The Monday after school was out, School Plant’s 166 craftsman descended across the division’s schools to start work on a multitude of remodeling and replacement projects.
“We’re painting entire buildings. We’re doing lighting projects. We’re doing pipe lining projects as well as flipping school libraries,” said Eric Woodhouse, director of School Plant Services, the school division’s maintenance office which is responsible for the upkeep and care of more than 11 million square feet of building space.
“We try not to interrupt the educational process so the best time to do it is in the summer – right when schools close from June 18 to our deadline date, which is Aug. 15,” according to Woodhouse.
Underway right now or about to begin soon are at least 80 projects – most of which are done by School Plant with some specialized work completed by contractors.
School Plant’s craftsmen include plumbers; electricians; carpenters; heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians; painters; filter specialists; roofers; and general maintenance craftsman who do doors, windows and flooring.
According to Woodhouse, “Many of them are master plumbers, master electricians, master HVAC specialists, master carpenters and specialists within each of the trades. We have people with a lot of good experience and qualifications.”
Projects are determined in a variety of ways. In addition to the items that are nearing the end of their life cycle which School Plant tracks, building administrators also submit annual requests for summer projects.
“We send out an annual request for maintenance or upgrade of building and grounds to building administrators. This gives the administrators an opportunity to say what they would like to be done in their building,” Woodhouse explained. This is all in addition to the regular maintenance work that takes place during the school year since School Plant staff walk the inside and outside of schools and administrative offices monthly.
In addition, School Plant recently began a “Building Managers” program, which addresses maintenance concerns quickly in the schools and takes much of the responsibility of maintaining the buildings from the administrators. Woodhouse also said that it’s helpful because the building managers might be able find maintenance issues early which could prevent costly repairs. School Plant staff can easily identify issues because they are trained to spot maintenance items.
“We are getting ahead of things that might actually cost a few hundred dollars before they become a $10,000 or $20,000 repair,” Woodhouse said. “You have to do preventative maintenance to make sure that things stay in working order and from the mechanical side it is also about making sure everything is running efficiently to save on utility costs.”
Even as crews are completing this year’s work, they are also identifying projects for next summer.
“We have a feel for what we need to do for next summer already.”
Why is the work important?
“When people walk into a building, if it looks well-maintained most likely it is,” Woodhouse notes. “We want people to walk up to a building and say that here at Virginia Beach City Public Schools we take care of our buildings.”
He also added that School Plant staff, which is sporting new red shirts this year so that they can easily be identified when they are in a school building, take immense pride in their work.
“They care about the work they do,” Woodhouse added. “They have passion and want to do a good job and when you look at Virginia Beach having all schools accredited, I like to think that School Plant played a role in it by making sure that for the most part schools were clean, well-conditioned and well maintained so students and teaching staff can focus on helping students.”