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

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Snow days: Not just for grade school kids

College reschedules spring semester to get its roof shoveled too


Valdez Star photo

Contractors and college personnel remove snow from the overloaded roof of Prince William Sound Community College

While students from all three schools in the Valdez district got their first-ever “snow days” last week, students at Prince William Sound Community College will start their spring semester a week late for similar reasons according to the school’s president, Doug Desorcie.

“What we’re trying to do is let people know classes are delayed until the 23rd” of January, Decorcie said in an interview Monday morning.

While a contractor hired by the university – aided by college staff – is clearing the roof of the college of its accumulated snow, the registration office is open.

“We’re extending registration just for this week,” Desorcie said. “We would be going into what we call late registration.”

Late registration carries extra fees, he said. Those fees will be waived this week because the building was closed for registration – and most activities – last Thursday and Friday.

“Those two days closed did not help our enrollment issues,” Desocie said Monday.

In a typical year the college “caters to a total student population of 1,400 students,” its website says. This includes satellite campuses, distance learners and presumably students enrolled in special interest classes and other programs as well.

The school’s dormitories have been inspected and are open.

“We erred on the side of caution,” Steve Shiell, PWSCC business manager, told the Valdez City Council during a special meeting of city and institutional officials Friday.

Shiell said one carport section of the school’s roof that receives a great deal of snow drift recorded a snow load of 133 pounds per square foot. It is only rated to hold 90 pounds per square foot.

“The Wellness Center is closed until further notice due to structural damage,” Desorcie said, noting a “rafter beam inside needs attention.”

A structural engineer has been sent to the school by the university to address the problem.

Shiell said at Friday’s meeting that this is only the second time in ten years the college has needed to shovel its roof.

While the college is buying time, students enrolled in Valdez City Schools returned to school Monday – but on a modified schedule.

Hermon Hutchens Elementary School opened its doors to both its regular students – and the student body of Valdez High School – after the classes were canceled for all three district schools for most of last week due to unsafe snow loads.

The elementary school’s two-plus acre sized roof was cleared of snow Saturday after the city and local media put out the word that snow shovelers were desperately needed. Hourly pay for temporary city workers was upped to $20 an hour and extra snow removal equipment arrived for the 100 or so shovelers to use. Volunteers from the US Coast Guard were the first to heed the call, and were up on the roof shoveling away early last week.

However, by Wednesday of last week, the roof at Valdez High School also exceeded its 90 pounds per square foot design, prompting the closing of all classes at all three city schools for the remainder of the week.

Students returned to their own schools on regular schedules Thursday, January 19.

But Monday through Wednesday were a different story.

“Hermon Hutchens Elementary School students and Gilson Junior High School students will meet in their own buildings from 7:00 a.m. - 12 p.m. Hermon Hutchens and Gilson Junior High school doors will open at 6:45 am for students to enter. Morning busses will run 1 hour and 10 minutes earlier than usual,” the Valdez City Schools website said. “However, the Valdez High School building will remain closed until snow is removed from the roof. Valdez High School students will meet from 1:30 pm - 6:30 pm at Hermon Hutchens Elementary School. Busses will run and school doors will be open at 1:15 for students to enter. Bus schedules and sports schedules will be posted to Edline.”

Both elementary and senior high students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program were provided meals despite the modified scheduling, according to Jacob Jensen, district superintendent.

Edline is a section of the district’s website accessible to parents. It also notified parents and guardians of the schedule and location changes through is automated phone bank.

School officials speculated that Valdez High School would be cleared of snow before Friday and normally scheduled classes resumed.

“Hopefully it’s going to be sooner than that,” Jensen said in an interview Monday morning. “They’re making some good progress.”

Jensen’s wish came true. Wednesday he announced classes at all three schools would resume with the regularly scheduled school hours.

“Back to normal tomorrow,” he said. “The city did a lot of work.”

Holly Powers, assistant city clerk, had issued a press release Monday evening saying the high school roof could be cleared by Wednesday – if the weather cooperated. High winds with sub-zero wind chills had thrown a monkey wrench into the all-out snow shoveling assault on the school’s roof already.

“It is still predicted that snow removal will be complete by Wednesday of this week. However, due to high winds and safety issues crews were pulled from the job approximately three hours before the end of their shift this afternoon,” Powers said. “Based on weather conditions, crews may resume work tomorrow at a later time than normal.”

Students at Gilson Junior High are attending class at their own school, but are following the schedule of the elementary school, to accommodate the modified busing schedule.

Valdez Star photo

A small group of high schoolers find their way to the next class Monday after Valdez High School was forced to temporarily move to Hermon Hutchens Elementary School.

“We’re getting by,” Rod Morrison, Gilson’s principal, said Monday morning. “Attendance is pretty good.”

Sack lunches and breakfasts are being distributed at Gilson Jr. High from the elementary school.

In addition to the closure of the school, the extended paved drive that runs behind both Gilson and Valdez High School has been closed due to avalanche concerns.

“Valdez High School has closed off part of the east student parking lot and the area directly behind the high school gym to the pool entrance for automobiles as well as pedestrian traffic,” the school said Tuesday afternoon, “This closure is a safety precaution due to the high risk of avalanche in this area of the school campus.”

The area is expected to remain closed for the remainder of the Valdez snow season.


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