Facilities Planning

Catastrophic Structural Failure - Roof Collapse at Washingtonville CSD

August 20, 2004

To: District Superintendents of Schools
Superintendents of Schools
Nonpublic Schools
BOCES Health and Safety Officers

From: James A. Kadamus
Subject: Important Structural Advisory

On August 1st, 2004, a section of roof over an instructional space, at the Taft Elementary School in the Washingtonville CSD, including bar joists, roof decking, membrane roofing and the plaster ceiling collapsed into the room. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident, however if the room had been occupied, there could have been serious injuries.

A structural engineer determined the structural steel bar joists collapsed due to long-term water exposure. The 1960 building utilized a bar joist with a "U" shaped channel for the top chord, as opposed to open steel angles used in modern joists. This channel allowed water to sit on top of the bar joist and cause deterioration, virtually undetected. The "rusted" channels finally gave way under the weight of the plaster ceiling.

We are sending out this advisory notice because this failure occurred in a room with a plaster ceiling that had no indication of a moisture problem. Due to the sudden and catastrophic nature of the failure, we are requesting school district personnel to review their buildings for this type of roof construction. Should this construction exist or if there is any question about the type of construction, we are requesting the school district to consult with a senior structural engineer to provide a thorough inspection. These types of joists, known as type "SJ", were manufactured between 1900 to late 1950’s and still may have been used well after 1960.

It is important to emphasize the importance of thorough, visual inspections by qualified design professionals of the entire roof structure. Buildings constructed in the 50’ and 60’s are now reaching the age when definitive inspections are warranted.

This incident should serve as a reminder of the importance of conducting building inspections. Please feel free to contact the Office of Facilities Planning at 518-474-3906, should you require additional assistance or have further questions.

cc: Charles Szuberla
Carl Thurnau


Last Updated: May 11, 2009