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Getting Campbell River schools ready to welcome the kids back in September

Not everyone in the school district gets a couple months off over the summer….
Brenda Zwicker adds yet another coat of wax to yet another classroom floor at L’École Phoenix Middle School as she and the other custodians, information technologists and contractors go about the annual business of getting the district facilities whipped into shape over the summer to welcome the students back in September. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

While the kids, teachers, most school-based support staff and the trustees of the School District 72 board of education are all on break for the summer, there are many others who are working harder than at any other time in the year to keep our community schools safe, clean and welcoming environments for our children.

Paul Reid, the district’s supervisor of operations and safety, says there are probably 100 staff members currently in schools across the community getting the facilities ready to welcome the students back in September.

“I think people maybe underestimate how much work needs to be done while the schools aren’t in session,” Reid says. “We have to take all the desks, chairs, everything out of every classroom and into the halls, strip the floors, wash the rooms top to bottom, wax all the floors – most get five coats of wax – wash and detail all the furniture and then put it back where it goes. It’s quite the process.”

Every locker in every school gets cleaned out and detailed, as does every desk drawer, picture frame and any other nook or cranny in every facility across the district.

And that’s just the cleaning.

“We also go around and repaint anything that needs it, like all these blue handrails,” Reid says, walking the halls of L’École Phoenix Middle School, “and sometimes we have to make rooms into things they weren’t last year, which is another logistics issue that takes a lot of work.”

Some classrooms are converted to computer labs – and vice versa – support rooms become office or storage space – and vice versa – and new classrooms are made out of whatever space is available to respond to the changing populations and demographics in the district. That happens every summer, as well.

“There always tend to be (population) bubbles in terms of age groups, and as they move through the school system, we need more or less room for them in the various schools,” says SD72 communications and community engagement officer Jennifer Patrick, adding that swings in district-wide population affect which schools need how many classrooms and other types of spaces, as well.

“We’re seeing a bit of an influx in people moving to the community right now,” Patrick says. “While we’re a long way to go before we get back to our peak, it’s moving in the right direction again, but it does mean more work needs to be done to make sure they all have a place to learn.”

Then there’s the more significant infrastructure and equipment replacement work – like the boilers being replaced at Phoenix this summer – that are done based on a running list of priorities determined by the district and done when there’s money available in the budget or they get funded by the province or external grants. This summer’s list includes replacing three roof sections of Timberline Secondary, another three sections of roof at Pinecrest Elementary, a $1.5-million mechanical upgrade at Carihi and replacing the playgrounds at both Sayward and Penfield elementary schools.

But all the work being done is more than worth it, Reid says.

“There’s actually a bit of friendly competition between the people in each school to see who can do a better job and get it done first,” he says with a laugh. “There aren’t any prizes or wagers or anything; they do it because they just have that much pride in what they’re doing.”

“Every employee group in the district, ultimately, is here for the benefit of the students,” Patrick agrees.

“Our maintenance and custodial staff, while their busy time might be outside the regular school year, their work is still all focused on preparation for the learning that’s going to be happening, and they take a great deal of pride in that.”

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