Mr. Fix-It: Marty Spaulding Works Behind the Scenes to Help Students Learn on Campus | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Mr. Fix-It: Marty Spaulding Works Behind the Scenes to Help Students Learn on Campus

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Marty Spaulding at the new home for two Burlington Technical Center programs, pre-tech and aviation - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Marty Spaulding at the new home for two Burlington Technical Center programs, pre-tech and aviation

When Vermont kids go back to school in person this fall, it's partly thanks to people like Marty Spaulding. As property services director for the Burlington School District, Spaulding oversees the city's six elementary schools, two middle schools, high school and technical center.

Spaulding has maintained educational facilities for 25 years, but the last one was the most challenging of his career — and not just because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last September, Burlington High School and Burlington Technical Center closed abruptly because of contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Once the city inked a deal with local developers to transform the former Macy's department store into a campus, the district had to outfit a new high school in a hurry. Following a monthslong renovation, students relocated to 67 Cherry Street in March.

Burlington School District Superintendent Tom Flanagan praised Spaulding's leadership and work ethic during this difficult time. "He helped principals prepare and update buildings for students during COVID, while also leading the charge to turn an abandoned department store into a 21st-century learning space," he wrote in an email. In June, the Vermont School Custodians and Maintenance Association recognized Spaulding's achievement by naming him its Facilities Person of the Year.

Spaulding spent the summer completing projects he couldn't tackle while students and staff were in the buildings. These include painting classrooms and installing flooring at Edmunds Elementary and paving parking lots and installing a prekindergarten playground at Champlain Elementary.

He and his crew also made improvements to the downtown campus of BHS. After students started attending classes there, it became clear that the eight-foot-high walls that partitioned the space posed acoustical challenges, so the facilities staff is increasing the height of many of the walls to help lessen noise between classrooms.

The Tech Center programs will use sites in Burlington and South Burlington, and Spaulding is also working on bringing them up to code. That includes upgrading the fire alarms, electrical systems and sidewalks.

Last year, his crew spent a lot of time moving furniture out of and into classrooms to accommodate changing social-distancing recommendations and shifts from remote to in-person learning. He said he anticipates hopefully doing less of that this year.

The district has also somewhat relaxed its extremely stringent cleaning protocols, as scientists have developed a clearer understanding of how COVID-19 spreads.

The biggest challenge Spaulding anticipates this year is actually staffing. The labor shortage plaguing Vermont businesses has also impacted school districts around the state, including Burlington's. One example: The district typically has three HVAC technicians on staff. This year, it hasn't been able to hire even one. Spaulding said the district has had to turn to outside contractors to help meet certain maintenance needs.

"We're really not even getting any applicants in all areas — everything from custodial staff to trades staff," Spaulding said.

Maybe potential applicants don't realize that working in schools isn't just about cleaning and maintaining a building: It's about making it possible for kids to feel welcome, safe and supported at school.

Flanagan said that Spaulding embodies that mission. "The most impressive part for me is that, during this work, it is student interest that drives him," he wrote. "He looks for inequities and looks to create change, and he is passionate about student well-being."

Said Spaulding: "I certainly take pride in the fact that I'm not an educator, but I do play a role in, hopefully, students having a better learning experience."