Maintenance Management: Restoring Confidence

A leaky school roof can damage more than just the contents of the building. It can erode the confidence that parents have in school administrators.

That's what happened in one district where leaky roofs plagued a school for years. It began in the 1970s when the building was built. The unique design, particularly on portions of the roof, led to problems. The roof leaked in some places as soon as construction was complete.

The roof was under warranty, and the manufacturer returned several times to fix the problem. Some areas never were repaired sufficiently. However, the school is situated in a dry climate and seldom displayed signs of building damage.

In the mid-1980s, the district put a new roof on the building. Instead of replacing the original engineering, the roof received a new cover made of a similar material. Soon, the building experienced problems as before.

In 1997, the district tried a different approach. It put on a PVC-roofing material that was guaranteed not to leak. For the first four years, it fulfilled its promise. But those years were during the beginning of a drought cycle.

Last summer, the biggest hailstorm in years hit the area. District maintenance personnel examined the school's roof, but detected little damage. A junior high school two blocks away had the same roof installed during the same summer and did not appear damaged either.

Months later, a large snowstorm hit. Two weeks later another snowstorm slammed the area. They piled 12 inches of snow on area roofs.

The second storm was followed by a warm spell, and as the snow melted, it poured through the roof and caused significant damage. Ceiling tile was damaged, vinyl floor coverings were ruined, carpets were soaked, and teaching and student materials were destroyed.

As soon as this happened, the maintenance director informed the manufacturer of the roof's condition. The company said its 10-year guarantee did not apply, citing the hailstorm as an “act of God.” The two parties, along with the state's risk-management department, have been embroiled ever since in a dispute over who is responsible for the leakage. Meanwhile, the roof continues to leak. One class has been moved to another room because of the leaks in its space.

For parents, the stories about the leaks, the damage to the building, and the disruption to the students and staff have grown from an inconvenience to a possible health and safety risk. Many have questioned the integrity of the building. What had been a slight disruption to the learning process mushroomed into a serious issue, largely because the district did not communicate effectively with parents.

Sometimes school maintenance is more than just completing work orders, setting up and spending budgets, supervising people and seeing that the work gets done. While talk may sometimes seem cheap, communication can help avoid trouble.

Shaw, former assistant facilities director at the College of Eastern Utah, Price, is a maintenance industry analyst. He can be reached at [email protected].

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