Case Studies

Roger Silveira – Fremont Union High School District

He’s a breath of fresh air on any campus

Everyone needs fresh air, and carbon dioxide is the indoor pollutant nobody seems to talk about.

Well, almost nobody. Roger Silveira has made an issue of it for years while maintaining school facilities and grounds in Northern California.

Around six years ago he even founded a website, weneedfreshair.com, emphasizing how he and likeminded others are bent on improving student achievement one breath at a time. Since July 2022, Silveira’s been doing so at the Fremont Union High School District where he serves as director of facilities and bonds.

“I’m very passionate about ventilation,” the good-natured Silveira tells Blueprint during a busy midsummer that has him fronting new projects while continuing others under a tight deadline. “The pandemic propelled it forward, drawing attention to the need for well-ventilated classrooms that are a win-win for everybody.”

But it takes some doing to ensure healthy air, and Silveira advocates for CO2 monitors in every classroom, and leveraging the data for overall sustainability and health. Whereas an under-ventilated room poses respiratory risks to its inhabitants, over-ventilation increases utility expense. He’s examining the systems with the idea of automating all in a manner that keeps students and staff healthy and comfortable.

And Silveira’s just as concerned about what’s happening outside.

Plugging in

“What I want to do is look at our carbon footprint and see how I can improve that through projects, maintenance and then just changing processes,” he says.

That’s included him electrifying garden equipment and maintenance vehicles. He buys all the gear, works with vendors on cost, and arranges training programs for his 12 direct reports and the team of 45 that’s entrusted to do so much by the first day of school. They’ve got five high schools serving around 9,000 students, a district office and satellite in need of their TLC.

“Summer’s our busiest time of year,” Silveira says from Sunnyvale. “It’s a mad dash to complete before mid-August.”

Aside from his advocacy and action for clean air, his to-do list includes two science buildings in need of modernization. Each is undergoing a facelift with new flooring, lighting, paint, casework, mechanical equipment to enhance efficiency and upgraded floors and walls.

At one school, a facility is under construction for science and another for maintenance, IT and warehousing. Classrooms are being updated in four high schools. An old gas furnace is due for replacement by heat pumps that can be more efficient, run on electricity and convert even chilly outside air into warm indoor flow. The district’s swimming pools also generate much CO2 through being heated in winter, so Silveira adjusted scheduling for down times. Come next year, he also anticipates the artificial turf being replaced on the football fields.

A school district essentially being a small community, there’ll always be something on his to-do list, but that’s what makes his livelihood more than just a job.

“Facilities are more than just a building,” Silveira says. “They’re the places where students spend a large amount of their time. And as a facilities manager, the amount of effort we put into a school, for example, tells the community that we actually care—so having clean buildings and well-maintained grass tells the students in the community that we actually care about them. It tells a story.”

The next generation

When Silveira’s not tinkering with infrastructure or shopping for equipment, he might be mentoring the youngsters on the district’s sustainability committees. They, after all, represent the next generation of leadership, and he’d like for them to be inspired by his deeds.

That seemed to have been the case during the 2022-2023 academic year, which ended with the Freemont district being recognized by the U.S. Department of Education with a California Green Ribbon Award for resource efficiency, health and wellness and overall sustainability.

Satisfying as that was, Silveira notes room for improvement, the district having achieved just silver status. In the near future, he’s counting on the top award, the Green Ribbon Dream, being on display.

So, for Silveira, it was a productive first year at a job that he didn’t even pursue. Even in California, it’s a small world when education is involved. Maybe especially so on the facilities and maintenance front where so many people know each other and reputations spread.

Silveira says he had been quite happy in his previous role of five-plus years with the much bigger East Side Union High School District in San Jose, which includes 19 schools and 22,500 students. Freemont reached out to him, and he was receptive to a new challenge, albeit one where the mission remains the same.

“I often tell teachers that while I can’t teach, I can provide them with an environment that can make their job easier,” he says.

He’s always brought the right qualifications to the job, Silveira having a wall of professional credentials, including a certificate in design and construction from Stanford University, and experience as a licensed general contractor. But private-sector life seemed to lose its thrill after a couple decades that included work on semiconductors and data centers.

“Education seemed more fulfilling,” he says. “It’s using your expertise for the benefit of a community instead of shareholders. It seemed more purposeful.”

Silveira’s now with his third educational entity, having supervised grounds, plumbing, safety and transportation for the Milpitas Unified School District from 2014 to 2017 before moving on to East Side and then to Fremont where he reckons he’ll close out his career in five to eight years. But he’ll likely never abandon assembling something.

“I’ve been a problem solver since I was 5,” he says. “As a teenager I was the neighborhood mechanic who repaired cars and engines. Any time I solve a problem, it’s so satisfying.”

Silveira’s had help, including from his youngest daughter who attended an East Side high school while he oversaw the district’s facilities maintenance and operations. He’d outfit her backpack with a CO2 monitor.

Then there’s his oldest daughter who, after studying business, became a project engineer at a construction management firm. The two often talk shop.

“She did grow up in my pickup truck,” he says with a laugh. “She acclimated to job sites at an early age.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. I 2024 Edition here.

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