It’s 6:00 a.m. Friday morning, May 26th. The day after the last day of school. Students all over the district are fast asleep. Parents all over the district are thankful. Teachers all over the district are breathing a sigh of relief. We made it. The school year is finished. Summer is here at last.
But at Marguerite Vann Elementary School, all is not quiet. It looks like an invasion of sorts is occurring. The hallways and parking lots that went dead silent at 4:01 yesterday afternoon are suddenly filled with cars, footsteps and the sounds of jackhammers, crowbars, and drills. By 6:30 a.m., the entire maintenance and custodial staff of Conway Public Schools has begun the process of taking everything out of the building- boxes, furniture, cabinets, floors- you name it, it has to go. This school will be entirely remodeled from top to bottom, inside and out, before the students come back on August 14th, and there is not a minute to waste.
I knew working on the Vann Elementary Remodel Project would be a good time to do a “Day in the Life of Maintenance.” And it was. There is no way I will be able to adequately describe in words what these people do in such a short amount of time…and how dramatic it is to watch what was a fully-functioning classroom just a few short days before, become a completely-gutted empty room/construction site right before your eyes.
It takes all 85 employees on our Custodial Team, plus our 26-man maintenance crew to get the building emptied and ready to begin work on the school remodel. They gather early in the morning, each bringing a dolly with them. Then they split up into teams and start moving boxes out of classrooms, a section of the building at a time. The teachers at Vann box and label everything from their classrooms so it can be loaded up and placed into storage pods over the summer. The custodians made countless trips in and out of the building, staying in lines and working room by room to make sure teachers’ stuff could stay organized and get where it needed to go. I was impressed with their attention to detail and their teamwork.
It took more than two hours to get all the boxes out of the building. While the boxes were being loaded, maintenance crews were tearing out old cabinetry and clearing things off the walls so paint and floor crews could come in for the next steps. This work was HARD and it was LOUD. They use mallet hammers and crowbars (and honestly, their bare hands lots of times!) to pry coat racks, white boards, soap/paper towel dispensers, bulletin boards, and more off the walls. Many of these had been there since 1986 when the school was built. The cabinets and sinks all had to be “cut out” of the classrooms, because the school will get brand new ones. It was really cool to watch them come out. Some of them had handwriting on the back. They were numbered and said “Conway Elementary School.” I bet back when Vann was built, there weren’t so many that you had to specify which one! Dust was flying everywhere. Old televisions (Some were really old!) came out…we found things on the top of the tall cabinets that had definitely been there for more than 30 years! Some of the cabinets came apart easily and some gave more of a struggle. The noise was almost deafening as what was the basic structure of classrooms gave way to make room for new improvements.
After the boxes were all moved out, the staff took a quick break and then started on the furniture. Every desk, chair, and table had to be moved out of every room. There are a lot of desks and tables in an elementary school! It was quite a sight when they started piling up together in the same place! I thought about the memories of all the students who had worked on those desks. It’s also exciting to think about this year’s students coming in and seeing the new furniture they will have.
The custodians worked so hard moving everything. Again, it was a slow but steady process. It’s amazing to me how large a team we have when every school comes together. I liked seeing folks that I knew from all the different schools in one place. These people are such hard workers. Before we knew it, all the furniture was out and maintenance crews could begin clearing the cabinet remnants, scrap metal and trash from the rooms. There were three massive dumpsters brought in to the back parking lot for this purpose. It didn’t take very long for them to get full enough to need to be mashed down to hold more.
The men worked room by room, loading the wood pieces onto flat dollies and carts and taking them outside to be loaded into the dumpsters. They even let me load up a few loads and “drive” the dolly, which was a LOT harder than it looks. Any stories you hear about my driving are highly exaggerated. Although we are very lucky they are painting all the walls, because I did crash into a few.
Clearing every room took a very long time. Have I mentioned that these guys are hard workers? They are. Many of them do not take breaks, nor do they get any recognition for what they do behind the scenes. We were working on Friday and they planned to come in the next day (Saturday) which was a holiday weekend, in order to get the work done and keep the project on schedule. Their work is so physically tiring, but they don’t stop until the job is done and done well. Their “whatever it takes” isn’t the same as what our teachers do, and much of the time it is unseen, yet we could not have school without them. Maybe visible projects like the Vann remodel will remind us of their important work.