Meadville Tribune

January 8, 2010

Fair barn's collapse not first time for Cover-All

By Keith Gushard

WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP — The collapse of the large fabric-and-steel dairy barn at the Crawford County Fairgrounds is now one of at least a half dozen of that type of structure to fail in the last eight years. One of the most notable was in May when a practice building for the Dallas Cowboys football team collapsed, injuring a dozen people.

The Heritage Hall Dairy Barn at the Crawford County Fairgrounds collapsed Wednesday — the apparent victim of heavy snow on its steep-sloped roof, but caused no injuries.

The 120-foot by 320-foot barn was built less than two years ago at a cost of $465,000 as a show arena, mainly for dairy exhibitions, and could house up to 320 cows.

The building was built by Cover-All Building Systems of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

At least five others built by Cover-All or a related company, Summit Structures LLC, have collapsed since 2002 — three of which were due to heavy snow on their roofs, according to the Associated Press.

“I don’t like the history,” Morris Waid, who is Crawford County commissioner chairman and head of the fair board, said when informed by a reporter Thursday afternoon. “I’m surprised. It makes you wonder how many more will go.”

Waid said concerns were raised about snow load, but the barn was designed for the heaviest snow loads possible in northwest Pennsylvania and had been billed as all-but-indestructible, he said.

County work crews had been shoveling snow from the roofs of fairgrounds buildings this week, but not the big dairy barn’s.

The building’s design is a quonset — a steep-pitched or rounded roof with two open ends —designed to have snow slide off, Waid said.

“Last year, the snow slid right off of it,” Waid said at Thursday’s county commissioner meeting. “We never gave it a thought.”

Waid said it was unknown what may have caused the problem to have snow accumulate on the roof.

In May of this year, the Dallas Cowboys football team’s practice facility collapsed in a windstorm, paralyzing a scouting assistant from the waist down and injuring 11 others less severely. That building had been built by Summit Structures LLC, according to the AP.

In February 2003, a warehouse built by Summit for the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority collapsed in a snowstorm, according to the AP.

A warehouse-type building in upstate New York collapsed in February 2007, and an indoor arena for horse competition in Oregon fell in January 2002, according to court records, the AP reported. Both collapses occurred in heavy snow, the AP said.

Additionally, an aircraft shade covering made by Summit collapsed in April 2002 at the Naval air station in El Centro, Calif., according to a Navy spokesman. The spokesman declined to provide details, citing the fact that the matter is the subject of a pending complaint over payment by the general contractor, according to the AP.

In a 2004 deposition taken as part of the Philadelphia port case, Summit president Nathan Stobbe attributed the El Centro collapse to F-14 fighter jets being flown through the open-ended structure, the AP reported.

In a message to the Tribune Thursday, Stobbe said company personnel were coming to examine the site.

“We have a strong reputation of working and honoring warranties,” Stobbe said. “We anticipate that if there is any issue, we’ll be working to honor warranty and get a structure back up there for the Crawford County Fair.”

Tribune calls to Stobbe for further clarification were not returned.

The barn itself is fully covered by 15-year warranties on the metal and steel work as well as on the main cover, a heavy, canvas-like fabric, according to Fred Wagner, who serves as both Crawford County and fair board treasurer.

Jason Lutz, president of Cloud Cover Building of Elwood City, that installed the barn structure, said his firm has put up about 50 such buildings in western Pennsylvania in the past two years, but this was the only collapse.

Cloud Cover also installed two similar types of steel and fabric storage buildings for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Crawford County maintenance garage in Vernon Township, he said.

Figures were not available on how many Cover-All structures have been assembled, or if more than six of them have collapsed.

“It’s too preliminary at this point,” Lutz said when asked if the structure could be rebuilt. “We don’t know what happened yet.”

Waid said county officials are hopeful the building’s floor and foundation work can be reused, making reconstruction easier.

“We need something for the 2010 fair,” he said.



Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.