Work heats up at schools

FAIRMONT – Students have been on summer vacation for a couple of months, but this is the busiest time of year for the building and grounds staff at Fairmont Area Schools.

“I’ve had that asked. What do you do during the summer?” said Dave Ternberg, director of building and grounds.

“We do a deep cleaning from top to bottom,” he said. We pull out all the furniture from every room, wipe it down and disinfect it.”

Floors are stripped and refinished. Bathrooms, sinks, drinking fountains, doors, windows – every single surface and furnishing is polished and repaired, if necessary.

Throw in the dust and debris from the ever-present summer construction projects and you have additional cleanup.

The high school, which opened in 1972, harbored asbestos used during construction. For at least a dozen summers, abatement crews tore up the building, working to remove the asbestos.

“We were at the mercy of the contractor,” Ternberg said.

About five years ago, a massive heating, ventilation and air-conditioning project resulted in torn-up ceilings throughout the building, which made it difficult, if not impossible, for Ternberg and his crew to complete their summer work.

Some projects, such as track resurfacing this summer, don’t interfere too much, but it is another area of Ternberg’s responsibilities. The track was last resurfaced in 1998, with some repairs done in 2009, so it’s held up well “if we can get 10 to 12 years out of it,” he said.

“Next year, we start roof work,” said Ternberg, explaining that the roof is repaired or replaced in sections to contain costs. People frequently tell him, “I thought you just did that,” not realizing the project is ongoing.

“If we re-did the whole roof at once, it would probably cost $3 million,” he said.

Ternberg credits his “wonderful staff” of 14 full-time workers for making things run smoothly.

“We’ve got longevity in our staff. Most of the staff has been here 15 to 20 years. They know what they need to do,” he said.

In spite of his crew’s experience, the scope of the work is daunting.

“We’re probably about two people short in each building on our custodial staff,” Ternberg said. “There’s things you’d like to do every day – the extras.”

His biggest concern is that an issue will arise and result in closing the school. These issues have occurred, but Ternberg and his crew were able to get them resolved.

“We try to do as much as possible in-house, but if it’s over our heads, we hire it out,” he said.

Next month, Ternberg will begin his 30th year with the district, but he doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

“I just signed a two-year contract,” he said.

He remembers the days when the building and grounds crew was responsible for five buildings: Budd School, Lincoln School, the high school, the middle school and Central School, now home to Southern Minnesota Educational Campus.

The district is now housed in two structures – Fairmont Elementary School and Fairmont Junior-Senior High School.

“But they’re big buildings,” Ternberg noted. “There’s always ongoing things every year. It’s like owning a house, just on a bigger scale.”

The schools are “home” to 1,700 students, plus 125 staff members, with a steady stream of events and activities.

“There’s hundreds of events we have to deal with – ball games, concerts, banquets,” Ternberg said. “School is not just for nine months. They’re used year round, day and night, so it can make the job a challenge, but it’s gratifying when it all comes together.”