published Friday, December 6th, 2013

Raider Dome closed to Cleveland High School students

  • photo
    Cleveland High School's Raider Dome, which houses the school's gymnasium, has been closed to students after city school officials reviewed a recent structural analysis of the facility.
    Photo by Paul Leach.
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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland education officials have approved closing Cleveland High School's Raider Dome to students after recently receiving a structural analysis of the gymnasium, which has been showing cracks in its masonry.

A decision must be made soon whether to repair or replace the facility, which was built in the 1960s, school officials said.

"No decision has been made about replacement or rehabilitation," said Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools, in an email. "We do know rehabilitating or fixing is probably off the table at this point. Replacement may be the pragmatic approach, but that is an assumption based on a consulting firm's preliminary assessment."

Any repair work to either the dome or the masonry walls would require removal of the masonry walls and roof, according to the site evaluation by Bennett & Pless Inc., a structural engineering consulting firm.

Until further notice, the high school's basketball teams will be moved to Cleveland Middle School, school officials said. Classes normally conducted in the domed gymnasium have been moved to the school's volleyball gym and the Jones Center. Coaches and staff have until January to remove equipment and offices.

Cracks in the exterior, only recently noticed, appear within a few inches of interior cracks, said Rex Pless, president of the structural consulting firm, in a recent meeting with education officials. Inspectors saw a significant amount of movement, he said.

The domed gymnasium could remain open, according to the evaluation, but only under certain circumstances. The gym would have to be closed if winds are anticipated to exceed 30 miles per hour or if 2 or more inches of snow or ice are forecast. Significant movement in the wall cracks merits permanent closure, according to the engineering firm's recommendations.

Ringstaff said the situation warranted immediate closure of the Raider Dome, and they could not wait until a strong wind.

The next steps will be to install monitors on several interior and exterior cracks and to perform a survey to measure any bowing in the dome's brick veneer, Pless said. Over the holiday break, engineers will use a lift to do another analysis of the domed roof, he said.

Out of 20 circular gymnasiums built in East Tennessee, only four remain standing, Ringstaff said.

Cleveland school officials ordered the $27,000 analysis two months ago to address concerns about visible wall cracks and the recent rediscovery of the facility's design plans, which did not call for internal vertical supports such as expansion joints.

The Cleveland city school board's site committee is expected to review the Raider Dome situation Tuesday.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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