The Sky Isn’t Falling

Temporary supporting columns are needed until a structural flaw can be repaired

By Hasti Ghasemivaghar, Current Staff

When concrete falls through the ceiling, the clean-up needs more than a dustpan.

While working on the night of Oct. 27, one of the custodians at the West Bend High Schools heard a noise in an adjacent room. Upon investigating, the janitor discovered that a piece of a concrete block had become dislodged, fallen through the ceiling tile, and hit the floor in the corner of social studies room 2610. This indicated a structural flaw above the classroom that, according to a structural engineer, required supporting poles.

The poles were installed three days later and the engineer assured the district that there are currently no safety concerns for students and staff.

Dave Ross, the district’s director of facilities, was immediately notified of the situation and inspected the room at 6 a.m. the following morning.

“It did not appear right to me,” Ross said.

He quickly made an appointment with a structural engineer from Ambrose Engineering. The room was then cleared of all loose materials and cordoned off with caution tape to ensure that people would stay away from any more potential falling debris.

The engineer took a look at the building’s structural drawings and confirmed that there was a problem with the connection between the steel beam and the column. He recommended that shoring columns be installed in the original room 2610 on the second floor, the math room 1610 below, and several places in the nearby hallways to ensure safety.

The next morning, Ross met with VJS Construction Services on site, and the columns were installed. Students noticed them right away.

“It’s kinda concerning,” said Leo Nieves, a West junior.

The teachers in the affected classrooms, which include West math teacher Chris Susnik and West social studies teacher Jordan Shull, were sent an email about the installation of the poles and were not surprised to find the poles in their rooms on Nov 1.

“I was more curious than concerned,” Shull said. “I wouldn’t think that we would be in the classroom if there was a safety concern.”

Shull said that he was assured by the site principals that his classroom was safe to use. Now that some time has passed since the poles were installed, he and his students have adapted to the change, and their existence is not as evident as it used to be.

On Nov. 8, Ross met with a structural engineer, who observed a small crack in the precast concrete that forms the floor of room 2610.

“It appears that the contractor who built the addition may have made a field modification to make the precast sit on a bearing wall and fit around a column,” Ross said.

Ross says that the engineer will be reaching out to a supplier who may have provided the precast and find out if it was an approved change.

The precast is currently supported by one of the installed shoring columns and the design for repairs is completed. Now the district is waiting for materials, and predicts the repairs will be done by the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The West Bend Fire Department and the building administrators have also been apprised of the situation. 

“Everything is safe but we are proceeding with an abundance of caution to make sure that everything is as it should be,” Ross said.

(Photos by Hasti Ghasemi Vaghar, Current Staff.)

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