• Joseph F. Berenato

Schools active even in summer


Hammonton School District Supervisor of Grounds Frank LaSasso cuts the grass near the Early Childhood Education Center. (THG/Joseph F. Berenato. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Though the last day of the school year for the Hammonton School District was June 16—with Teacher’s Close Out on June 17—work at the various educational buildings continues.


“Every summer, our people are very busy at work. Although we may not have students in the building, as you can tell by looking at the parking lots there are quite a few faculty and staff who work throughout the summer,” said Sam Mento III, the president of the Hammonton Board of Education.


Superintendent of Schools Robin Chieco concurred, noting that several summer programs—running Monday through Thursday through August 5—are currently being offered.


“These programs include Extended School Year for our special education students, Achievement Academy for grades 1-5, Summer Impact for grades 6-9 and Credit Recovery for Algebra 1, Geometry, English 1, 2 and 3 at the high school. All of the programs are providing additional support for students that may have struggled during the school year. Summer music programs are also being offered. High school athletic programs are participating in summer conditioning to prepare for the fall season,” Chieco said.


Besides educational work, Chieco said that administrative work is continuing apace.


“The administrators and supervisors are interviewing candidates to fill open positions within the district. In addition, we are developing schedules and procedures for the upcoming school year. Specifics for parent informational letters are being coordinated by building principals to thoroughly explain expectations and timelines for the beginning of the year. Additionally, board committees are meeting with our administrative team to review safety protocols, budgetary concerns, new staff and traffic patterns. Professional development is being planned for staff to be completed from August 26 to 31, prior to students returning. Federal grants are being submitted and supplies are being ordered for the upcoming school year,” Chieco said.


In addition to the solar project that is progressing at Hammonton High School and the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC), Chieco said that the “buildings and facilities are being repaired, cleaned and reconfigured to accommodate the return of all students and staff.”


Mento said that such work is the responsibility of two crews within the district.


“One is our maintenance crew, who take advantage of this opportunity without students to remove all the furniture out of the classrooms and strip, wax and seal all the VCT [vinyl composition tile] floors along with the hallways,” Mento said.


Sharon Murray, the district’s director of facilities, described the process.


“You’ve got to put down the stripper, let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes, use a hand-scraper—there’s no machine; it’s our custodians—and then you apply it again, let it sit for 20 to 25 minutes—depending on how bad it is to get up—start scraping for the second time, then you do a water solution to make sure everything is off. Then, you apply between three and five coats of wax. We’re a 200,000 square-foot building at the high school, and it’s been a little bit of time. This is being done at every building ... one classroom, just the stripping alone, it’s insane how much time it does take,” Murray said.


Cindy DeMarco, Carmen Gonzalez and David Fedga hand-scrape the floors in the high school. (Courtesy Photo)

Murray said that July and August represent the busiest time of year for her crew of 35 maintenance and custodial staff, spread among the four schools.


“You’re taking every single thing out of the classroom, you’re wiping down the light fixtures, the walls, all the furniture before you put it back in. The gum comes off. This year includes the little plastic shields—they’re very difficult to get off—that has to come off, and everything that gets taken out gets wiped down,” Murray said.


Mento said that work was also being done on the air systems at the schools.


“We spent additional time looking at our circulation system, trying to do the best we can with better filters. We feel working in conjunction with the ionizers we purchased for some $300,000 last year that we’re going to have the best possible quality air in our schools for our faculty, staff and students,” Mento said.


Murray said that regular maintenance also has to be done on all of the roof units.


“We do all the belts—people don’t think all summer long this gets done—we do the HRVs [Heat Recovery Ventilators], the VRVs [Variable Refrigerant Volume air conditioning units] that are on the roof. We’ll clean them, oil them and put new filters in,” Murray said.


Murray said that her crew is also in the midst of several painting projects.


“Last year we did the ECEC; this year we’re touching up all of the ECEC ... At the high school, if you had a home-ec hallway, the steel around the doors were painted, say, orange. Science rooms were painted green, say. All them are now become blood blue—that’s actually our color. When we had the vestibules put in over the years, the blue that was chosen was called ‘blood blue.’ Now, every doorway is being painted. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you walk into, say, Guidance, you’ve got 24 doors, and that’s a lot. We got the hallways done first, and we had a lot of happy people. That’s also getting done at the middle school, because it needs it,” Murray said.


Other normal summer maintenance duties include carpet shampooing, lightbulb and ceiling tile replacement, washing and painting light lenses, unclogging lavatory plumbing—which sometimes involves the removal and resealing of toilets—and work on the lockers.


“The major one is emptying out the lockers, then we have to physically change each and every combination by hand. That has to occur at the high school and the middle school,” Murray said.


