CBSD Operations Team: Keeping the Lights On and So Much More All Year Long

Not everyone who works for the Central Bucks School District has it easy when school lets out each summer.  Consider theoperations workers turn a field over the summer Operations Department.

“One of the things we get from a lot of people is, `It must be nice, you work for a school district, you get the summer off,’’’ says Matt Rhode, CBSD Facilities Manager, and one of those overseen with rebooting the school system of nearly 18,000 students each fall. “Only the teachers and kids are off.  We're running around, pulling our hair out right up until the kids walk through those doors.’’

That hair-on-fire approach begins within days of when the students who make up the population of the district’s 23 schools walk out those doors. It amounts to a 10-week window to get millions of dollars worth of work done that can only be completed when the buildings are unoccupied.

“The monumental task of doing a full clean on each of our schools is paramount during the summer,” said says Pete Kotecki, a District Shift Supervisor. “As soon as school lets out in June, we are already beginning our summer cleaning. Classrooms get cleaned top to bottom; windows, desks, light fixtures, white boards, sinks, cupboards, and of course, floors are stripped, waxed, and buffed. Our custodians do an excellent job we would be sunk without them.”

a tractor turns a field over the summerYear-round, the administrative staff, which consists of Suzanne Moffat, Operations Manager, Rhode, Facilities Manager and three District Shift Supervisors, Kotecki, Russ Batton, and Mark Zweifel oversee an army of 188 custodians, mechanics and utility workers, who work three shifts, often year-round, to maintain 23 school buildings, four auxiliary buildings and dozens of fields and playgrounds.

Need a room cleaned or a light fixture replaced? This is the team. Time for a wall to be painted or a swing to be fixed? Call this group. The field needs to get ready for a big game? Well, you get the idea.

And that’s just during the school year. It’s during the summer, when the more than 20,000 students, faculty and staff clear out, that the facilities and maintenance crews go into overdrive so everything is ready for the new school year. Their work is largely unsung.

Moffat, the Operations Manager, says she heads up the unofficial “Complaint Department’’ but “honestly, I rarely get any.” “The principals and the teaching staff realize that if we're hearing what they had to say, and we're responding to it quickly, then we're doing our job.  If you come in and the lights work, the building’s clean, the air conditioning's working or the heat's working and there's no problems with your technology -- we're doing our job.’’

Typically, there’s a three-pronged approach to the work each summer. The first is custodial cleaning – which involves the stripping down and waxing and cleaning and wiping of floors, walls and other surfaces. The second priority involves major construction and capital projects that can only be done when school buildings are not occupied. And the third prong involves other facilities maintenance completed in-house by the staff. The work is all-encompassing, from replacing or repairing roofs, repaving lots, fixing or replacing HVAC units, additions and renovations to the various buildings themselves.

In late June, for example, a lightning strike took out a chiller in one of the schools. Rhode and his team tried to get a new one, but found that orders were backlogged by a year. So, they scrambled to obtain a temporary one. Installation began in late August. It was ready in time for when teachers and students arrived.

It's not all about buildings either. Bill Wade, the District’s Grounds Mechanic, oversees the maintenance and repair of more than 100 acres of sports fields and playgrounds. This summer’s projects for example, included installing drainage to some of their fields deemed to hold too much water and covering a softball field into a baseball field and the reverse. This is in addition to seeding, weeding, fertilization and the repairing of some of the 28 play structures that populate the 15 elementary schools.

“We have about 175 swings that need constant attention,’’ Wade says. “So the summertime's a great time for us to get in there and get everything fixed out. When school comes back, they're ready, they're safe. Safety's our main concern with athletic fields and the playgrounds. We take great pride in it. And it's nonstop.’’

It’s also often unnoticed. While teachers, coaches, principals and administrators traditionally get a healthy dose of praise along with some constructive criticism, the back of the shop receives only missives when things go astray. Every now and then, says Rhode, a principal or teacher will take time out to tell him, “This room looks amazing’’ – which he quickly shares with the staff that made that possible. “I love nothing more to see the joy on their face and how much they know that they made a difference today,’’ he says.

That difference was certainly felt when CBSD students and faculty streamed back through the District’s doors on Aug. 29, flipped the light switches, powered up the computers and adjusted the air conditioning – as if nothing happened from last May when the school year ended. Oddly, the opening of school is the closest thing the Ops people have to a slow time of year. But they’ve earned it with the sweat put in over those 10 weeks of summer.