Projects keep school staff busy

When Keith Barlage, buildings and grounds coordinator for the Princeton School District was asked last week about the possibility of a school building improvement project happening soon, he answered, “I hope so.”

Barlage, after giving a report to the School Board on Aug. 22 about maintenance in the 2012-13 year, explained that as buildings age, they require more upkeep.


The original part of South Elementary goes back to 1954, and the high school and North Elementary are of 1960s vintage. The middle school is now 13 years old, and for awhile within the past five years, that was the focus of some significant maintenance. Due to faulty workmanship when it was built, walls and windows all around the building had to be reconstructed. Until they were, leaking moisture from the outside into the interior had to be managed.

The district’s office building is the town’s former hospital and is aging. One of the maintenance tasks planned there now is replacing the building’s elevator.

The fact that the district office building was once a hospital made its way into Barlage’s report to the board, generating some chuckles. Barlage was explaining how his department made new identifiers for the different switches inside the building’s circuit breaker box. The crew replaced names on switches like “emergency room” and “birthing center,” he said.

Sometimes the maintenance issues are anything but routine. The largest example of that during the 2012-13 year was the damage done to North Elementary’s large electrical control box. A contracted snowplow driver backed a vehicle into the southeast corner of the elementary during the evening of Feb. 10 this year, shutting down the building’s electrical system.

The whole electrical box of components and wiring had to be replaced, and it meant closing the school for two weeks. The students  had their classes elsewhere during that time, most of them at New Life Church.

One of the positives in the event was that Barlage’s department was able to strip insulation off the copper wire recovered from the ruined electrical box and sell the wire to a recycler in St. Cloud, generating about $6,000 for the district, Barlage said.

Readying for school

The big maintenance agenda this past week was preparing the buildings for the new school year. Among the tasks was placing end panels above 50 of the new lockers installed in the upper, core part of the high school. An installer in that project last Friday said it should have been done two weeks ago but the needed materials had been on back order, thus the delay.

A back-order problem also appeared at South Elementary, delaying the planned installation of a new audio-visual security system.

Improving the security system in the district school buildings was one of the projects going on in 2012-13 and was continuing into the new school year. Barlage said in his report to the board that the security upgrade included installing a “panic bar” in the North Elementary gym. It also locks the doors there more quickly in the event of a lockdown.

The maintenance department also produced laminated instruction sheets for lockdowns, to be sent to school buildings for posting. Visitor badges were also ordered.

The district’s entire teaching and administrative staff got a first-hand experience of when mechanical items break down when they had an assembly in the high school performing arts center on Aug. 19. Some air conditioning units weren’t working, requiring maintenance on them into the rest of the week.

Other projects that Barlage reported being done in the 2012-13 year included:

• Replacing corroding water lines in the high school’s lower boiler room. Last year the bad piping caused the boiler to shut down, resulting in loss of heat in the building, Barlage said.

• Changing out compressor pumps at the high school and North Elementary, plus changing the air conditioning compressor at the high school.

• Repairing minor roof leaks at the high school and district office.

• Repairing the circulating pump, strainer, shutoff valve and heat control valves at the pool in the high school. A leak was also repaired in the pool.

• All the boilers were inspected, and the high school weight room doors and gym doors were replaced, and the locker room locks were changed out at the middle school.

• A wall was opened up at North Elementary, LED lighting was tested in various places in the district, and a new 3M terrazzo polishing was done to the middle school floors. While the initial polishing is more work, it is designed to save maintenance in the long run.

The work schedule also included interior painting and painting new markings on parking lots at the middle school and North Elementary.

Some of the minor items included maintenance or replacement of filters, belts, cooling coils, lights, ballasts and HVAC units. The district’s fire alarms, extinguishers and other items were inspected. Fire sprinklers were added to four closets at North Elementary and in a few spots at the high school.

Barlage is assisted in his work by a crew of two maintenance persons and two grounds keepers.

As Barlage came to the end of his report, he told the board, “That’s just touching the surface.”