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City of Bozeman, architects weigh in on recent roof collapses

Posted at 1:52 PM, Mar 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-23 15:52:03-04

BOZEMAN – With several roof collapses across Gallatin County recently, many folks are looking up, wondering if it will happen again.

Bozeman City officials say the incidents at MSU and Bogert Park are a reminder.

“February evidently was a record-snow month and so it really caught us off-guard in terms of our buildings,” said Andrea Surratt, Bozeman City manager.

Surratt said the city’s mindset following a series of collapses across the area is direct, focusing on community safety.

“What we’ve done is make sure that every facility, every building has been analyzed for its integrity, roofs included, where we hadn’t gotten to the analysis yet with some of our park facilities,” Surratt said. “It’s important for people to feel safe and for us to know the quality of the structure and where it stands today.”

She said the partial collapse of the Bogert Park shell was an eye-opener.

“We’ve had that one incident and we hope to not have any others,” Surratt said. “We are taking every precautionary measure but that one was a learning curve for us. The work that MSU did to get the word out and to explain about happened at their facilities prompted us and many other groups, agencies to go and look at our buildings so we had done that prior to finding out about the Bogert Farmer’s Market and the pavilion area.”

City officials say roofs like the one at the Gallatin History Museum on Main Street are more prone to issues for obvious reasons.

The History Museum did close this week for snow removal since their roof dates back to 1911. In a Facebook post, however, museum staff said there are no concerns and no leaks.

“It’s not just flat roofs, and we are learning that, so we are taking a whole holistic approach, looking at every facility,” Surratt said. “We have a contract with an engineering firm to evaluate all of those public areas and those structures really, no matter how big or small.”

“In our older buildings, they are really not designed to withstand those stresses,” said Lindsay Schack, architect and co-owner of Love Schack Architecture.

Schack said city code requires architects to build with snow as a part of the equation.

But record-setting conditions could still throw a curveball.

“Even a highly well-designed roof would have been under stress, either from ice damming or from the snow load,” Schack said. “Flat roofs work perfectly fine in snow country but detailing is really critical. People need to understand that we call them flat roofs but none of them are flat. They need to be designed with about a quarter-inch of slope. They need to have proper drainage.”

With an engineering firm at work to be ready for the future, the city manager said incidents like Bogert Park can be more easily prevented.

“Dr. Cruzado [president of MSU] just gave an amazing apology and the city is in that same camp,” Surratt said. “We would like to apologize for that facility in Bogert being not what it needed to be to withstand that snow and we know what we need to do now.”

Lindsay Schack added that it is a good idea for homeowners to have a contractor inspect their roofs at least once every ten years — and to clean off their roofs when they can.

Story by Cody Boyer