Matthew Fasciglione, Evelyn Negron, David Negron and Ales Georglianious wipe the walls at Hammonton Middle School. (Courtesy Photo)

Murray said that normal custodial and maintenance work throughout the year is “a constant run, but the summer is when everything’s got to be fresh and ready to go.”


“I always tell custodians, if you walk into a restaurant and sit down, and you notice dirt on the floor and there’s something on your plate, you can get up and leave. You can’t get up and leave school. When you walk in, and you don’t see it looking the way it should, you’d be surprised how it changes the personalities of the kids ... I tell them, what you do, you have to be proud of. It’s not an easy job. It’s not always easy to motivate. The ones who do it and love it, do it well,” Murray said.


Mento noted his gratitude for those “who do the dirty jobs.”


“They often go unrecognized and under-appreciated, and I want them all to know that I’m very proud of them, and I really do appreciate all the work they do behind the scenes,” he said.


Mento also expressed his appreciation for the other crew responsible for the upkeep of the school’s facilities.


“Our grounds maintenance crew takes advantage of this time of year to really polish up our varsity sports fields and prepare our fall sport fields, like field hockey, soccer and football to get those fields—and the practice fields—up to tip-top shape,” Mento said.


Frank LaSasso, Supervisor of Grounds, explained further.


“Right now, we have soccer practices, so the soccer fields are lined, the hockey fields are lined. There’s a football field that’s been lined. We’re painting fields. We just painted the band field, because they’re going to start practicing. Between the band, soccer, hockey and football, there’s five fields that are lined and painted,” LaSasso said.


Much of the grounds crew’s daily work, LaSasso said, involves grass-cutting the district’s more than 200 acres of property.


“It’s a really good growing summer; normally the grass goes dormant in the summer, but that’s not the case this year; we’re still cutting at the same pace we were cutting in the spring. We have three fields at the middle school that are game fields, so we’re cutting those twice a week. We cut six fields at the high school twice a week. That’s nine fields, twice a week, just to keep them where the kids can practice and play on them,” LaSasso said.


Currently, LaSasso said, the fields are not being cut at game height.


“All the practice fields are at 3.5 inches right now. The game fields, which we’re not going to be using until the middle of next month, are four inches. The game fields are at the point where they’re growing so quickly, we’re going to have to start cutting them twice a week,” LaSasso said.


LaSasso said that the average field takes roughly 40 minutes to mow properly.


“Sometimes, when you have good growing weather, we’ll double-cut a field because you don’t want to leave hay on the field. You’ll cut it at height, and then you’ll go back an inch higher and cut it in a different direction and blow the stuff around—because you can’t bag it; it’s impossible to bag. We’ve bagged in certain situations, and we’ll fill a trac-vac up three times on a field, just cleaning it. Unless it’s really bad, we’ll just double-cut it,” LaSasso said.


The duties continue once the crew steps off the mower, as well.


“After you cut all week, you have to power-wash and grease the equipment ... We weed whack a lot, because we really don’t use Round Up that much, because the state doesn’t like it. When we can’t keep up with the weed wacking, we’ll use Round Up, but, right now, we’re keeping up. We weed wack the parking lots; that’s the most important thing,” LaSasso said.


There are a number of other duties that fall under the purview of the grounds crew, LaSasso said.


“We have to pick up the trash on the grounds, too. When limbs break, we pick them up. Last year, we did a lot of tree-trimming, so this year we haven’t really had an issue. We’ve addressed the couple of broken limbs, but we really haven’t trimmed any trees because we did it last year ... We’re also trying to do little things. We’re checking out the scoreboards right now, just to make sure. When the weather gets a little cooler, we’re going to paint the goalposts, which we didn’t do last year because of COVID; that put a lot of time constraints on us,” LaSasso said.


LaSasso said that the crew also has to be ready for special events held on school grounds.


“We just had the Blueberry festival here, so we had to get it ready for that. In a couple of weeks, we’ll have National Night Out, so we’ll have to make it look presentable for them. We had something new this year—which I hope is a one-year thing—a prom on the football field. We’re still struggling with getting that back, because the shoes did some damage on the grass. Cool-season grass doesn’t like to grow now. It’s hard to germinate grass in the summer. We’ve gone there twice and hand-seeded it, but it’s just not taking—but I’m hoping that, by mid-August, it’ll cool down enough so that we can start germinating,” LaSasso said.


Whatever the duty, LaSasso said that his team is up to the challenge, working with accuracy and speed.


“Normally, by Friday—unless it rains during the week—we’re pretty much caught up ... Everybody we have takes a lot of pride in their work,” LaSasso said.