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Closed For The Time Being

High school grandstands need to be repaired or replaced.

Columbia High School's stadium grandstand has been closed -- and will remain so until it can be repaired or a new facility can be built.

That's the message from White Salmon Valley Schools Superintendent Dale Palmer, who ordered the grandstand cordoned off for safety reasons last Friday, on the advice of two consulting structural engineers.

According to one of the consultants, Kramer Gehlen Associates of Vancouver, "The structure has sufficient deficiencies that should be corrected, or the facility should be closed."

Palmer had the grandstand, which was built in the 1940s, inspected at the urging of the district's 12-member facilities committee.

The issue of the grandstand's safety arose last November during a facilities committee meeting.

At Palmer's request, the committee met to discuss what to do with $700,000 to $800,000 in state matching construction funds White Salmon Valley Schools expect to receive for the district's transportation and maintenance center.

The district so far has received and deposited one check from the state in its capital project fund, which only can be tapped for new construction or major repairs.

"Because I knew we would have this money coming in, and in fact had some money in the bank, I thought it was time to take a look at our facilities needs and get the discussion going," Palmer said.

The committee, in a preliminary prioritization of the district's most-urgent needs, identified grandstand replacement as the fourth of four priorities.

That ranking, Palmer noted, was made subject to what a structural analysis of the grandstand revealed. "The committee said, if an engineer found the structure to be unsound, they would move it up to the top of the priority list."

Two consulting engineers -- first, Kramer Gehlen, and then Van Walstijn, Consulting Engineer, of Portland, Ore. -- independently confirmed what many in the community have long suspected.

Kramer Gehlen reported: "In our opinion, due to the liabilities to all parties, it would be prudent to close the facility to all use."

Palmer said the Van Walstijn study corroborated Kramer Gehlen's findings. He added that both studies pointed to the roof and its support structure as the biggest liabilities.

"Van Walstijn said we could use the grandstand if we inspect and fix each individual truss, fix the roof, and only use (the grandstand) if the wind doesn't blow over 20 miles per hour," Palmer noted. "Basically, both were saying the grandstand isn't worth the cost of fixing the roof."

The superintendent said that's his opinion, too, though a final decision on the grandstand's future rests with the school board.

"Ultimately the decision is going to have to be either to fix the roof and the other problems, or tear the whole thing down and replace it," Palmer reflected.

The facilities committee preliminarily advised using any remaining money in the capital projects fund -- roughly $300,000 -- as seed money for grandstand replacement.

On Tuesday, the committee was scheduled to meet to finalize its recommendations to the school board.

Palmer said it would do so with some additional new information in hand.

"We thought we were going to have to spend about $250,000 to replace the heating system in the 5/6 wing at Henkle Middle School. But we won't have to do that because (district maintenance supervisor) Jim Mansfield learned of a supplier who was able to provide us with the parts we needed to fix the heaters. So we solved that problem with $1500."

It also freed up more money for a grandstand project and the committee's other priorities: $165,000 for reroofing the old section of Henkle Middle School, $71,000 various new flooring at all three schools and $20,000 as part of the district's match for a $500,000 grant to enlarge the preschool.

Palmer said he plans to present the committee's recommendations to the board Thursday during its monthly business meeting, which will be held in the Whitson Elementary School library starting at 7 p.m.

Based on the new developments, Palmer said the grandstand should be the focal point of the discussion of how best to spend the capital projects fund.

"I'm hoping to get as much public input at Thursday's meeting as possible," Palmer said. "After that, the next step would be to schedule an open public meeting for next month so people would have ample time to think about the issues before telling us what they think."

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