Q&A with Cecil Parker
City of Residence: Perry
Occupation: Director of maintenance, Houston County Board of Education
Q: Houston County Schools will open and fill with students Monday. What happens in empty schools during the summer to get them ready for the new year?
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A: The word is maintenance--maintaining. In general, we do what we do all year but in the summer we get a chance to do a lot more deep cleaning and deeper maintenance while the kids are gone.
Q: For example?
A: A really big thing is stripping and waxing all the vinyl tile in all the schools and cleaning every square foot of carpet in all our facilities. Every square foot.
Q: How many square feet is that?
A: It blows people’s minds, but we have over 4.2 million square feet in our schools, plus there’s administrative and support facilities. But in summer we concentrate on the schools and that’s 4,280,989 square feet.
Q: How many different actual schools are there?
A: Twenty-three elementary schools, eight middle, five high schools and the career academy, the Elberta Center, and the Crossroads Center. There are about 10 additional administrative and support facilities.
Q: What are some other big summer jobs?
A: We do preventative maintenance on all the air-conditioning units throughout the system and check all lighting and plumbing in all the rooms and bathrooms to make sure they’re ready. We don’t want teachers coming in without lights.
Q: And this is all day-to-day and regular summer projects, not big school remodels or new construction?
A: Right. This is just maintaining what we have, keeping it in top-notch shape. It’s a challenge.
Q: What’s the biggest headache in maintaining county schools?
A: The thing that has to be done constantly and takes the most hands-on effort is curb appeal: keeping the outside and grounds nice and from being overrun. Each campus has peculiar challenges.
Q: Which is most challenging?
A: Veterans High because of its size. It has 102 acres, but that includes space for a middle and elementary school we can build in the future.
Q: In comparison, what’s Warner Robins High School, which is pretty land-locked?
A: Nineteen acres of almost all buildings.
Q: How do they compare student population-wise, the people you have to clean up after?
A: They’re pretty close: there’s 1,474 at Veterans and 1,588 at Warner Robins. The smallest number of students in a school is Lindsay Elementary with 425. You can imagine the wear and tear every day with students in class, going to class, to lunch, walking hallways, doing the things people do.
Q: What size staff do you have for all this?
A: Ninety-nine doing administration and warehouse work and around 150 on maintenance teams and the school-based custodians.
Q: The school-based custodians -- do any fit the 1950s-60s TV stereotype of student’s friend and adviser?
A: A lot do. They see the school as their own and really care what it looks like and how the kids and the school are doing. Some have been at their schools for 20-plus years. They figure it’s their school. I tell people this: When these folks punch in, they punch in knowing they each have about 28,000 square feet to clean each day. Now you figure how many square feet you have in your home to maintain. We get them good equipment that they can make time with, that’s the key. We’ve also shifted a lot of school maintenance to nighttime work -- to be more efficient.
Q: How about the maintenance teams you mentioned?
A: We have teams to maintain our heating and air-conditioning, landscaping and other specific maintenance needs. They work across the county. We have painters. We do a lot of painting year-round and a whole lot in the summer. We want our schools to shine when students and staff, parents and visitors walk in.
Q: You and your crews serve an educational system. Do you see yourselves as part of the education effort?
A: We absolutely do. A few years back, I got our people to write out what they thought we stood for. We came up with this: To maintain a high quality environment to promote maximum learning. We believe we affect learning as much as anybody in the system. Everything we do has a direct effect on instruction. We believe that.
Q: What’s your budget?
A: Right at $15 million. But keep in mind our department pays the electric, the water -- all the utility bills. It adds up quick.
Q: How long have you been on the job?
A: I started here in 1988 and have been in the director’s role since 1997. I came up through the trenches.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at email@example.com.