We’ve reached the end of summer – that warm, relaxing season when students and teachers take some well-deserved time off. But for those of us in K-12 school construction, summertime is anything but slow-paced.
As soon as that final bell rings on the last day of school, we swoop in to begin what we call the “summer jam jobs” – the renovation and improvement assignments that we squeeze into the precious days and weeks when the hallways are empty and our work doesn’t disrupt the important business of education.
Now that classes are back in session in most of the districts where VPCS in engaged, I can take a minute to reflect on the changing realities of summertime school construction work.
When I first got started in this industry, summer breaks lasted as long as three months. Campuses emptied out in early June and kids didn’t typically return until after Labor Day. We sometimes had the luxury of 12 weeks to get things done. Now, we’re lucky if we get eight or nine.
This is a trend that’s happening all around the country. Districts are building more breaks into the academic year (including the now-common mid-winter week off in February), pulling from the summer schedule to make up the difference. Some experts also argue that shortened summer vacations help protect against the “brain drain” that kids experience while away from the school routine for months at a time.
But back to VPCS and the summer jam …
However long the summer break, it’s our job to get in, do the work (and do it well), and get out before kids return in the fall. In advance, we do our pre-construction planning – gathering district requirements, creating detailed budgets, developing schedules, assigning the contractors and subs, and fielding requests from teachers and other end users.
Then comes the start of summer, when the first order of business is helping teachers clear out their rooms. Our orchestrated move plan simplifies the process while keeping room contents organized – yes, even for teachers who have been in their classrooms for years. (We also respect the fact that teachers, too, are eager to begin their vacations, so this phase is quick!)
And with that, we’re off and running. Materials and laborers are at the ready; everyone and everything is where it needs to be; it’s time to get to work. Then, in the final few days of the season, you’ll find us cleaning up, training janitorial staff on new systems, moving furniture back in, performing punch list touch-ups, and doing anything else that supports the teachers and district personnel in their efforts to prep for their students’ return.
Even after all my years in this industry, I still find it amazing to watch all that can happen in a relatively short amount of time.
There’s also a very important component of our job that isn’t built into any of these frenzied schedules, and it might be one of the most valuable things we bring to any job: teacher TLC. We consider it part of our responsibility to reassure teachers that their rooms and tools will, in fact, come back together by the time we’re done. We respect the sanctity of their workspaces, whether they’ve spent a year or a career in their classrooms. Still, the tightened summer schedules means we’re often working right up to the point when their students return. To help alleviate some of the chaos for teachers, we frequently give gift cards they can redeem for extra supplies to help outfit their newly improved rooms.
And just as the back-to-school activity is beginning to build, we are packing up to go. Autumn, relatively speaking, is a quieter season for our K-12 work. It’s when we can look back at our summer jam jobs, both to take pride in our accomplishments and to assess what we might be able to do even better next year.
Whatever the assignments, wherever the schools, districts can count on one thing as VPCS marches toward first-day-of-school deadlines: we will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
By Mike Van Pelt