SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 4, 2011

Danger above

Post-storm roof troubles plague the North Shore

By Bethany Bray, Tom Dalton, Bruno Matarazzo Jr. and Jesse Roman
STAFF WRITERS

The owner of a Salem auto body shop showed up for work yesterday morning to find that part of the roof at 401 Bridge St. had collapsed overnight.

He wasn't the only person worried about roofs yesterday. Several roof collapses, and the threat of others, kept emergency personnel busy across the North Shore.

The Salem auto body shop is one of several tenants at 401 Bridge St., the last remaining industrial building from a former Sylvania plant.

The building is slated to be demolished this spring as part of the Gateway Center project, a combination office building and senior center scheduled to be built at the corner of Boston and Bridge streets.

Although the building owner, High Rock Bridge St. LLC, is not expected to do extensive repairs, city inspectors told him to make the structure safe enough to allow the businesses to remove machinery and other property.

Another old Sylvania building had problems coping with the massive amount of snow.

In Danvers, Ira Motor Group's auto collision center at 105 Andover St., the roof showed signs of sagging, according to John Hartman, marketing director for the car dealership.

"It didn't collapse," Hartford said. "Based on the amount of snowfall, we evacuated the employees and are calling a company to have the snow removed."

Acting Danvers fire Chief Kevin Farrell said the building is an old Sylvania warehouse that was built in the 1960s, before building codes were in place.

The building's roof wasn't constructed with "much load-carrying steel trusses," the chief said. He estimated close to 15 inches of snow on the flat, 4-acre roof.

Businesses weren't the only ones affected by snow-piled roofs.

In Danvers, St. John's Prep was closed yesterday, while Hamilton-Wenham schools were closed as a precaution after a carport at the Hamilton police station showed signs of buckling Wednesday night. A number of police vehicles were parked outside yesterday while the department waited for a structural engineer to assess the carport, at the rear of Hamilton's public safety building.

"We want to make sure it is structurally sound before putting cars back in," Hamilton police Chief Russell Stevens said yesterday.

Hamilton Building Inspector Charles Brett recommended students not return to school until all district buildings could be evaluated, Superintendent Raleigh Buchanan said. The district was looking for a contractor to shovel school roofs yesterday afternoon, and snow removal was expected to stretch through the weekend.

"(Brett) recommended we remove the snow, from the high school especially, because of the square footage and the flat roof," Buchanan said. "In the meantime, we'll have a structural engineer go through, which was also recommended by the building inspector."

"It looks like I don't have any other choice (than to cancel school), which I don't mind for the safety of the kids," he said.

Peabody schools were closed yesterday in part because of concerns about the amount of snow on the roofs of the city's 10 public schools.

"The building inspector (Kevin Goggin) was out (yesterday) looking at the buildings, and there are no issues," said C. Milton Burnett, the schools superintendent. "This is all precautionary. We have no reported structural problems."

Some of the schools had more snow than others because of snowdrifts and the location and pitch of the roofs. About two dozen people were out yesterday at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School shoveling off snow, which in some places was several feet high, Burnett said.

Clearing all the snow from the school buildings is a daunting task. Peabody, with eight elementary schools, one middle school and one high school, has more than 1 million square feet of roof space across the district, Burnett said.

"We've been shoveling for over a week," he said.

An outside contractor was hired to supplement school custodians and maintenance people. There were more than 40 people out clearing snow off the roofs of Peabody schools yesterday, Burnett said.

Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody was also closed yesterday in part because of concerns about too much snow on its big, flat rooftop.

"I was concerned this morning, and I wanted to have it checked out to make sure it was safe," said Sister Cathy Fleming, the school principal.

Upon inspection, the building actually only had about a foot-thick layer of snow.

"It's unbelievable. I think it was probably the wind that blew it off," Fleming said. "We have people up (on the roof) right now blowing it off, so it shouldn't be a problem."

Also in Peabody, the Workout World fitness center's snow-covered roof was being assessed yesterday afternoon by the building inspector and firefighters.