Chairman of the Boards

July 1, 1997
As the nation's educational facilities grow older, schools are finding that one of the areas requiring more attention is bleachers. Because of budget

As the nation's educational facilities grow older, schools are finding that one of the areas requiring more attention is bleachers. Because of budget constraints, it has been a growing dilemma for administrators to determine what is best for aging sets of bleachers--replacement or renovation. The costs can be astronomical because bleachers for spectator seating are among the single most expensive pieces of equipment in a school.

The standard used to be that if bleachers were more than 20 years old, it was time to replace them. By that time, many installations were beginning to show signs of wear and tear, often because bleachers were neglected or installations were unsafe. Today, more schools are turning to bleacher repair as a cost-effective alternative to total replacement.

Adhering to codes Depending on what state your school is located, your building--even your bleacher seating--may be subject to different codes. Some of the more readily recognized national codes are issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA), and Uniform Building Code (UBC).

State officials select which national code to adopt and often modify it or reference other codes to set state standards. Architects, as well as other design and engineering professionals, tend to lean toward the most stringent code requirements. In the event of an accident or ensuing litigation, national codes may be an important factor on the outcome of whether or not the owner, architect or bleacher-repair contractor was negligent.

Eliminating a potential disaster While bleacher collapse is dramatic and disastrous, it also is a rare occurrence. Most bleacher accidents happen when people fall forward while trying to walk down the bleachers. Proper end rails and hand rails could prevent most accidents.

When considering bleacher renovation, safety is a major issue; however, planning is key. It can take up to one year or more to complete a major bleacher renovation. The process should begin with a bleacher inspection--it is important to determine if the bleachers actually can be renovated and at what cost.

An inspection should start with the understructure and careful examination of all major points of connection, whether they are bolted or welded. Look for bent components and separated connections.

Make sure the vertical columns are plumb, and that all wheels are in place and in contact with the floor. If the toe of the wheel channel is off of the floor, it is an immediate indication of binding in the bleacher structure. It is then important to find out where the binding occurs and what is causing the problem. Also examine the wall ties and anchors to make sure they are secure, as well as hardware connections, row locks, friction floor-lock assemblies and first-row cylinder locks.

The next step is to examine the surface structure or the top of the bleachers. A thorough inspection will include examining all boards for breaks or splits, recording the locations for later reference or when repairs are made. All aisles, end rails, back rails and other accessories should be examined to determine structural worthiness. Record dimensions of the bleachers, and make notes for required repairs or replacement of worn or broken components.

After the on-site inspection is complete, an evaluation can be made as to what repairs are needed and what improvements can be made to meet current safety standards.

Making repairs If the bleachers have a telescoping design, it is likely they can be repaired and improved to meet or approximate current code standards. A renovation often can be done for about 60 to 65 percent of the cost of total replacement.

Guard rails, aisles and aisle hand rails are among the most important improvements that can be retrofitted into an existing telescoping bleacher. End rails, for example, must meet specific design-load criteria and must be designed to prevent passage of a 4-inch sphere.

New self-storing end rails that are permanently mounted to the bleacher automatically extend and stack with the bleachers, and can be retrofitted into most telescoping bleachers. New lightweight 9-line aluminum end rails also are an improvement over the steel-pipe rails. The end rails and back rails must be at least 36 inches above the seat board, and 42 inches above the seat board for outdoor bleachers.

What becomes a safety concern with older telescopic bleachers is the openness and potential hazard of a single foot plank that is only 9- or 10-inches wide--one easily can step into the open space or a small child could fall through. Current retrofit designs provide for an enclosed deck, similar to new bleacher designs.

Adding power Automatic power operation once was considered a luxury, but today's retrofit power operation can be considered a safety feature, can enhance bleacher performance and reduce long-term maintenance.

Retrofit floor-traction power operation can be installed on any telescoping bleacher. It improves safety because the bleacher sections are connected together and the entire bank of bleachers operate as a single unit, eliminating the hazard of open spaces between sections that often develop from misalignment of manual operations. Because the bleachers will operate in a straight line and at a slow rate of speed, maintenance problems are kept to a minimum.

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