Since joining the AE/MS staff as our school’s first Plant Manager, Dennis Audet has given our school community energy, experience, and commitment. Dennis never resists diving into jobs and projects to help make our school safer, our spaces more conducive to learning, and our building more efficient and cost-effective.
Thankfully, there are few facility tasks and repairs in our school that our highly dedicated and extremely versatile Plant Manager can’t do himself — our ability to avoid calling contractors, whenever we can, has saved our school district significant amounts of money already this year.
Under the most unusual of circumstances, our new Plant Manager approached his new position with energy and enthusiasm this past July. Thankfully, Dennis received a lot of support from the Facilities Department of the Merrimack Valley School District (MVSD). The experience, expertise, and professionalism of the facility managers and custodians of the MVSD served as an invaluable resource to the Andover School District, substantially shortening Dennis’s learning curve.
The current AE/MS facility is comprised of the original Andover High School (1934), the first addition in 1962 (additional classrooms, kitchen, and gymnasium), and subsequent major additions in 1992 (Main Entrance area and Middle School Wing) and 2018 (classroom expansions, a cafeteria, and numerous system upgrades). Essentially, under one roof we have four buildings — and in some cases the systems, etc., between these additions do not agree, which can be problematic.
This makes the work of school administrators and custodians more complex and challenging. Thankfully, our school’s former principal had the foresight to work toward the creation of a new position for the school district: AE/MS Plant Manager. Because of this game-changing move by our school’s former administration, and the support of the Andover community at School District Meeting last March, all the facility upgrades and improvements outlined in this article have occurred.
Beside learning our school building inside and out, top to bottom, above and below, Dennis needed to conduct a complete deep cleaning and makeover of our school building before we could reopen for students and staff. Thankfully, once again, we had the benefit of our friends to the south in the MVSD to lend a helping hand.
For a portion of this past summer, we had MVSD custodians and managers work at AE/MS to: strip and wax floors; wash carpets; wash walls, furniture, fixtures, and windows; and paint, paint, paint! Dennis replaced large sections of cove base (the rubber trim at the bottom of walls) which had deteriorated in our common areas (hallways, bathrooms, etc.).
With the assistance of the MVSD custodial crews, a new and very appealing standard was set for cleanliness and safety at AE/MS. Our school building was ready to reopen for students and staff by late summer.
For as much work as had been done inside our school building, Dennis has focused significant attention to matters outdoors, as well: pruning trees and shrubs, cutting back encroaching growth, removing vegetation and debris where it naturally accumulates, mowing and trimming grass regularly, blowing leaves and raking acorns, sweeping pavement, painting bleachers, and repairing fences.
In addition, Dennis coordinated the removal of a piece of unsafe playground equipment (thank you Andover Town Administrator and Road Agent!) and the spreading of new playground mulch around our play structures (thank you, AE/MS student and parent volunteers!).
Our custodial workspaces needed significant attention, as well. Dennis worked to empty closets and clean them, and then he conducted an inventory and organized our custodial supplies. He constructed new shelving units to support this effort and investigated new ways to acquire custodial supplies in the most cost-effective manner possible.
Further, he removed and replaced the tile floor in the main custodial office / custodial supply storage room. It looks marvelous!
One of the best moves made by Dennis since joining the team at AE/MS was bringing a dedicated and experienced custodian onboard. John Merchant has been cleaning our school building after hours since late summer. Almost single-handedly, John has cleaned and sanitized our school building from top to bottom every day since coming to AE/MS.
To say that John and Dennis are a high-energy team would be an understatement! When the season turns to winter (with the snow, ice, sand, and salt that comes with it), we know that we will need to bring another custodian onboard, but to go as long as we have this year with our maintenance crew of two has saved our district considerable taxpayer money.
Speaking of winter weather, Dennis worked with our district Business Administrator to organize and conduct a bidding process for snow and ice removal this coming winter. When that process was determined to be unfruitful, thankfully, our Andover Town Administrator and Road Agent came through for us again.
We are pleased that the Andover Town Maintenance Department will continue their commitment to keeping our parking lots and access road clear and safe throughout the upcoming winter.
One overarching preoccupation for Dennis, John, and all AE/MS staff members this year has been maintaining school safety during a time of pandemic. Although the safety of students and school staff is always “Job #1” for AE/MS (“Safety: first, last, and always”), this effort looks a little different this year.
Both Dennis and John have been laser-focused on the cleaning and sanitizing of all areas of our school building every day (acquiring new equipment and supplies for this work through grant funding) — yes, this is an enormous undertaking! Additionally, in response to new safety concerns presented by in-person schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dennis has allotted considerable time constructing plexiglass barriers/dividers for our classrooms, securing large quantities of PPE and sanitizing stations for students and staff, and acquiring medical grade air purifiers for our classrooms and office spaces.
With the support of an engineering consultant, Dennis is conducting a comprehensive study of our school heating and ventilation systems in an effort to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of these systems. This effort provides both economic benefits and, even more importantly, will result in improved ventilation throughout our school building (one of the most critically important COVID safety considerations).
Despite a number of challenging conditions and circumstances, the AE/MS facility and grounds are in fantastic condition and are serving our school community exceptionally well during this extraordinarily difficult time. A major tip-of-the-hat to our school’s former principal and custodial staff for making the necessary provisions that have led to all of the advancements outlined in this article. It is impossible to think of where we would be at this point in time if not for the careful planning of our former principal and the constant support of the Andover community and the Merrimack Valley School District.
School facility care and maintenance have an enormous impact on student and staff safety, staff morale and performance, and community identity and pride. Despite the disruption of significant staff turnover and many new challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, our AE/MS facility remains a tremendous asset to our collective effort to safely educate the children of Andover.
Many thanks to all that have made it so, both this year and last!