Custodian Sanjesh Prasad cleans a lower school library door using an electrostatic sprayer. (Photo by Arijit Trivedi)

BEHIND THE SCENES: The maintenance and custodial team

There are a lot of things that make a school run smoothly. Many people associate the word ‘school management’ with the teachers who engage students in learning or the administrators who raise money for the various activities taking place on campus. 

But one important group of people who are easy to overlook is the maintenance and custodial team, overseen by Director of the Physical Plant Jay Holman. 

Although they operate largely behind the scenes, the team includes three-night custodians, one maintenance employee and one utility worker who are essential for a successful school day.

As one of Country Day’s night custodians, Raj Singh, is not often seen by many students because he arrives at school every day at 4 p.m. and works on campus until 12:30 p.m. to clean up the campus and prepare the classrooms for the next school day. 

Each of the custodians has specific areas where they work on campus. Singh is responsible for the Pre-K and science center buildings. The everyday routine includes cleaning out the trash, vacuuming classrooms and wiping down windows, tables and chairs.

“Sometimes it only takes 15 minutes or 20 minutes to clean a classroom,” Singh said. “But in the fall season, it takes like 45 minutes because I have to vacuum two times to clean up the leaves.”

As a former custodian for UC Davis, Singh said the workload at the school is not much different than at the university. This is because although the university classrooms were large, cleaning them was more straightforward when compared with dealing with K-12 classrooms. 

“But kids, especially from the Pre-K classrooms, sometimes make messes. You have to clean up all the small papers and pencils they throw everywhere they want. It is quite hard to vacuum the tiny pieces,  and you have to do it a couple of times for them to come out,” Singh said.

Even though he works at Country Day for eight hours daily, Singh also has another job. His daily routine involves waking up at 5 a.m. to do his morning prayer and preparing for work at 6:00 a.m. as a security guard at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Singh works there until 2:00 p.m. and then returns home to prepare for work at Country Day. After a long day of work from both jobs, he once again returns home to shower and get some sleep before repeating the cycle again.

Despite long hours of work, Singh is able to enjoy his hobbies during his free time on the weekends. A soccer player, Singh said he often watches the Country Day soccer team play while also doing his job near the field. In addition, he enjoys singing for fun and practicing billiards.

“I go every Friday and Saturday for a billiards tournament,” Singh said. “I have plenty of trophies.”

The maintenance crew’s workload depends on what needs to be fixed each day. The team arrives on campus every morning to identify problems and plan how to fix them. In addition, they help with setting up school events and performances. 

“We repair heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, basically all the trades of electrical, plumbing, carpentry and roofing,” said Holman.

 “We’re responsible for taking care and trying to fix as much of that stuff in-house as we can. For larger jobs, we contract out,” he said.

One of these jobs includes maintaining the campus grounds on a weekly basis. Every Saturday, Country Day hires Procida Landscaping to mow the backfields, trim the shrubbery and change the flowers. In addition, the service occasionally helps with maintaining the condition of the many trees on campus by pruning and applying pesticides.

Another area the maintenance team is responsible for is taking care of the buildings throughout the entire school. “We deal more with preventative maintenance on newer buildings. But on older buildings, we’re doing more repairs while we’re still doing the preventative maintenance,” Holman said.

This year, however, Holman said the focus has shifted more from repairing to ensuring safety on campus and following COVID-19 regulations.

For example, electrostatic sprayers were purchased at the beginning of the pandemic for classroom sanitation. At the beginning of the pandemic, the custodians sanitized multiple times a day and also cleaned surfaces like door handles. But as the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services better understood how the virus spreads, the team modified its methods for efficiency. Now, the custodians only sanitize the classrooms once every evening.

Although the pandemic has been a large focus for Holman, being able to adapt and keep on working is a large part of what maintenance is. “The thing about maintenance work is it doesn’t matter if it’s a school, or if it’s your home or if it’s an office building,” he said. “There’s never going to be a lack of work. I think the biggest challenge is going to work every day on a job that you never complete.”

— By Garman Xu

Originally published in the Nov. 16 edition of the Octagon.

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