Stephen Lewis – Monticello Central School District
Stephen Lewis recently had to find a seemingly impossible solution to a prevalent problem in schools: The lack of security and monitoring measures in bathrooms, which can lead to anything from vaping to bullying.
Using research and decades of experience, he and his facilities team at Monticello Central School District decided to install sensors. The high-tech equipment doesn’t transmit video or even audio, but can sense the smoke from cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vapes. They can also prevent vandalism and bullying.
Lewis can set the sensors to alert him and his team if the noise level surpasses a certain preset decibel—like when someone calls for help or smashes a paper towel dispenser.
He and his team are installing these in the district’s middle and high schools; the southern New York district serves around 2,500 students and also has one community school and three elementary schools.
The sensors should be up and running by the end of this school year.
“We’re working on updating and modernizing our buildings and classrooms—but, in the meantime, I’m also upgrading security measures across our buildings for the continued safety of our staff, teachers and students,” says Lewis, who’s been the director of facilities for six years.
Safety and security first
In 2020, Lewis started strengthening security measures across all schools by restricting building access. Now, all doors are locked throughout the school day with teachers and staff controlling and monitoring entrances and exits.
He’s also been working closely with the information technology department to put funds from New York State’s Smart Schools Bond Act to good use. In 2014, voters authorized $2 billion of general obligation bonds to finance improved technology and infrastructure for New York’s students.
Lewis recently completed phase one of his security plan: Replacing all security cameras in all buildings.
The second phase, which will be completed in September 2024, is the installation of digital clocks throughout the schools, including in classrooms. These will work as mini billboards to stream announcements.
These will be particularly helpful in emergencies when it’s too loud to hear announcements or when making announcements would be unsafe, like during an active shooter situation. He also plans to install new public announcement systems throughout the schools.
“This has been a joint endeavor between the facilities and IT team from the beginning,” Lewis says. “We want to create the best environment and provide the best tools to everyone stepping inside MCSD buildings.”
Tearing down to build up
Lewis and his team have also been working on a $54 million project to make upgrades across the district.
He was hired to help on The Classroom 2020 Capital Improvement Project, which has been underway since before he joined the district and is still ongoing. The funds help update the high school, which was built in the 1960s and hasn’t been updated since the summer of 2000.
Over the past few years, Lewis has worked closely with external vendor and school architect Chris Ladanyi and the superintendent of schools on the transformation. So far, they’ve completed several classrooms and expect to finish the remaining during the district’s next capital project.
Classrooms and hallways in two of the school’s wings now have a more open layout and more natural lighting. The science classrooms lead to an outdoor learning space with amphitheater seating. Breakout areas have also been built in the two wings where students can relax, socialize and study together.
Those sections also have new exteriors and better insulated and larger windows. He’ll also replace the school’s roof-based HVAC system with separate heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that are cleaner and more efficient.
“This project has been lengthy and challenging but well worth the effort so far,” Lewis says. “We’ve created more comfortable settings that are more conducive to learning and teaching.”
In 2020, Lewis and his team also started building a new transportation and facilities center where a parking lot had been. They completed the project in April 2022, after which they tore down the old building and built a new parking lot.
The previous building wasn’t up to code—an issue exacerbated by the 2022 state bill requiring all New York school buses to be electric by 2035. The new facility now complies with state codes by having a new garage space with new lifts, new facility offices and plant operations garage space.
“We needed a space capable of handling our fleet—and we’re working on getting electric vehicles soon,” he says.
Other projects include adding tennis courts to the high school and tackling repairs at all the schools. He expects to complete renovations to the baseball fields by the end of the summer of 2023. He’s also modernizing equipment across all buildings, including bringing in autonomous scrubbers, which will free his staff to take care of other facilities matters.
Always ready at the helm
Lewis has been recognized for his work twice, receiving Monticello Central School District’s semi-annual boards’ awards in July 2020 and May 2022. This award recognizes a handful of people and posts their accomplishments on the district website.
His nominator, the high school principal, Stephen Wilder, says, “A common refrain from Stephen, especially during pandemic-induced school closures was ‘Whatever you need, we will make it happen’ or ‘Happy to do it.’”
Wilder adds that Lewis “acts with collaborative and decisive leadership,” which has helped the high school accomplish many goals, including safely holding graduation ceremonies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before working in education, Lewis was a camp caretaker and was looking to retire and work fewer hours. However, he loves challenges, so in 2010 he took and passed the civil services director exam—and started a new era of his career.
“I thrive on helping schools and people vault over hurdles,” he says. “I also love working with staff, getting to know new people and tackling lots of projects at once.”
He does the same in his spare time. He’s a woodworker and is fully rebuilding a car while collecting model trains.
“I am looking to retire in the distant future but, at the moment, I’m enjoying improving all facilities aspects of the Monticello Central School District,” Lewis says. “I enjoy helping improve every building to positively impact the lives and education of current and future students.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VI 2023 Edition here.
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