by: Erin Borla; The Nugget News
Published 12/8/15; Visit The Nugget News website here.
The maintenance staff for the Sisters School District always seems to be hard at work on one project or another. It’s their job through the direction of the Director of Operations Leland Bliss to keep Sisters students safe and the District’s buildings in the best repair possible.
The three maintenance men on staff include Tony Adair, Guy Selig, and Gary Pepperling. These three men work 245 days a year, 8 hours a day – unless there is an after-hours emergency, snowstorm, or other issue.
“My crew is amazing,” says Bliss. “They work especially hard – we have been down one full-timemaintenance position for the last five to six years – and these guys always pick up the slack.”
In addition to the loss of a maintenance position several years ago, the District is also down three custodians. You wouldn’t know it walking through theschools. Each building is clean and well kept, which helps to instill school pride and a positive learning environment for both the students and staff.
Bliss himself has a variety of responsibilities as the director of operations including overseeing safety, procurement, distribution, facilities, nutrition and transportation.
The maintenance crew is responsible for everything including plumbing fixes, wall repairs, HVACmaintenance or cleaning up lunch spills.
Most recently parents were notified of a boiler failure at Sisters Elementary School (SES) on Monday, November 30. School was canceled at 7:45 a.m. – after some students were already en-route to school on the buses.
The SES boiler went into a “fault” mode over the holiday weekend when it got cold enough to freeze a pipe in the make-up water system in the boiler room. Boilers are a closed system – designed to pump water through a series of pipes throughout the designated heating area, then back to the boiler to be reheated. The make-up water system allows for the boiler to bring additional water into the unit after natural condensation and water-loss occurs. When the boiler at SES could not bring in additional water, it shut down. The shutdown caused it to get cold enough to break the water meter in the boiler room.
When maintenance staff arrived early Monday morning it was between 48 and 50 degrees in classrooms at SES.
“It’s our job to keep kids safe at school,” says Bliss. “Was it difficult to cancel school when kids were already on their way to the building? Yes. But, 48 degrees is not a good learning environment for anyone, especially elementary-aged kids.”
There were many rumors around town regarding the last-minute closure of school. Bliss was glad it was just a water meter that broke. Tony Adair, on maintenance staff, is the HVAC and boiler repairperson. Adair was able to have the boiler in working order by 3 p.m. on Monday and classes were back in session the following Tuesday.
“I take my job very seriously,” says Adair. “We had kids on the bus and parents on their way to work and we had to cancel school. I was beating myself up over that. The boiler wanted to start, but couldn’t.”
Adjustments have been made since the incident last week. Lead custodians for each building now have the authority during a holiday or extended weekend to enter the building without administrations approval to confirm all systems are in good working order prior to the students’ return to school.
“Allowing the custodians to enter the buildings during these longer closures will help us to prevent the last-minute school closure from happening again,” Bliss said.
There are plans for a second boiler to be installed at SES in the near future.
In addition to Adair’s responsibilities with the heating and cooling systems, he is also a plumber and working on an electrical apprenticeship.
“I want to do what I can to save the District some money,” says Adair. “They won’t have to contract out if I can service the electrical needs. It’s all about teamwork to me.”
Gary Pepperling had worked outside his entire life – he took a job as a substitute custodian 12 years ago and then stepped into the grounds-keeper role when it became available. He keeps himself busy working on irrigation systems and fields in the fall, striping and prepping ball fields in the spring, and heading up the snow-removal crew in the winter.
“I thought that big snow over the holiday break was pretty fun,” he said.
Serving on the maintenance staff, employees must be a “jack-of-all-trades.” Guy Selig took his maintenancejob eight years ago. He is in charge of pest management and asbestos control. He also has his hand in a little bit of everything from custodial work, driving a bus, assisting with mowing and snow removal, patching sheet rock – Selig even has his food handlers card and fills in in the kitchens when they are short-handed on the nutrition staff.
“It’s different every day,” says Selig. “A few years back, when it must have been close to 17 below zero, I was out in Camp Sherman under a school bus in the snow changing an oil filter that had gelled up in the cold. That was a memorable day.”
The maintenance crew is a group of quick thinkers who work efficiently to keep our school buildings working well. There is one thing in common with all of the staff-they all love working around the kids.
“I’ve been in Sisters for 53 years,” says Pepperling. “I went to Sisters schools through middle school, then graduated from Redmond. I used to be on the Outlaw Football coaching staff. Anything I can do to help kids makes me feel pretty good. I love working for the District.”