The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

A call to shovels: City Hall asks for help

Classes at Hermon Hutchens Elementary School canceled


Valdez Star Photo

"Every day I'm shovelin'..." at least until the roof of HHES is cleared. Vehicles navigate the parking lot as volunteers remove snow from the roof of the gymnasium.

Officials in Valdez are preparing for an all-out assault on the accumulated snow on top of the roof of Hermon Hutchens Elementary School after the weight of the snow exceeded 90 pounds per square foot Monday.

Consequently, elementary school students in Valdez got a first-ever “snow day” Tuesday when district officials announced classes were canceled through Friday, January 13, due to the excessive snow load accumulated on the structure’s roof.

“As of tomorrow we are going to have to close the school for elementary kids,” Jacob Jensen, superintendent for Valdez City Schools, said in a report to the board of education at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday night.

As of noon on Wednesday, all the classes at all the schools have been canceled.

“Hermon Hutchens Elementary School is currently the only city building that has exceeded its load limit and therefore has been closed pending snow removal efforts,” the city said Tuesday afternoon when it issued a press release asking for the public to help remove the snow.

“The City is asking for more temporary workers or volunteers, 18 years old or older, who can help remove snow from the Elementary School, the High School, and other City buildings,” it said. “While temporary workers may be needed indefinitely, volunteers are particularly needed from Thursday January 12 through Monday, January 16.”

Hourly pay for snow shoveling has been increased to $20.30 according to Sheri Pierce, spokeswoman for the City of Valdez.

Officials are asking anyone looking to volunteer or go on the city’s payroll temporarily to call City Hall at 834-3457 and leave your name, contact number, and when you will be available to work.

“Shoveling crews will be organized into three eight hour shifts, working around the clock throughout the weekend,” to clear the elementary school, the city said.

“We are closed through Friday,” said Beth Duffy, administrative secretary at Hermon Hutchens. Parents and students will be updated on the status of elementary school classes Sunday, January 15 through the districts “Alert Now” message systems.

Updates will also be available on the district’s Edline system on the internet.

The snow accumulated on the school’s roof weighed an impressive 97 pounds per square foot Monday night. The problem is, the building is only rated to hold a load of no more than 90 pounds per square inch.

“As long as the whole square foot weight is over 90 (pounds) it is unsafe,” Jensen told the board.

An acute shortage of snow removal equipment and people willing to work at the district’s hourly rate of pay have stymied district efforts to keep the snow load on the roof at a manageable level according to Jensen.

The roof at Gilson Jr. High has already been shoveled off and the roof of Valdez High School is poorly insulated and as a result snow melts off the structure at a fast rate because of the heat loss.

Jensen said the district has had a small crew at work shoveling snow from the school’s roof for the last several weeks, but the temporary workers hired by the district all quit to work for the city, which was paying almost $2 an hour more in hourly wages than the district.

“The city is going to have all their folks over here,” on the school’s roof Tuesday, Jensen said. But a lack of industrial-grade snow scoops is also an impediment to clearing the roof. The city has ordered a large number of industrial grade snow scoops to aid in the effort to clear the roof so classes can resume.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, board member Dr. Kathy Todd asked if she could loan her aluminum scoop to the district to speed up snow removal.

Valdez Star Photo

City workers and volunteers from the US Coast Guard were hard at work removing snow from the roof of the Hermon Hutchens Elementary School gym Wednesday morning.

“If the limit is the scoops, I’ll volunteer it right away,” she said.

Ben Olds, head of building maintenance for the district, said household scoops are not the same as the types used for industrial snow removal.

Parents looking for current information on the school closure and where future classes will be held can expect robocalls from the district’s Alert Now system, online or they can tune in to local radio for updates.

“The City of Valdez and Valdez City Schools have been working diligently to remove an excessive amount of snow from all city buildings,” the city said Tuesday afternoon. “However, some buildings are now approaching their structural limits for snow load.

Current information will also be posted at as it is made available. Faster updates are available on the Valdez Star Facebook page.


Reader Comments

MarshaP writes:

Hello Everyone in Valdez, I really miss the snow and the great people of Valdez but not the shoveling. I remember back in 89/90 when it snowed all night and we were cross country sking all over town... wow, was that a Blast! Hope to see you all this summer if my health is better than it has been. Getting ready to sell my family home since 1952 and move out of here..Take care, Marsha Purser


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