From a certain perspective, school closings aren’t actally that bad. Of course, for educators, school closings are a logistical marathon; for students, a relational wasteland; for parents, a temporary career change. But for the facility managers, the vacant buildings are ideal for catching up on some much-needed repairs.
Bob Schmidt, the director of building and grounds at the Osceola School District, is leading his staff in a summer-long deep clean of the school buildings.
For 37 years, Schmidt’s been working to keep the facilities running clean and efficient. A recurring struggle has been funding maintenance projects. The under-staffed custodial team has no way to keep up with all the repairs.
“I mean, that’s been the biggest challenge for years now,” Schmidt said, “is not having the money to maintain our buildings. It’s been frustrating to watch our buildings slowly degrade some.”
Over the past five years, Schmidt has lost two of his staff because of budget cuts. But things recently took a turn for the better.
After a long-awaited referendum passed this spring, the grounds and building department received 10 million dollars for projects and an additional staff member. With school closing due to the Coronavirus, Schmidt had a few extra months of undisturbed work, which was all he needed to catch up.
“We never get everything done in the summer,” Schmidt said, “You know, we just don’t have the staff to get everything done.”
Even during the summer, when schools are quieter, the yearly deep-clean for Schmidt and his staff is often disrupted by summer activities. Summer school runs a few months, and various camps and events only cause more delays. Any spare time to clean is precious.
With the additional funds for contractors and supplies, and an early start to summer cleaning, Schmidt and his team got to work.
“It’s actually been really good for my department that we’re closed down because that gave us extra time to get things done.”
When the referendum passed, Schmidt planned out a two to three year project cycle. This year, the focus is on interior work.
“Carpets are harder to maintain and are also harder to disinfect,” Schmidt said. “We’re taking the carpet out of the classrooms in the intermediate school, middle school, and high school, and polishing concrete.”
Additional projects include installing new LED lights, tuckpointing building exteriors, installing security cameras, and a few other things.
“Next year is phase two,” Schmidt said, “which will be some chillers being replaced, some boilers being replaced, roofs being replaced, and that type of thing.”
In addition to these projects, the custodians are working hard to make the school a safe and healthy place.
The administrative team has been crafting safety measure plans since April. These measures include things like disinfecting and cleaning high-contact surfaces like light switches and doorknobs. Custodians will also use new equipment to cleanse potentially contaminated areas quickly and efficiently.
Like most people, Schmidt is a little anxious for the coming months. He’s also very excited to see young people back in the hallways again, so it’s his mission to provide a safe environment for them.
For now, Schmidt is optimistic about plans for the school, and he’s eager to see what the facility staff can accomplish while the classrooms are empty.