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Dan Hust | Democrat

MORE THAN TWO dozen of these aluminum magnesium support poles have been installed on the first floor of the Sullivan West High School in Lake Huntington in order to “shore up” problem areas on the second floor.

At Sullivan West HS, A Sagging Feeling

By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON — September 7, 2007 — Despite last-minute repairs to the high school, Sullivan West’s two campuses opened as scheduled Wednesday, and Superintendent Ken Hilton evidenced a genuine optimism at the end of the day.
“It was an excellent first day,” he remarked. “I was very pleased.”
More than 1,000 students streamed through the doors in Lake Huntington and Jeffersonville, and about 750 of them got to see firsthand the support poles installed the day before to “shore up” the high school’s second floor.
By this time, the poles – more than two dozen in all – had been covered with a smooth finish to avoid accidents, but their presence indicated the extreme caution being taken by administrators and board members.
After all, two engineering firms had told the board the week before that a battery of sonar, X-ray and drilling tests indicated they couldn’t be sure portions of the second floor could hold the full load for which they were designed: a minimum of 40 pounds per square foot.
While the affected classrooms don’t normally see a weight of anything more than 20 pounds per square foot, engineers couldn’t rule out the possibility that sections of the floor might collapse should a heavy load be placed on them.
“We don’t know how much weight the building will hold,” said Hilton, echoing a similar statement made by school engineering consultant Arnie Bertsche of Bertsche Engineering in Honesdale, Pa.
Hilton said the floors of the high school – built just five years ago as part of a $30 million project – were designed to be “in excess of codes.”
But apparently, testing the load-bearing capacity of a new school building’s floor is not required during or after construction.
And since engineers could not be absolutely sure those designs had been carried out appropriately – a judgment stemming from worrisome faults noticed in several between-floor duct areas earlier this summer – the support poles were installed on Tuesday.
Made of an aluminum magnesium alloy, the poles are shiny lookalikes of the kind found in most basements and garages, albeit able to support up to 25,000 pounds. The industry-standard temporary supports are adjustable in height, though these are all set at 14 feet – the distance between the floor and ceiling of the first level.
Their presence satisfied engineers and administrators that the second floor now does indeed exceed the building code.
Hilton explained that, as a result of the poles, more than 36,000 pounds of pressure could be put on a standard upper-level classroom’s floor without concern.
Considering the district’s entire football team and its equipment don’t weigh more than 7,000 pounds, Hilton admitted that “we probably went way overboard in putting them [the poles] in.”
They’ve been erected mostly in pairs around the between-floor ducts where engineers noted deficiencies. Though not every duct area needed reinforcement, Hilton said the poles can be found throughout the first floor.
By this time next year, however, they shouldn’t be found anywhere. Hilton said the companies that originally installed the floors – BBL (the construction company) and Oldcastle (the manufacturer and installer) – will effect more permanent repairs when school is not in session.
What will happen is certain – when it will happen is not. According to Hilton and Bertsche, “very thick steel mesh with concrete” will replace the problem areas, while unrelated cracks in upstairs tile will be repaired.
The mesh is “very, very strong,” said Hilton, and would normally cost a school district between $100,000 and $200,000 to install. However, BBL and Oldcastle have verbally told Hilton that they plan to do the work at no cost to SW, even though the warranty period has expired.
“Everybody’s cooperating the way you would want them to cooperate in a situation like this,” said Bertsche, who has offered engineering services to the district for the past five years.
He promised that those responsible for the original deficiencies in workmanship will be sought out to be held accountable, and Hilton is confident that the involved companies will make good on their promise of customer satisfaction.
In the meantime, Hilton said parents should not worry about sending their children into the high school.
“We are overly, overly, overly safe,” he said of the building’s structural integrity. “. . . The reason we are here is to educate children.”

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