After summer of work, school workers treated to picnic

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While students are preparing for a new school year, the folks over at the Warwick school department are winding down after a constructive summer full of cleaning and renovations. For those hard-working custodial, maintenance and an assortment of teacher assistants and other staff, recognition was given at a “thank you” barbeque on Friday. 

Nestled under the trees at the Masonic Youth Center, a gathering of the 118 workers sat at picnic benches enjoying hot dogs and hamburgers and an assortment of side dishes. The event was coordinated by Superintendent Philip Thornton and his secretary, Catherine Bonang.

“Folks worked really hard. It’s a nice gesture to give back,” Thornton said.

 Flipping burgers and grilling dogs were Steve Gothberg, Director of Building and Grounds, and Kevin Oliver, area maintenance and custodian supervisor. Both discussed the length workers went to ready the 23 buildings for the opening of school on Sept. 5. 

“A lot of people think working in schools and think summer, they think vacation. This is the busiest time of the year for us,” Gothberg said.  “Staff works very hard in the summer. We want to say thanks for all the hard work.” 

Topping the to-do list this summer was the $8.6 million HVAC system at Warwick Veterans Junior High School, according to Gothberg. But he said other projects, like the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center’s new café and preparing Gorton Junior High School into the new administrative building, were also a priority. 

The yearly summer clean-up list is similarly substantial. It includes the regular maintenance, grounds and annual cleaning going on behind the scenes. Oliver said each building is cleaned from top to bottom, adding some things found left behind in lockers are so repulsive “you don’t want to print.” 

“Think of it this way: there’s 9,000 students, all chewing gum and sticking it on things. You think about it,” Oliver said. 

Desks are sanded and refinished, walls washed and floors buffed.

Bonang, who along with other school administrators have moved into Gorton, said in a room nearby her office, lengthy lines of carved initial hearts were sanded off and the wall was repainted. With the light hitting it at just the right angle, she said she’s still able to see very fine details. 

Not all the work was done indoors, as many of the summer staff worked outdoors keeping the lawn manicured. John Fitz-Simon, a special education teacher assistant during the school year and member of the grounds crew in the summer, said his work consists of cutting grass and trimming trees.  He said he didn’t choose the grounds position but put his name on a sign-up sheet towards the end of the school year and did what he was assigned.

 “I would have done whatever needed to be done,” Fitz-Simon said.

Regarding the approaching school year, he said, “I love it.  Not excited yet but as it [school year] gets closer, I get more excited. I’m happy now cutting grass.” 

A group of TA’s sitting together at a picnic table chewed on potato salad and spinach pies and talked about objects found in lockers and hallways.  The group described the work as scraping and waxing and moving heavy furniture.  The worst of all found was a wolf spider at Toll Gate High School; it was removed from the school. 

Thornton said an electronic blackboard in his office has a list of 25 projects he hopes to get completed soon. He is proposing a plan in the amount of $85 million to do repairs on each of the buildings to increase their longevity. 

“There have been decades of deferred maintenance. You can add on decades of life by doing $85 million.” 

According to Bonang, the School Building Review Committee is inviting Mayor Avedisian to a weekly walk through each school, starting at Scott and Cedar Hill Elementary Schools on August 23, to give a better understanding of the core of the work that needs to be done.

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