Hunter Elementary

Hunter Elementary School, 1630 Gillam Way, closed Thursday amid structural concerns. 

An engineering report confirms that Hunter Elementary School sustained a partial roof collapse last month.

A portion of the building is open for classes but it’s still not clear if the school will open as normal when the 2021-2022 school year begins in August, according to the Fairbanks North Star Borough public information officer.

“We are in the early stages of getting the design work complete for the final repair. We will have much better information to answer your questions in a few weeks,” PIO Lanien Livingston said in an emailed answer to questions.

According to a report by Design Alaska, the roof collapsed in a building addition constructed in 1974. The report says the collapse happened in the school library or room 144.

“A 51-foot by 31-foot portion of the roof framing failed … ,” reads the three-page report with design schematics. “We found no indication of structural compromise in the surrounding structure.”

The roof has 24-inch deep trusses made of plate connected lumber with parallel chord and top chord bearing. The failure happened at the south bearings.

“It appears the end web connection pulled away from the top chord,” reads the report by structural engineer Patrick Brandon. “This likely occurred at one truss and the failure propagated to other trusses as the load was shed from one compromised truss to another. “

The report offered a plan for using safe areas of the school and for shoring up the roof in the library with temporary posts until repairs can be made.

“Full occupancy will require engineered repairs/reconstruction of the 1974 addition and are beyond the scope of this evaluation,” Brandon wrote.

The problem at Hunter was noticed by an employee of the school who reported a large crack along the wall above the windows in the library and a bowed ceiling. Students were evacuated on April 8.

At the time, a few roofs around Fairbanks, including at Spenard Builders Supply and Ester Volunteer Fire Department, had collapsed owing to a heavy snow load.

North Pole Middle School was also evacuated though school resumed promptly after the building was deemed structurally sound. Ben Eielson Junior/Senior High School was additionally closed briefly due to structural concerns.

Jane Bedford is the principal at Hunter Elementary School. She said all grades but kindergarten have fanned out to extra classrooms at Ladd Elementary School and Tanana Middle School. More than 150 students are displaced. The students meet at Hunter in the morning and are bussed to the other schools.

“All of our classrooms are open for kids who are doing in-person learning. They are just located at different buildings in the district,” Bedford said. “I have to just say it’s been amazing. The schools have just opened up.”

About 30 kindergarteners met in an extra room at Lathrop High School for a while and returned to Hunter on Monday, Bedford said. Hunter has also resumed a preschool class.

Officials decided to keep the higher grades at their temporary classrooms at the other schools to avoid yet another disruption with the school year ending in two weeks.

“They are improvising and they are doing it and they are making it work,” Bedford said. “The kids have been great. … Our parents are super cooperative. Some parents are actually driving them across town.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better staff or better support as far as the district is concerned,” the principal added.

The last major remodel at Hunter Elementary was 20 years ago when a wing was added and the front of the school was lifted, according to Bedford.

The borough owns all school buildings and maintains them in conjunction with the school district.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.