–by David Schleck
“I’ve always liked my job,” he said. “My shop is like a second family to me. We have some extremely talented people here. I do it for them and for the kids.”
The 69-year-old retires Jan. 1 as supervisor of maintenance for the Office of Maintenance Services.
“I’m ready to give the job up to someone younger,” he said. “But leaving the people is going to be hard.”
A Kellam High School graduate, Parker’s first job was as an electrician’s helper in 1972, working at the school plant when it was located on Witchduck Road where Renaissance Academy now stands.
“When I started I couldn’t tell you how a light switch worked,” he said. “I learned by on the job training.”
In the 1970s, about 35 people worked at the plant, providing maintenance services to 33 schools. Now there’s more than 80 schools with about 200 skilled trades professionals at the Office of Maintenance Services off Corporate Landing Parkway.
Parker didn’t have a particular interest in the trades at first. He only took the job because one of his friends worked in the electrical shop.
“My plan was to come here for a year, just to get some experience,” he said.
But he learned quick. He became a master electrician and then a supervisor of the plant’s first night shift in 1998. He oversees 21 staff members who specialize in electrical, plumbing, HVAC and other skills necessary to maintain and fix nearly everything that can break during an after-hours school emergency.
“It used to be that when the school day was over, people went home,” Parker said. “Not now. People are in the schools all the time.”
In addition to student activities before and after school, custodians and security officers work around the clock.
There are 10 different shops within the Maintenance Services building, responsible for taking care of the division’s 11.5 million square feet of building space. The building stores supplies such as sheetrock, plywood, ceiling tile, HVAC parts and filters … many, many filters.
“There are literally tens of thousands of air filters throughout the division that need to be changed every three months,” Parker said. His team does preventative maintenance to keep the schools various systems operating, but things still break down during nightshift hours, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Pipes burst. Toilets leak.
Parker had the opportunity to make more money working for utility companies, but he had heard too many stories of people being laid off from private sector jobs.
“This was a very secure job for a man with a family,” he said.
In addition to his work at the shop, he taught several years in the division’s career development and technical programs.
When a colleague is going through a crisis at home, Parker’s team members take up collection and attend memorial services. “We come together,” he said.
The top challenge over the years was supplying the manpower to keep everything running in the schools, including aging equipment.
“I love my job. I’ve always loved my job, but I’m ready to give it up.”
“I will stay very busy,” he said.
He has some words of wisdom to share after 50 years at VBCPS.
“Find what you like and stick with it,” he said. “If you don’t like your job, you will always be miserable. I’m about to turn 69, and I don’t regret one moment here. I’ve made friendships that I know will last a lifetime.”