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YMCA operations director led effort to reopen tornado-damaged facility

YMCA operations director led effort to reopen tornado-damaged facility

August 1st, 2019 by Joe Gamm in Local News

Tom Jansen puts up finishing touches as the Firley YMCA reopens Thursday after being closed since the May 22 tornado. The building suffered substantial damage, and in the two months it has been closed to patrons, repairs have been made as have a few upgrades. Jansen, director of Operations and Property, as well as maintenance personnel and fellow staffers spent many hours securing the building in the tornado's aftermath.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

The May 22 tornado extensively damaged the Firley YMCA building.

Yet it opened today, 10 weeks after the event.

The reopening couldn't have come so soon without staff working day after day to get the facility back on its feet, Jefferson City Area YMCA CEO Craig Lammers said.

A lot of the credit falls to Operations and Property Director Tom Jansen, who, like many administrators, arrived in the dark shortly after the storm and began assessing damage and patching what they could.

The storm struck at about 11:45 p.m. About an hour later, operations personnel were taping up windows, covering holes and removing debris, Jansen said.

In the dark of midnight, storm damage wasn't so apparent, said Jansen, who drove into town from his home in Bonnots Mill.

"I didn't see a lot of damage until I got to the roundabout at Ellis (Boulevard) and Tanner Bridge (Road). I didn't know the extent of the damage," Jansen said.

Traffic lights were out. Emergency vehicles were everywhere. People were trying to get out of nearby Hawthorne Park Apartments.

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Although Jansen didn't yet know the severity of the damage to the Firley YMCA structure at 525 Ellis Blvd., when he was called in, he was told a wall had collapsed.

The wall had fallen across the apartment complex's driveway, so people couldn't evacuate the complex. Debris spread throughout the area "was tremendous," Jansen said.

"It was hard to even get into the building, there were so many people out here," he said. "I got in and turned the power off and turned the gas off."

Then he checked to see if any interiors were exposed to weather.

"Once we saw the damage we had and what was going on, I called in some of our other maintenance technicians to give me a hand assessing what damage (further)," he said. "I wanted to make sure we had the building secure and protected from the weather that was coming."

The workers began trying to seal the building, he said. They tried to cover the areas where rooftop air conditioners had blown off.

At dawn, staff could see an entire wall along the west side of the structure had pulled away and collapsed. Sometime during the night, somebody had brought in a backhoe that pushed the rubble away so fire trucks could reach the apartments.

Jansen directed helpers to cover the open wall with plastic because rain persisted the following day.

Since the tornado, the roof — which will need to be replaced — has been patched several times. Replacing it will have to wait until after pool season.

Cleanup and repairs began that day.

"With Tom's 26 years of experience, he was able to focus what our priorities should be," Lammers said. "The next 24 hours, he directed staff and coordinated our recovery process."

Staff members who possibly had never been involved in the mechanics of buildings showed up day after day to do what was needed to get the facility going again.

Jansen contacted contractors the YMCA deals with regularly, and they showed up immediately. Because YMCA administrators knew they would have to be replaced, the HVAC contractor ordered three massive three-phase rooftop air conditioners to replace those that blew off the roof during the tornado. As they assessed the damage, they determined 10 more would need replacement.

The air conditioners aren't items that sit on a shelf awaiting sales. Jansen and the contractor had to locate them in places like Texas, Minnesota and Kentucky, then ship them in.

The facility was closed to the public until the air conditioning could be repaired.

Meanwhile, YMCA administrators decided to make a few improvements inside the structure.

Staff came in daily to clean, paint and repair what they could.

Jansen said he's blessed to be listed among them.

"The amount of what they did — day after day these guys worked in the heat, and they were worn out," Jansen said. "They were covered in sweat. The next day, they showed up and did it again.

"They are truly team players."

Jansen led by example, Lammers said. He led an all-hands-on-deck recovery effort. Even though he tore a tendon in an elbow during the effort, he continued to lead the work repairing the structure.

"He didn't back off a bit. Tom is an exceptional leader of his department," Lammers said. "To have him leading the recovery effort, we couldn't have had a better guy."