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Following roof collapse, remaining school building deemed safe for students

District exploring options for restoration

An expert has determined the remaining portion of Lee Middle and High School is safe for students to return to school as scheduled.

All affected classrooms will be relocated to unused or underutilized space on the Lee campus. Parents heard from the expert at a community presentation July 18 in the building.

Seven classrooms and the psychologist’s office were destroyed in a June 5 roof collapse at the site, a stately historic building at 1335 Lee St. SW, Wyoming. No one was injured.

About 100 parents attended the update that was closed to the media, followed by a press conference held by Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Kevin Polston.

Polston said it’s not just his belief that the building is safe, but also, that of an expert, WJE Associates structural engineer Ross Smith.

Expert Says “Absolutely Would Send Own Kids”

“He said the building is safe for occupancy, and that’s after an exhaustive examination of it,” Polston said, adding that Smith said he would feel safe with his own children attending school in the building. “You’re not going to get a stronger endorsement than that.”

“I think it was a first step for us. Up until this point we really didn’t know a lot of answers and didn’t have a lot to share. They had good questions and rightfully so. It’s their children, their most prized possession, and it’s our responsibility to have good answers to satisfy those questions, and I think we do.”

Polston said some parents left the community meeting with questions and some left satisfied with what they heard.

“We still have work to do and I hope our parents stay in the conversation with us to get the answers they need to feel their child is safe at our school.”

The June 5 roof collapsed over second-floor classrooms on the west side of the building. On June 23, the remaining structure of the affected area collapsed due to the weight of the debris. Selective demolition contributed some additional instability.

School Opening as Planned

With localized repairs, the remaining portion of the building will be ready for school to open as planned Aug. 19, said Smith, who determined the collapse was caused by the roof structure becoming disengaged from the exterior wall. The reason the wall became disengaged was due to corrosion of bar joists responsible for supporting the roof structure.

The joist seats corroded over time due to exposure to water. The precise source of the water penetration is unknown.

Polston said it was a relief to find out that the remaining parts of the building were made with a different design, construction and materials, and that the conditions that existed in the affected area aren’t present in other parts of the building.

“If it were the same construction and same materials, that obviously raises a lot of concern, but that’s not the case,” Polston said. “We hosted this month’s board meeting there. We normally host at our Administration Building. The staff and community meetings related to the structural failure were also held at Lee because it’s safe. There will be some recommendations from the engineer that he termed maintenance, but none of the repairs are critical for occupancy.”

Polston said they are waiting for a written response from the district’s insurance company, which is critical to the restoration process, and there isn’t an appetite to restore the wing using existing materials.

“Let’s take a pause for a moment and look at the site in a broader context, because we still have century-old construction in other parts of the building that we need to have a master plan for. As stewards of taxpayers’ dollars we have to have that conversation and value the input.”

The school board chose to explore demolishing the affected wing and designing a master plan for the site as the third of three options.

Some pros to this option: 

  • It maximizes the insurance claim if completed in a 24-month timeframe
  • The design will be built on current and future needs
  • It considers the lifespan of all the century-old construction at Lee Middle and High and increases ADA accessibility for students and the community.

Some cons to this option:

  • The cost will most likely increase the insurance claim
  • There would be an approximately 24-month timeframe for the rebuilding of initial wing and the potential for other phases of the project to last several years.

The district’s next steps are to meet with architects and construction managers to establish the scope of master planning, according to information from the district. However, all final action is pending the formal response of the insurance provider.

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Cris Greer
Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more.

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