending increases will deter residents from voting in favor of the roof project. Town and education costs are “two different subjects,” he insists.
In Beacon Falls, a budget increase is also likely, according to First Selectman Sue Cable. She says the roof project is necessary, though, and expects residents will support it more enthusiastically than they will other, municipal costs.
“It’s a health hazard, the way things are now,” Cable said. “We just remodeled that whole beautiful building, [in 1995]. We don’t want to screw things up, so it’s one of those necessary things that we have to do. So I’m supportive of it, and I will be voting yes.”