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Building engineers, maintenance staff and custodians are often an invisible, but critical part of any school facility

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Elvie Gaskey, building engineer for Crook County High School, monitors controls in the boiler room. Gaskey does this on a daily basis.

On an average day, a school custodian who works for Crook County Schools is responsible for an area that equals about 15 homes.

That is an amazing fact, but it merely scratches the surface in the bigger scheme of things. Building engineers, maintenance staff and custodians are often an invisible part of any school facility. They are responsible for maintaining the safety and daily operations of the buildings, and although staff, students and the public may not see what happens behind the scenes, the results are no less important.

"Overall, our mission and goal is not just about fixing things and keeping them clean, but our primary objective after safety is students," said Leland Bliss, Director of Maintenance for CCSD. "Our students are the number one thing, so when it comes to classroom environments, it what is best for the kid that is in the classroom."

Creating an environment of safety that is conducive to learning starts behind the scenes. Building engineers orchestrate the daily operations, beginning early each day to ensure the facility is safe and open for business.

Elvie Gaskey, building engineer at Crook County High School, explained that there is a lot going on at the high school at all times of day — and often on weekends.

"A building engineer's duties at the high school includes making sure the heat is on, the boilers are going, sanding the of the sidewalks on icy mornings, the daily routine of keeping the halls clean, keeping the bathrooms open and after-school activities," Gaskey said.

"There's just a lot going on with the world of custodians," he added. "There's a lot that people don't see, but they do appreciate when they do see you doing it. That makes you feel good when you get a compliment."

Scott Joseph, the middle school building engineer, stressed that there's a lot more to what they do than just clean. He said behind the scenes they service motors, check boilers and make repairs.

"It starts early in the morning, and sometimes we will be there on the weekends removing ice and shoveling snow," Joseph said.

In the summer, when most students and staff are on summer break, they strip and wax floors, paint rooms and clean furniture.

"The classrooms get gutted, and you start at the lights and work your way down to the floor and put it all back together," he added.

Bliss explained that the maintenance staff do a very thorough cleaning in the summer.

"The purpose of that is to actually make the building last a lot longer," said Bliss." It's a preventive maintenance function that they are doing."

Bliss pointed out that classrooms need to be conducive to learning for students. The paint colors need to be neutral and conducive to lighting. The custodians also touch up areas that might be problem areas or that are dirty or need to be worked on more than once per year.

"A big part is keeping the schools safe for the students, staff and public," said Patty Martin, building engineer for Barnes Butte Elementary. "Our number one main concern is safety in the schools."

"They are really dedicated," Bliss said. He said staff come in at 3 a.m. if there is heavy snow — they must clear the roofs to prevent leaks, as well as blow snow and shovel sidewalks.

The maintenance staff do a variety of tasks on a daily basis, including working on air handling units, fixing doors and locks, digging ditches and changing water lines.

Robert Godat is Maintenance I staff for the school district.

"I move a lot of things through the district when people ask for file cabinets or furniture or anything like that — or removing furniture," Godat said.

He also goes out to the field when the public is looking to donate items to the school district. Godat was sent to training four years ago to learn how to work on door and lock hardware.

"Once per year I am sent to a training on different aspects of door hardware and key schedules," said Godat.

He added that a contracted locksmith would charge more than $40 per hour, which saves the district a great deal of money. It also promotes safety and security in the schools throughout the district.

"I have a really well-rounded crew. I have people who can deal with most issues," Bliss said.

He pointed out that the district has a maintenance staff member who has a boiler's license. The district has a supervising electrician and an electrical apprentice, one maintenance staff who is building operator certified, which requires an understanding of HVAC applications, one staff who has a pesticide certification, Godat has a locksmith training certification, and one staff member has asbestos certification.

In addition, custodial teams also do a lot of preventive maintenance, including changing the filters in the rooms. Bliss said good air flow is important, and air filters help.

"We try to make that department be more preventive maintenance than reactive maintenance," he said. "We do a lot of preventive maintenance, where we get into systems and try to make sure the systems are running, and if we see problems, we try to fix the problem before they occur."

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