How This Florida College Recovered From Hurricane Damage

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

Nicholas said Joe Williamson, co-owner of WB Williamson Bros., worked with BILCO and its distributor, Waldo Brothers, to work out a solution. “We had to put in structural steel beams to support the weight of these new vents,” Nicholas said. “We installed the new smoke vents and flashing around them on the new roof.”

Smoke vents are critical in protecting loss of life and property. By opening automatically, the vent gives smoke and lethal gases a place to escape rather than building up in a confined space. The vents also help improve the visibility for firefighters and prevent damage that could lead to a building collapse. At Pensacola State College, the new vents were able to provide the auditorium with the venting necessary to meet code requirements.

Additional Challenges

The existing vents, which were about 20 years old, proved to be difficult to remove. “We thought once we removed the fasteners, they would come up fairly easily,’’ Nicholas said. “We had a crane out there, but they couldn’t be hoisted.”

Williamson and a three-man crew cut the smoke vents apart and removed them by hand. “We replaced the wood blocking and created a new curb,’’ Nicholas said. “We also had to install the structural steel beam from the roof, because we were not able to work from below. There was no way to put scaffolding up.”

Wires, ropes, and pulleys inside the auditorium for theatrical performances prevented workers from installing scaffolding to help support installation and splicing the vents together. “There is a level of gadgetry with all the wires, ropes, and lighting in the attic space of the auditorium that made it a difficult project,’’ Nicholas said. “There was a limited amount of attic space above the stage where we could work. We were up 120 to 140 ft. in the air.”

Pensacola State College
The project included the installation of three smoke vents manufactured by BILCO. (Photos: Charlie Fernandes Photography)

Pensacola State College

“There were a lot of people involved in this project because it was so unusual,’’ Nicholas said. “Sometimes when we get a special order, as we did in this case, it’s very difficult to get something right. Just about anything can go wrong. We worked with a great distributor in Waldo Brothers, and we were pleased with their service. They delivered when they said they were going to deliver, and it worked out extremely well.”

Back To Class

BELFOR set up a Mobile Command Center in a PSC parking lot as its base of operations for helping with restoration efforts around Northwest Florida.

It took crews nearly four months at Pensacola State to finish storm mitigation work, which included replacing drywall and ceiling tiles, clearing and cutting trees toppled by the hurricane, and using large industrial dryers and moisture-removing machines.

Nearly a month after the hurricane, life was back to normal on the PSC campus. At least normal for 2020. With the pandemic, the hurricane and all the adjustments that students and staff needed to make, normal in October certainly had a different definition from January of that year. Through it all, PSC strived to make sure students received the education they deserved.

“The storm definitely took a toll,’’ said Diane Bracken, the college’s Director of Facilities. “More so than you would have thought.”

Renner writes on building, construction, architecture, and other trade industry topics for publications throughout the United States.

Severe Weather: Protecting Facilities With Technology

How innovative weather technology protects utility providers and supports better emergency response coordination during weather disasters. Read more…

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section of the online version of this article at Or send an e-mail to the Editor at

Click here to read more about facility management, severe weather, and natural disasters.