Staff for South Portland schools gathered for breakfast and a meeting in the auditorium Aug. 28, when Superintendent Ken Kunin mentioned the importance of custodians in his welcome back speech. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND ⁠— With the new school year about to start, the facilities staff for city schools are finishing up cleaning that’s taken them summer to complete.

The library is quiet and locked prior to the arrival of students, with chairs still up after custodial crew finished their cleaning. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

“Every room in every building gets taken apart, thoroughly cleaned and then put back together to really shine at the start of the year,” Superintendent Ken Kunin said in an interview Aug. 26. “This adds to the safety and security of our schools by communicating we care about our facilities.”

At a staff meeting in the high school auditorium Aug. 28, Kunin spoke to over 500 school staff members, highlighting in his speech the important role facilities staff play in the school system. The meeting came ahead of the first day of classes for grades 1-9 on Sept. 3 and for kindergarteners and grades 10-12 on Sept. 4.

Kunin said the annual summer deep cleaning allows for ongoing and preventative maintenance to provide cost-effective management for the city’s 700,000 square feet of buildings. Throughout the year, he also noted, their work is integral for a safe and healthy learning environment.

Facilities Manager Tony Lombardo said he typically spends his time coordinating capital improvement projects and schedules for cleaning. He said the biggest challenge each year is completing the deep-clean while summer programs are in session.

“Daily cleaning in addition to deep cleaning adds another layer of difficulty, but we get it done,” he said. “We have 40 or so people in the department, though. Everything we do is geared toward the kids having a nice, healthy place to be, and we’re constantly trying to enhance the school.”

Building mechanic Bruce Roma Jr., who has worked at city schools doing general maintenance for 19 years, said his duties include anything from window repairs and painting to mowing.

Lombardo said the duties accomplished over the summer are particularly important at the two elementary schools, Memorial Middle Sch0ol and Mahony Middle School, which consume a lot of custodial energy due to their constant need for restoration.

“We’re always trying to be mindful of energy,” he said. “And some schools, like Mahoney and Memorial, don’t consume as efficiently but that’s just because of their age.”

Project plans for the consolidation of the middle schools, which passed a second and final reading Aug, 27, will head to referendum Nov. 5.

Tracy Case, who has worked as a custodial foreperson at Mahoney Middle School almost nine years, said it was difficult deep-cleaning the buildings with 120 kids sometimes utilizing the building in the summer, but is happy to be a part of the process that goes into providing kids a safe space.

“When we begin each summer, we usually start off on the top floor and work our way down, doing everything from moving around furniture, to cleaning the lights and stripping and waxing the wood floors,” she said.

Case said teachers and students alike are grateful for the cleaning they do, and often say “thank you” throughout the summer. Teachers are quite mindful of what they do in their classrooms, she mentioned, which makes the cleaning process easier.

“The work our custodians do each summer is incredible and important on so many levels,” Kunin said. “We don’t underestimate the power of their work, and we are so grateful for the amazing job they do each year.”


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