'A $130,000 whoopsie'


Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson, file photo

Persistent snowfall led to the collapse of a section of Havre High School's roof over the school's cafeteria Dec. 30.

Some unexpected news was announced at the school board meeting Tuesday night that will push the price of the Havre High School roof repair project across the million-dollar mark, as $130,000 is added to the project's original $974,330 price tag.

At the beginning of the meeting, Superintendent Andy Carlson announced that Rodney Blake, an engineer from Thomas, Dean & Hoskins, was there to tell the board about a recent "significant finding" at the high school.

In the past week Talcott Construction discovered that the west side of the roof, over the gymnasium, was being supported by thinner, weaker columns than either the ones called for in the 1997 plans, Bozeman-based Springer Group Architects, or those used any other part of the roof.

Blake said the columns up there now are meant to be used in partition walls and are not certified for load-bearing, as they support about half the weight that could be handled by the ones that should have been used, according to the original design.

Now all 400 to 600 columns on that side of the roof need to be replaced with the ones that should have been used in the first place, adding about $130,000 to the total project cost.

The board, and Trustee Curtis Smeby in particular, were not pleased.

Smeby said he didn't appreciate having these issues go unnoticed for so long, then having the consequences thrust on the board.

"We're left holding the bag all the time, " Smeby said, barely containing his mixture of outrage and disappointment. "I feel like we're a bunch of chumps. "

He went on to inquire about why the issue was not found in the initial survey of the building last winter, when the roof collapsed, or when the roof restructuring plan was being formed in the spring. He heard that it was an accidental discovery.

"I heard it was a large guy grabbing and pulling up on two columns and one bent and he said 'whoopsie, '" Smeby said. "I don't like hearing a $130,000 whoopsie. "

Smeby said he felt responsible to the students, staff and community who use the building and wondered about the possibility of, had this accident not occurred, completing the project without ever finding the problem, only to suffer another collapse on the west-side.

The admonished Blake apologized and said that they would have found the issue eventually during one the bi-weekly meetings he had with Talcott Construction and that it was just chance that Talcott got to it "with the fine tooth comb first. "

He also said that they anticipated having problems on the gym's side of the building, where roof columns are bent and spliced and in general disarray.

"This job was made to have change orders, because you cannot address every little problem up there, " Blake said, though he believes that the current course of action is the cheapest and best plan. Other options would require entire replacement of the roof, with costs in the millions.

When asked by Smeby if this problem is the result of negligence or laziness, Blake said they didn't know but thought it was probably either someone at Dick Anderson Construction, the Great Falls-based company that built the roof in 1997, not knowing the difference between the two kinds of column or just using the thinner columns to save money.

The changes will be taken care of now, which will affect the project's timeline, though Carlson said this morning he didn't know by how much.


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