John Barkley tightens down some fittings on a pump the maintenance crew just installed at the Carbon School District warehouse.
Deon Kone, who heads up the maintenance department, stands in the main shop near Mont Harmon Junior High. Kone, who has a vast background in private contracting, also oversees new construction and all of the capital outlay for facilities in the district.
Henry Barff, a skilled electrician, works on electrical panels at Castle Heights Elementary. Since computers have become such a large part of education, electrical systems in schools have had to be beefed up considerably for the added power requirements.
Sid Nelson works on the relocation of a heating unit at Wellington Elementary. Original building designs sometimes don't make maintenance duties easy, so when replacement equipment is needed it is often put in more advantageous spots so crews can get at them for repair easier.
Dave Rasmussen works on a refrigeration unit inside newly installed walk-in freezers at the district warehouse. The new freezers were built entirely by the maintenance department.
Once the kids are out of school for the summer, most people forget the buildings that are left behind.
But for Deon Kone, director of maintenance for Carbon School District, summer is the time when major work gets done that can't be done during the year.
His crew of four men accomplish a lot during the summer, and at times the tasks can be overwhelming.
Besides having to repair a lot of things that went wrong during the school year, they must also deal with capital outlay projects, some of which are not contracted out but must be done within the crew.
In 2009, employees who have 12 month contracts with the district are also dealing with longer hours, but less days per week.
The school district has put its crews on 10-hour days, four day weeks through the first part of August.
"The superintendent wants the schools closed down on Fridays to save energy," said Kone as he stood in his office and shop complex east of Mont Harmon Junior High. "It's harder to do than you think. People are used to just leaving things on and letting them go and here we are trying to save energy use in the buildings. The other day I walked around one of the buildings shutting off fax machines and computers that had been left on so they would not be consuming energy over the long weekends."
While big school districts have teams of electricians, plumbers, carpenters and tradesmen, Carbon has maintenance specialists who have particular skills, but who fix anything and everything.
While the Sun Advocate was visiting with the workers, one employee was installing new electrical panels and upgrades, another was focusing on lawn sprinkling systems and playground equipment, one was helping to install new refrigeration units at the district warehouse and the last was installing a new heating pump system at another school.
The work can be heavy and it can be tedious. The buildings are generally not air conditioned and if they are it is off for the summer so they, and the custodial staff in the buildings who are cleaning and doing minor repairs at the same time, have to deal with the heat contained in large enclosed brick buildings.
But the buildings aren't all quiet either, and workers still must work around some schedules. Lunch programs, summer school and athletic programs still run during the months school is "closed" and so work must proceed without disrupting those activities.
The district has eight school campus', the district office, the district maintenance shops and the warehouse to maintain. Helper Junior High is the oldest building in the district, while Bruin Point Elementary is the newest. And buildings age faster than people realize; time passes quickly.
"Sometimes people don't realize how quickly buildings age and what can go wrong with them," said Kone. "They build a building and before they know it it is 20 years old. At 20 years a lot of stuff in a building can be either well worn or worn out."
Sometimes people don't understand the finance of taking care of buildings either. At one school board meeting a couple of years ago when the funding for more teachers at a school was short, a lady stood up and asked why the district couldn't use the money that was spent on the nice furnishings in the board room for teachers salaries and buy something less expensive.
"Many types of money, by law, can only be used for certain kinds of things," said Darin Lancaster, the districts business manager in an interview last month. "So while we may have a shortage of money to pay teachers, we may have other money that we can use to rebuild parking lots or put a roof on a building. Those kinds of funds must be spent on those things and we can't transfer it."
Kone says that building maintenance saves the taxpayers money because it keeps physical plants intact and operating efficiently. For instance the district has been working on a long term replacement of roofs on buildings in the district. Many of the original roofs were installed with only 15-20 year guarantees and many were well past that. Some were failing and could have caused a lot of interior damage. The new roofing systems installed will probably last twice that long, giving the district more time and money over the years to come up with longer term replacement plans for their replacement.
Maintaining the electrical, mechanical and structure systems of even a small school district like Carbon is a large job, and one that is important to the learning environment for the students and for teachers.