Building managers program helps schools expedite maintenance work

Darren Payne arrives at Newton Elementary School at 6:30 each morning.

He begins his day by pulling up his computer to check that the school’s heating and air conditioning are properly functioning. Then, he starts walking the school, inspecting kitchen freezers, checking boiler rooms or looking for any maintenance-related items that might need attention.

“We make sure that everything is running as it should before the kids and staff get here,” said Payne who is one of the division’s 25 building managers servicing 53 buildings.

“A building manager is assigned to a school, or two or three schools, and manages every aspect of maintenance for the school building inside and out,” said Jimmy Wharton, building manager supervisor for the Office of Maintenance Services. “Before the program, which was started in 2017, it was the assistant principal of each building who would turn in a work request. So basically what this [program] has done is taken that load off the administrators and let them focus on instruction.”

Payne, who is also assigned to Diamond Springs and Bettie F. Williams, sees that the program saves time for both the school and maintenance services.
“In the past, before the building manager program, there was a lot of drive time. You would have to drive to the school not knowing exactly what part you needed, and then having to drive back to maintenance services. It was twice as much driving.”

The program has also streamlined work getting done.

“Having the building manager here has helped us solve problems at a faster rate,” said Newton Elementary School Principal Heidi Rinehart. “He really has a good handle of the school and what needs to be fixed.”

“From my perspective, it’s incredibly more efficient because now the school is aware if they have a problem, I’m right there,” Payne adds. “I can look at it, either fix it right then or let the school know what’s going on.”

On the maintenance side, it also helps to have a subject-matter expert in the building who can provide more details about issues.

“Before, a school might call with something like ‘no heat in the library,’ where it can be kind of vague,’” Payne stated. Instead, building managers on-site can check the equipment, pull up computer diagnostics and, if needed, contact maintenance with specific details about what might be the problem.

“I can call a craftsman over the phone and say, ‘can you advise me on a step.’ Half the time, they can advise me by saying ‘try this’ and it will work,” according to Payne, who was a full-time craftsman with maintenance services for 10 years before becoming a building manger.

“This position is very unique because before there was always a disconnect. You’re either maintenance services or you’re school staff. I’m in the middle now. I’m technically a maintenance service employee, but I also feel like I’m part of the school,” Payne added. “It all kind of ties everything together. There is a lot of teamwork on both ends.”

That teamwork is also evident not just between a school and maintenance services, but also amongst neighboring building managers.

“If I’m out, we have other building managers who come over and check my building – and I’ve done the same for other people. If that building manger is going to be out, I’ll be popping in and out. They have my contact information. They call me if they have issues and vice versa.”

Building managers also help each other out with larger jobs.

“No matter what it is, even big jobs like tile installation that other building managers plan, they will recruit us and we will help. It’s huge teamwork,” he said.

Payne also knows that maintenance services has their back through training.

Every building manager begins with full-day training where they learn about automation controls, work order writing, daily routines, computer work and communication with school administrators and other staff members. In addition, since many of them might have worked in specific trades, they shadow other building managers with similar school assignments. All of this training takes anywhere from seven to 10 days.

But they’re not quite on their own yet.

Maintenance services then introduces them to their assigned building administrator, supervisor and others to review roles and responsibilities. After the new building manager gets settled into their assigned school, the craftsman of each trade stops by to walk the building with them.

And after that, maintenance staff continues to be only a phone call away.

“There’s tons of resources. A lot of times, if I need help, they can tell me over the phone,” he adds. “Or, other times, they’ll say they can give me a hand with it and it’s a good way I can learn it. The amount of resources is excellent and the rapport with everybody – it’s like you’re on a team.”

Newton Elementary School second-grade teacher Teresa Abdulbaaqee says the school is lucky to have a building manager because it has a positive impact on instruction.

“He’s professional. He walks around with a smile all the time and he is often on top of things before we can even finish telling him,” she enthusiastically shared. “He goes from room to room to make sure our classrooms are how they need to be and that the climate in the building is comfortable so we can be our best for our students. It really is a big part of academic achievement.”

Look for more building managers as the Office of Maintenance Services works to expand the program into all schools before the summer.

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