School dealing with rain's aftermath

URBANA – Just when school officials thought they were successfully wrapping up three years of renovations at Urbana Middle School, the rains came.

More than 7 inches of rain Labor Day weekend in fact, a downpour that turned the school's 1950s vintage gym floor – construction technically known as a "floating floor" – into exactly that.

Now, officials are trying to figure out how to keep the gym's soggy northeast corner dry and correct construction issues that contributed to the flood.

"Water was coming in from under the staircase," Director of Facilities Services Ota Dossett said of the scene that weekend at the gym, which is a flight of stairs down from ground level.

"That was a lot of rain in a short time, and it had no place to go," Dossett said. "There's a lot of concrete around here."

Trouble surfaced on several fronts. During the $19 million renovation project that included almost every area of the school except the gym, grassy areas outside the school were paved, so rain washing over the pavement had nowhere to go but down.

Dossett said recessed downspouts outside the gym door channeling roof water to storm sewers were overwhelmed. He is planning to put a sleeve on them to carry water away from the building to the sewer.

And Dossett discovered too late that pipes and drains installed under the gym that empty into a big sump pump were clogged with mineral deposits that impede flow.

Ironically, locker rooms and plumbing adjacent to the gym were completely rebuilt during the remodeling project. The original budget called for replacing the gym floor and all the drains under it, but district officials, facing funding shortfalls and overruns, were forced to cut $500,000 from the construction budget, and those plans were axed.

"We had to find $500,000 to cut when we were going through the middle school budget, so we did the locker rooms but not the gym," Superintendent Gene Amberg said, discussing the situation at a midmonth school board meeting.

"We've had blowers and dryers on the floor since Labor Day," Dossett told school board members.

On Monday, Kyle Isaksen and Rod Rusher, representatives of Panel Tech, pried out slats and cut and fit oak planks into the spaces.

"It's pretty 'buckley,'" Isaksen said.

"These are 1-by-1.5-by-12-inch slats, and they're all hooked together by metal splines," Rusher said, describing the "floating" construction. "It's not attached. It's laying on tar paper to keep out moisture, then on cork to give it bounce."

"The new technology is wooden planks attached over a grid that's air vented so it stays dry," Dossett said. "It has a spring to it, too, but it's expensive, about $250,000."

He said the gym floor has been damp before, but just around the edges. And he thought the school's new air conditioning, which was turned on last spring, would help.

"We'd had no problems since then until Labor Day," Dossett said.

He said Urbana schools clearly don't have the money to redo the gym and the floor, so the current goal is to find the problem and fix it. He's sent cameras down into drains to find deposits, and he's consulted the district's construction manager, architect and engineers to brainstorm about solutions.

Dossett said one unofficial estimate suggests it will cost about $18,000 to restore about 500 square feet of the floor to its original condition. Meanwhile, he is hoping the patches hold.

Dossett's also hoping no more gully washers are headed Urbana's way.

"When we get things fixed outside, we'll have a better chance," Dossett said. "We'll have our people put finish on the patches so they're the same finish as the rest of the floor and kids can hold sporting events here.

"If the patches hold, it will be next summer before we get to the rest of it," he said.

You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at acook@news-gazette.com.

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