Summertime offers no vacation for John Rice, a building engineer at Kenwood Academy, a Chicago public high school. Instead, it holds the challenge of completing tall projects within short timeframes in an action-packed environment.
During the summer months, Kenwood Campus, which includes an auditorium, gymnasium, pool and outdoor track, is home to summer school, a daycare program, academic camps and events hosted by the nearby University of Chicago. That means John must develop a complex strategy to relocate occupants, communicate schedules and manage work crews.
"Finding time to make pool repairs is especially challenging," notes John. "With swim teams, water polo, gym and specialty programs, the pool is occupied all year. There's never a good time to shut it down."
At Parker Community Academy, located on Chicago's south side, elementary school students occupy the building during June and July. Therefore, maintenance crews must complete all projects requiring water shutoff or other disruptive measures in August.
"Preparation is essential. Jobs have to be set up, supplies ordered and contractors reserved so we're ready to go," notes Hector Chavez, Parker Community Academy's facility engineer. Hector also knows that the best-laid summer plans – and budget allocations – change. "We must be flexible in our approach, balancing pro-active versus reactive measures," he says.
Every Nook and Cranny
Deep cleaning is an important part of every school's summer schedule. Janitorial crews clean light fixtures, glass, furniture and walls. They sweep, scrub, re-wax and buff floors, and use hot-water extractors to sanitize carpets.
Keeping systems in good working order can save money and aggravation in the long run. So repairs and updates for HVAC, plumbing and electrical equipment, as well as testing and cleaning of systems, are also a priority. This summer, 77-year-old Parker Community Academy will schedule a series of ADA-required updates, including the installation of an elevator. Wheelchair-accessible water fountains, doors, sinks, toilets and a ramp will also be installed.
Kenwood Academy will also tackle elevator issues. Two elevators will undergo extensive rehabilitation. Kenwood Academy will also put in an Internet-based telephone system and the pool will be acid cleaned and have tile repair. In some cases, capital projects interfere with regular summer tasks. Parker Community Academy underwent a complete electrical upgrade several years ago. That made it difficult to coordinate cleaning schedules, and keep dust and debris from the drilling in check. Good communication can help minimize these types of disruptions, Hector notes.
Declining budgets and fiscal shortfalls mean leaner school maintenance budgets. That's especially challenging since prices for some necessary supplies, like paper and plastic products, have climbed, notes Hector.
To save electricity, Kenwood Academy equipped classrooms with lighting that has automatic shut-off sensors. At Parker Academy, Hector installed more than 20 fluorescent lighting fixtures in the basement of his school. These new fluorescent fixtures provide brighter light than the incandescent lamps and use only a portion of the energy.
Hector also purchased scaffolding (for projects such as ceiling repairs, drapery removal and replacement of light bulbs) rather than renting it on multiple occasions. "It paid for itself within two jobs, and is here for us to use for years to come," says Hector. "That was money well spent."
The Primary Goal
When the bell rings in September, school engineers earn high marks for how they spent their summer. But for Hector, like most school facility personnel, it's not about recognition.
"Ultimately, my goal is to do the best for the kids," Hector says. "That's why I'm here."