How This Florida College Recovered From Hurricane Damage

Pensacola State College needed flooding mitigation and a roof replacement after a devastating hurricane.

By Thomas Renner
From the December 2022 Issue

In many respects, 2020 was a year many colleges would like to forget. The worldwide pandemic triggered changes throughout the collegiate landscape, bringing changes in how students learned, how they lived in close quarters, and every other facet of higher education.

Pensacola State College in Florida dealt with more than the pandemic. Just a few months after the onset of COVID-19, the college found itself facing another unanticipated catastrophe: Hurricane Sally. The September storm ripped through the campus, forcing classes to be canceled for two weeks. More than 24 inches of rain fell in Pensacola, bringing flooding throughout the region. Four Pensacola State campuses throughout Escambia County felt the impact of the historic storm.

Pensacola State College
In 2020, Pensacola State College fell along the path of Hurricane Sally, which caused an estimated $7.3 billion in damage. (Photo: Charlie Fernandes Photography)

“It wasn’t good,’’ PSC President Ed Meadows said about the hurricane’s impact on the college on the college website. “I’ll be thankful to see 2020 go by.”

Ashmore Auditorium, in particular, suffered significant damage from Sally. Besides flooding, the building’s roof suffered extreme damage and required replacement. Several other buildings also needed full roof replacements. Because of the damage, no athletic practices or activities in the gymnasium were permitted, and classes were moved to other campus locations.

Fortunately, BELFOR Property Restoration helped get Pensacola State College back on its feet, bringing in 110 workers and numerous warehouse trailers with generators, dehumidifiers, yard tools, and gas cans.

Roof Repair

BELFOR General Manager Charlie O’Connor hired WB Williamson Bros. to install the new roof for Ashmore Auditorium. The Florida-based business, which has served the community for four generations, is accustomed to difficult projects. At first, the roof replacement at Ashmore appeared to be routine. But when the Williamson team went to replace smoke vents, it ran into several unanticipated challenges.

“We weren’t aware the size of the existing smoke vents was no longer built,” said Chris Nicholas, Senior Project Manager for WB Williams Bros. “The existing vents were so old they didn’t make them anymore. We had to custom build them and reconfigure the roof design to make it work.”

The original plan called for two vents, each 16 ft. by 8 ft. When workers realized the vents would not fit in the opening, WB Williamson Bros. went back to BILCO and ordered three 4 ft., 8 in. x 8 ft. smoke vents. The vents were spliced where hinges meet between the three units.

“It took quite a considerable amount of time and planning to make sure everything went well,’’ Nicholas said. “We thought OK, we’ll put up a couple of hatches, no big deal. But that wasn’t the case at all.”