School improvements

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Jeff Bollinger is a bit like a proud parent showing off his child's straight-A report card as he points out the new roof at the Primary Annex and a handicapped-accessible bathroom going up at Jackson High School on this 80-degree July morning.

Not too long ago, those projects would have meant big dollars and the hiring of outside sources for the Jackson School District. These days, it's rare to find a private contractor's vehicle parked at Jackson's school buildings.

In most cases, Bollinger -- director of operations in Jackson -- and his maintenance crew of two heating and air-conditioning technicians, an electrician and a plumber, can get the job done for about half the amount an outside contractor would charge.

Similar savings have been seen in the Cape Girardeau School District, which has also made the move away from outside contracting, said J.B. McClard, who has been facilities director for four years.

In 1998, during his first year at Jackson, Bollinger's team shaved $75,000 off the maintenance budget by doing more of the work themselves. His crew is always looking to save money, said Bollinger, a former industrial arts teacher with a background in construction.

From building interior walls and pouring concrete, to running electrical wires and making cabinets, summer is by far school maintenance workers' busiest time. Most of the changes aren't eye-catching, but necessary to the upkeep of schools.

"There's nothing glamorous about this, but if it's not done, it's very noticeable," McClard said. "Everyone takes advantage of things like the lights coming on when you go in a classroom or the buildings being nice and warm in the winter. We may not be teaching classes, but we make a difference here."

McClard also has an HVAC technician, carpenter, electrician and a plumber on his maintenance crew. Among other things, the six-member crew is building an interior room and a retaining wall at Clippard Elementary.

Jackson maintenance's summer to-do list includes re-tiling floors, pouring sidewalks and building cabinets. In both districts, there's also the regular floor-to-ceiling cleaning and touch-ups to do before the start of school in mid-August.

"There's a mindset that when school's out, everyone's out, but this is when we really tear it up," Bollinger said. "If something needs to be done, we do it. The whole staff is like that. Our ultimate goal is for the children."

Bollinger and McClard said their districts still contract out a few tasks, especially those that are extremely dangerous such as changing light bulbs on very tall electric poles or securing a mobile trailer on concrete blocks.

Officials in both Jackson and Cape Girardeau said budget cuts haven't prevented them from necessary maintenance tasks.

"The budget's not the limiting factor, it's time. I'm not sure they'd have time to do much more than they're doing," said Jim Welker, assistant superintendent in Jackson.

335-6611, ext. 128

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