As the South Orange-Maplewood School District moves forward on its eye-catching $160M+ Long Range Facilities Plan, the district has quietly been improving its ongoing maintenance by reducing contracts and moving more maintenance projects in house.
The update on facilities and maintenance came in an impromptu fashion several hours into the Board of Education meeting on June 13. After Board member Johanna Wright — who voted for the latest phase of Long Range Facilities Plan but voiced her objection to turf fields — said, “We just can’t seem to get it right in terms of our outsourcing.”
“We have a history of getting it wrong,” said Wright. “We have a history of not taking care.” She asked, “We’re going to be spending all this money. … Are we going to have the same people in place taking care of the fields?”
Business Administrator Paul Roth was ready with an answer.
“You’re absolutely right,” said Roth to Wright. “Everything was outsourced. Our maintenance department was not functioning very well.” However, Roth said, “During the past year, we have replaced a lot of equipment. We have new leadership in the maintenance department…. We reduced some contracting services and added some staff with a cost savings there.”
With regard to the maintenance of the artificial turf field at Underhill, Roth said, “We actually have a carpet sweeper [now] that is used multiple times a week on Underhill Field.”
“One of the reasons it was tearing was that it wasn’t being properly cared for,” added Roth, referring to Underhill’s artificial turf carpet.
Roth reported that the new facilities directer Pete Romain had been able to “unclump the fill” beneath the turf, making it “much better now,” though not perfect.
“If you speak with [Interim Athletics Director] Ken Mullen… while far from perfect, it’s much better. It used to be months to turn around work orders,” said Roth. “Now I have plenty of thank you’s and emails from principals … things are being turned around in 24, 48 hours; the way it should be.”
Roth detailed that since October 2018, the district had been “making major changes in maintenance department” and “we’re seeing much better product coming out. But you can’t turn around aging buildings within a few months. It just needs a large capital injection to get it back where it needs to be.”
“Our plan is, as the bond renovations take place, the dollars we save on emergency repairs … we will turn over to preventative maintenance.” Roth said that this will allow the district to build capital reserves and have a regular schedule for items like repaving parking lots on a 7 to 12 year schedule, create a 5-year repainting plan for buildings, and repair and replace roofs as needed.
“These are all things that we were unable to do before,” said Roth.
Roth credited the Board of Education for being “very successful in getting additional state aid, sizable grants” that had allowed the district to buy equipment, hire more in-house staff and downsize several contractors.
Said Wright, “We are finally acknowledging and putting some sort of effort into our student athletes. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”