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School Safety Probed After Roof Collapse

August 29, 2004

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ The collapse of a school roof constructed with a steel support beam common to older school buildings has raised concerns among experts about potential problems nationwide.

A U-shaped joist often used in schools built through the early 1970s was blamed on the Aug. 1 roof collapse in an empty classroom at Taft Elementary School in Washingtonville, 54 miles north of New York City.

School design and other experts now say officials at schools around the country _ over half of which were built before 1970 _ should be on the lookout for potential problems with that type of joist.

State education officials issued a ``structural advisory″ to New York schools urging thorough inspections after determining that a leaky roof allowed rainwater to collect for years in the joist, which rusted and crumbled.

``I think the state is probably on track as far as recommending the projects be inspected, particularly if there is that kind of joist in them,″ said Ronald Fanning, a school architect at Fanning/Howey Associates of Celina, Ohio.

New York education officials caution that without the leaky roof, the roof may not have collapsed.

But others point out that leaky roofs are common at schools around the country amid state deficits that have resulted in cuts to school district maintenance budgets.

Waltham, Mass., structural fault investigator Joe Zona said the roof collapse in Washingtonville could be a sign of potential problems elsewhere.

``When you know something like that can happen, it’s hard to argue against inspection,″ he said.

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