Unsung heroes: Cullman County Schools maintenance crews prepare for new school year


Phillip White and Ricky Smith check an electrical multimeter at Holly Pond Middle School. (W.C. Mann for The Tribune)

CULLMAN COUNTY – The 14 facilities/maintenance crew members employed by the Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE) have had their hands full this summer, but that’s nothing new.  Summer provides them the opportunity to get inside facilities and make some noise without having to worry about the kids. And they’re not worried about the kids getting in their way.  They’re trying to stay out of the kids’ way.

CCBOE Maintenance Department Director Ron Whaley shared, “My guys do maintenance and small renovations, and some construction.  We do things that we don’t need to do when the kids are there, because it disrupts the main focus of what the schools do.

“So we do maintenance and renovations, and a lot of stuff in the summer we do, like our boilers have to be cleaned and recertified, elevators, sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, all that kind of stuff the state requires to be inspected.  If they don’t pass the inspection, we have to do whatever it takes to get them certified.”

On the Facilities page of the County Schools’ website, the department’s listed tasks include electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation & air conditioning, integrated termite management, painting, welding, locksmith, carpentry, renovations and construction.

According to Whaley, a partial list of this summer’s projects includes:

  • Cold Springs School – Re-roof (storm damage) various buildings
  • Welti Elementary School – Re-roof and siding replacement (storm damage)
  • Bus Transportation Shop – Re-roof and siding replacement (storm damage)
  • Child Development Center – Electrical and HVAC upgrade
  • Vinemont High School – Roofing and HVAC upgrade
  • Good Hope High School – Electrical upgrade
  • West Point Elementary School – Major electrical and roof upgrade
  • Cullman Area Technical Academy – Roof and HVAC upgrade
  • Hanceville High School – Cafe electrical upgrade
  • Fairview High School – Driver’s Ed. building re-roof
  • Cold Springs High School – Cafe renovation
  • Holly Pond High School – Cafe renovation
  • Holly Pond High School – Home Ec., Ag. building replacement (phase 3)
  • West Point High School – Cafe expansion
  • Good Hope High School – Repair/renovate gym restrooms
  • Child Development Center – Parking lot expansion
  • Maintenance Shop – Re-roof truck shed
  • Central Office – Renovation of offices
  • Cold Springs High School – Field house plumbing
  • Cold Springs Elementary School – Concrete at pavilion
  • West Point High School – Construct downstairs classrooms
  • Fairview Elementary School – Renovate for new offices
  • Child Development Center – Renovate for restrooms in bookrooms
  • Fairview Elementary School – Parking lot expansion
  • All schools – Capital Plan Inspection List-facilities assessments
  • All schools – Capital Plan Inspection List repairs (moderate to severe)
  • All schools – Maintenance work orders
  • Fairview High School – Waste water treatment plant infiltration repairs
  • Vinemont High School – Waste water treatment plant infiltration repairs
  • Hanceville Elementary School – Change water pressure regulator
  • All schools- HVAC cleaning and repairs
  • All schools- Boiler (29 ct) maintenance, inspection, testing, cleaning
  • All schools- Natural gas line inspection with Cullman-Jefferson Gas
  • Fairview Elementary School – Change HVAC unit
  • Vinemont High School – Install new HVAC controls
  • Child Development Center – Install new HVAC controls
  • All schools- Capital Plan inspection and update
  • All school- water testing
  • All schools- Fire alarm system inspection
  • All schools- Sprinkler system inspection and repairs
  • All schools- Summer work supervision
  • West Point Middle School – Replace front doors
  • Holly Pond High School – Set up portable classrooms (2 ct)
  • School Fairview Middle – Replace bleachers

Whaley said of his team, “I’ve got a good crew.  I just coach them. I tell everybody I coach them.  It’s the easiest job you’ve got. I tell them, ‘If we win, it’s your fault; if we lose, it’s mine.’  And so, it’s one of the easiest jobs you ever got.

“You hire good, qualified people, and they know what they’re doing.  I got three HVAC guys that’s got over a hundred years’ experience, you know, so it’s like they make it look easy.  It’s not easy, but they make it look easy!”

Shop Foreman Johnny McKenney said, “We definitely have some good guys that works here.  As many schools as we have, we do a very good job to keep them up.”

In more than 22 years, the system has maintained an “up-time” percentage of more than 99.9 percent, meaning that the number of days schools were not able to open for classes due to lack of useable facilities accounted for less than one tenth of one percent of all class days in all 29 schools and program sites.  Whaley and his crew have a habit and a reputation for keeping up what they can keep up, preventing what they can prevent and responding quickly and effectively even to circumstances beyond their control.

Said Whaley, “We’ve got a little saying that says, ‘Be a small part of something big, not a big part of something small.’  So people may look at our role as a small part, but it’s like we play a small part in something that’s real big, that’s real important.

“We do a lot of things early in the morning, weekends and stuff.  And our goal is, if the principals and teachers never know we’re there, they never knew they had a problem–the old saying in maintenance is ‘silence is golden,’ ‘out of sight, out of mind.’  It’s like they’ve got enough to do without having to worry about their facilities.”

After the county school board meeting Tuesday evening, CCBOE Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette told The Tribune, “I would like to just say how much I appreciate our maintenance department and all they’ve done.  They are truly our unsung heroes, because many times the teachers and principals don’t even realize what all they do. And they come in at all hours of the day and night, and fix things, a lot of times, that the schools don’t even know were broken.

“But this summer, they’ve been doing everything from painting to plumbing, to construction and so forth, doing as many projects as they can do to get ready for school starting.  And as the teachers come to Institute in a little over a week from now, they’ll still be out finishing up projects and stuff, getting ready for it. So I can’t say enough about our maintenance department, how much I appreciate them and what they do.”

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