After the Flood, as Always, Facilities Team Keeps Heathwood Running Smoothly

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When the area around our campus flooded recently, Heathwood faculty and staff immediately turned to Facilities Director Walt Spiegel and his team to assess the impact of the flooding on the campus. Thankfully, that impact was very minimal.

But even returning to a campus that had largely been spared the effects of the storm, Walt’s team had a significant workload. They always do. Maintaining 122 acres, dozens of buildings large and small, a fleet of buses, and facilities for more than 30 athletic teams means, as Walt puts it, that “the work is never done.”

The facilities team does such a good job that their efforts are often invisible. So the recent flood, which brought the importance of our facilities into such sharp focus, made us want to shine a spotlight on this group that does so much to keep everything running smoothly here at Heathwood.

It takes a staff of over 30 (Walt plus five other full-timers, 18 part-time grounds and building staffers, and five part-time bus drivers) to maintain Heathwood’s facilities. That staff does everything from daily custodial work to building maintenance and repairs to mowing, leaf blowing, reseeding, and debris removal, to bus maintenance to renovation projects like the new bathrooms in the Campus Center. On school days, staffers arrive as early as 6:00 a.m. to prepare the campus for the day by cleaning sidewalks, unlocking buildings and more. Others stay long after hours to clean classrooms and offices.

Then there are events—everything from the Farm to Table Dinner to the SCISACross Country state championship—that require different kinds of preparation and clean-up. And there’s always the unexpected—storms that take down branches, events that get rained out and rescheduled, roofs that were fine one day and leaking the next, birds, squirrels and other wildlife appearing where they shouldn’t.

Wildlife, Walt says, makes for some of his crew’s most interesting moments. For example, “we got a call one day a few years ago that a hawk was caught in one of our power lines, hanging upside down because his talon was caught in the wire. We called both SCE&G and a rescue organization. They got him down, and when we followed up, we found out that they’d nursed him back to health and set him free.”

For Walt, who spent most of his career in construction, working at Heathwood has required a shift in his approach to his workflow. “In construction, when you finish a project, it’s done and you have a sense of completion,” he says. “Here, it’s never-ending, and that was something I had to get used to.” Working around children, he says, has proven to be so rewarding that it’s made that shift entirely worthwhile. “I really enjoy being around the little kids—they’re so funny. Most of them also really seem to appreciate being here and having the kinds of facilities we do. And when kids see and appreciate what we do, that’s really rewarding.”

After the flood, Walt says, “All my folks were just waiting for me to call them. They were ready to come in.” With the road still under water for several days, only Walt made it to campus the first couple of days, but the whole team was back on Thursday. At that point, it wasn’t clear when the school would reopen, but, says Walt, as soon as students did return, “our goal was to make them feel like they were back at home. So many people were hurt by that storm. And we know Heathwood is a home away from home for our students.”

The storms created remarkably little damage on campus, and the facilities crew had help from members of the senior administration team like Middle School Head Donnie Bain, who went through every building on campus on the Tuesday after the flood and took inventory of any issues that might need attention. But road closures all over town meant every bus route had to be reassessed. And bringing students back to campus under a boil water advisory required that all faucets and water fountains be turned off—and then turned back on and flushed out once the advisory was lifted.

The fact that their jobs throw them those kinds of curveballs so often, Walt says, make him glad to be part of a community where so many people, from teachers to students and parents, are willing to pitch in for the good of the school. “There are so many parent volunteers here, and they do so much for the school. On our end, we see all the time how parent volunteers make our functions look great and run well. So thank you parents, for all your help!”


Facilities Fast Facts

Number of employees: 6 full-time, 23 part-time (including 5 bus drivers)

Number of additional summer employees:  10

Scope of work: custodial, building maintenance and basic repair and renovation, grounds maintenance, upkeep of athletic facilities, set-up and clean-up for events, running bus routes, bus maintenance

Recent major projects:  extensive bathroom renovation in the Campus Center, new carpet in the Middle School and elsewhere around campus

Time the workday begins: 6:00 a.m.

Number of days it takes to mow the whole campus: 4

Number of times a week athletic fields have to be mowed: up to 3