Custodians brave harsh elements

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Head custodian John Keenan and 16 other members of the custodial staff faced a tough challenge Feb. 5 when the first school cancellation due to snow arrived. Unable to come in until the weather settled, the custodial staff was called in at an extremely early time Wednesday morning to start the process.

“If we would have gotten here any earlier, with the winds blowing and it snowing, it would have been a complete waste of time. We would have had to clear the lot multiple times and it wouldn’t have done us any good,” Keenan said.

To clear the lots and walkways, the custodians used bulks of salt and ice-melt. The amount of salt needed to keep lots clean during one winter season is equivalent to the weight of seven average-sized elephants (roughly 25,000 pounds). How much salt the staff uses is determined by how much the weather affects the school outside.

“Three of us come in around the same time depending on the amount of snow and if school is going to be cancelled. If school hadn’t been cancelled, we would’ve come in at midnight instead of the time we did,” Keenan said.

Snow that can’t be removed by machinery has to be removed by hand, causing backbreaking work to clear sidewalks and doorways to ensure safety.

“With the other part, there are three guys who go around the outside and push the snow out of the way of the building so we can get the heavier equipment out to shovel all of that. And it’s a constant battle with the winds and if it continues to snow,” Keenan said.

After they had run out of time and energy, the staff returned to the school early Thursday morning to finish clearing the rest of the parking lots as best as they could. The snow-clearing process began approximately four Wednesday morning, and continued until two in the afternoon. Keenan and the rest of the morning crew arrived at three am Thursday morning to finish cleaning the rest of the parking lots.

“It’s our job to make it safe for students and staff. Some of us have been during it for 30 years, some for 17, and some for 24,” Keenan said.

What is now safe for students and staff members, was not safe for the custodial staff when they were called to duty. Custodial member Laura Olsen describes the precautions they had to take with the clothing they wore.

“It definitely takes a toll on us. With the wind and the cold temperature it is not a good mix to be in. We have coveralls, jackets, gloves, boots, you name it,” Olsen said. “We put our health on the line a little bit. Yesterday we were out there the entire time because of the snow, with the exception of a coffee and lunch break.”

All custodial staff members except Keenan are paid hourly, causing hectic scheduling when tough weather arises.

“We are scheduled to work a set time, and if we have to go over that specified time, then it has to be sent to Broderick to be sent downtown to get approved,” Olsen said. “Even then it’s not guaranteed.”

All overtime requests are sent to Activities Director, Kevin Broderick, which then are emailed to the district of Bellevue for approval.

“So basically we try and adjust people. If they are coming in for a specific time they’re scheduled, we can turn around and give them time off during the week. If it happens on an early weekday, then we can give them another day off and then they get their 40 hours. With that way, we don’t have to go into overtime. It’s really a trading of hours,” Broderick said.

Due to frigid temperatures, school was canceled the first day back this semester.

“We don’t have to do anything specifically for cold days. We don’t have anything to do with the outside. Then we get ahead of our work orders. If there is no one in here, there’s lights we can replace. It’s more trying to catch up than trying to get ahead,” Keenan said. “We work very hard to ensure safety, and we are always prepared.”

Sophia Vanfosson
Reporter