Jim Sheeley – Pulaski Central School District
- Written by: Kate Gardner
- Produced by: Liz Fallon
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
When Jim Sheeley was a student at Pulaski Central School District, he never thought about how the buildings were repaired and maintained.
Now it’s all he thinks about. As the director of facilities at his alma mater, Sheeley knows the schools more intimately than some. After all, he spent 13 years walking their halls and sitting in their classrooms.
Except now, he sees the side of the schools he was never privy to as a student—the leaks, breakdowns and aging infrastructure—and ensures they don’t interfere with learning. He knows he’s doing his job if the students are as unconcerned as he was.
“As a teenager going to these schools, somebody had to keep the pool warm and the building functioning, but I never thought about how that happened,” he says. “It’s interesting being on the other side now.”
Rainy day project
Pulaski Central School District, located in upstate New York, serves 1,100 students. Sheeley, who started in September 2018, manages the maintenance and cleaning of the district’s five main buildings, as well as the grounds and sports fields.
In April, he finished a water damage repair project that started right as COVID-19 hit in March 2020. Window lintels at the elementary school had been slowly leaking for several years, Sheeley says, and it had gotten to the point that class would be disrupted when it rained.
Two building facades had to be replaced, as did some interior walls, and ceilings needed to be repaired. The masonry on the exterior was challenging to repair, Sheeley says, because the building was damaged on two elevations. Additionally, he had to preserve the art deco style of the 1939 building.
“It was very important, so we worked with a local contractor who was invested in keeping the structure the same while ensuring it will be here for years to come,” he says.
Sheeley worked with an architect to oversee construction and repairs and to create punch lists used to schedule the work in phases. The final list included painting the interior, caulking around the windows and cleaning up. Overall, the project went smoothly, he says, and started sooner than expected because of COVID-19.
While having students out of the building made it easier for crews to work, Sheeley says the pandemic caused a delay in getting building materials.
Balancing the COVID-19 response while working on other projects has presented an interesting challenge, he says. With most students now back in school, Sheeley has developed a plan for cleaning and disinfecting, which includes a thorough cleaning of the buildings every night.
He also acquired personal protective equipment for faculty and staff through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services of New York State. The co-op of school districts bought the supplies at a discounted price.
Sheeley and his 17 staff members also put social distancing procedures in place which included installing polycarbonate shields in the cafeterias. They also measured the classrooms to determine how many students each one could accommodate and removed unnecessary furniture to space out desks.
The elementary school is big enough that students have attended in person since September, but the combination middle and high school has been split into alternating cohorts.
The school district has received federal grants to improve its HVAC units, which Sheeley is looking forward to taking advantage of. He says, in addition to cleaning the air, the project fits in with the district’s goal of being more environmentally friendly.
Sheeley plans to modernize the elementary school’s steam boiler system, which is difficult to control the temperature of, he says. He also wants to upgrade the middle and high school’s hot water hydronic system to be more efficient. The schools all need new pipe insulation and LED lighting as well.
“We’re in the beginning phase of evaluating everything,” Sheeley says. “We want to determine which direction to go in and in what order to tackle projects.”
Back to his roots
While being a student at Pulaski may have felt monotonous to Sheeley, working at the district is far from it.
“Every single day I never know what will happen,” he says. “I can make a list of things before work, and by the time I get to school I might as well throw it out. It’s a never-ending challenge, but in a good way.”
The job is also rewarding, he says, because he’s bettering the community—one he’s never strayed too far from. Pulaski has always been Sheeley’s home and is where his two teenage sons go to school.
Prior to working at Pulaski, he commuted almost an hour to Hannibal Central School District, where he was director of facilities for three years. He says he much prefers the shorter commute he has now, although he’s still surprised that he works at his alma mater.
“Never in a million years did I expect to be in charge of the same buildings I spent 13 years in as a kid,” Sheeley says. “It’s neat, though, and I’m grateful to be here again.”
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