Abilene ISD Communications

Not long after the last day of school, most campuses across AISD are quiet, save for administrators wrapping up the year and preparing for time away from the job. But for the men and women in AISD Facilities, the summer months are their busiest as they get campuses and facilities throughout the district ready for the next school year.

“The summer is our best time to get a lot of work done,” said Rickey Wallace, AISD director of facilities. “We all hear from people who think we’re off in the summer, but this is our busiest time of the year. We get our checklists in April with the jobs that need to be done before school starts again, and most of that work is done in the summer.”

That checklist can include jobs ranging from fixing fencing or gates around campuses to resurfacing or replacing sidewalks. AISD facilities employees also maintain the exterior appearance of each campus and facility and, along with custodial services employees, take care of jobs inside the district’s buildings.

Keith Conway, general facilities Lead for the district, said no job is too big – or too small – for the AISD Facilities department to handle, but some job requests take priority.

“Everything starts with safety on our campuses,” Conway said. “Those are the jobs that go to the top of the list. We have several inspections that are required each summer, and we have to be prepared for each of those, whether it’s the playground safety inspections, bleacher safety inspections, the ADAPT swing inspections, and two walk-throughs at our early childhood campuses (Crockett Early Head Start and Long Early Learning Center).”

The pressure to get the work done is intense, especially with such a limited time window: approximately 42 work days between May 28 and the day teachers report back to work (Aug. 6) and about 49 work days between May 28 and the first day of school (Aug. 14). Conway said prioritizing the jobs – already numbering around 50 for facilities and 90 in other areas of the department – makes the workflow better.

“After we get our list of jobs, we go through and prioritize everything and work down the list,” he said. “This year we decided to get everything done on one campus before we move on to the next campus. We’ve got a little less than two months to get it done, so the pressure is on.”

Two of the jobs taking precedence earlier this week were putting up new windscreens on the baseball and softball fields at Abilene High and Cooper and installing a sprinkler system and laying down sod at the front of Crockett. The job at Crockett had a wrinkle because a time capsule – that turned out to be a 55-gallon plastic drum – that was put in the ground in December 1999 had to be removed to make room for the sprinkler system.

The container will not be put back into the ground but will remain in the school’s gym until the school hosts a celebration in December and opens the drum, 25 years after it was buried in front of the campus. Once removed, the sprinkler system and grass can be put into place to give more curb appeal to one of the oldest campuses still in use.

But that work, like other work done in the summer months by AISD facilities employees, is done with a singular purpose: to ensure each campus and facility is safe and ready to host students and staff in August.

“I love going to the early learning and elementary campuses because the kids at those places can make your day,” Conway said. “You can be on a campus and frustrated with something that’s taking longer than it should, and a kid will come up and say, ‘Thank you for fixing this,’ and that uplifts you for the rest of the day. Or you might go to another campus and get a high five from a student; well, you’d better be ready, because the rest of them will line up and get a high five, too. That’s why I do what I do; that’s why I love it.”

Wallace sees that attitude daily from men and women who arrive, sometimes before sunrise, and go home 9-10 hours later.

“I’ll usually get here about 5:50 a.m., and some of our folks are usually here already with smiles on their faces ready to roll,” he said. “They know where they’re going, what they need to finish, and they do it with purpose. Our job is to make sure each campus and facility is ready to go when teachers report on Aug. 6, and then when students get back on Aug. 14. There’s a lot of work that gets done in these weeks of summer, and much of it is things that people don’t even see. But it’s the work that gets those buildings ready for teachers to come back and then students, and we take pride in that.”