Courtesy Canton, Mass., PD
Youth hockey team evacuated Canton, Mass., rink 15 seconds before section of roof collapsed.

The harsh winter of 2015 is taking a toll on the roofs of New England.

At about 7:15 a.m. on Feb. 28, the Norwood Nuggets youth hockey team were filing onto the Metropolis Ice Hockey Rink in Canton, Mass., for practice when they heard a snap, followed by another. Immediately, a coach yelled for everyone to leave the ice and exit the building. About 15 seconds later, a portion of the roof fell.

A blast of air pressure propelled a coach across the rink, Canton Fire Chief Charlie Doody told the Patriot Ledger of Quincy. But about 30 people, including players, coaches, parents and rink workers, safely exited before the rear portion of the roof collapsed from the heavy snow-load weight.

Doody said things would have been much worse if the collapse occurred a couple of hours later, when between 200 to 300 kids were scheduled to arrive for a "Learn To Skate" program.

Preliminary assessments indicate the collapse affected 25% of the rink's surface, according to a statement by the town of Canton. The arena's perimeter now is secured, and “around-the-clock” monitoring is in place. The arena will be closed until further notice, while structural engineers conduct an investigation. The town leases the building from the state.

In Providence, R.I., on Feb. 11, a section of a tensioned fabric roof at Brown University's Pizzitola Sports Center gave way shortly after midnight, sending down a huge pile of accumulated snow onto the tennis courts.

Fortunately, the last group of tennis players had left the courts, and “nobody was injured,” said a spokesman for Brown University.

Besides these partial roof failures, buildings in the Northeast and especially southern New England have experienced many structural problems caused by a series of snowstorms in the last month. For example, Boston has recorded 100 in. of snow for only the second time on record. More than 170 roof collapses have been reported since Feb. 9, says a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).

At Brown, “the current roof, installed three years ago, replaced the original Pizzitola roof, which failed in January 2011, causing extensive water damage from the sprinkler system,” says Stephen Maiorisi, vice president for facilities management.

“This time, the facilities staff was able to shut off the water, lay down tarps and prevent further damage. A tear in the roof has been repaired, and other, lower-floor facilities were not damaged and have remained open,” he says.

While Rhode Island does not collect roof-collapse data, a spokesman for the state Emergency Management Agency says there were a few reports of partial roof collapses in Warwick but no injuries.