By B.C. Manion
Stephen Gandy arrives in the predawn hours at Weightman Middle in Wesley Chapel to begin getting the school ready for the arrival of students and staff.
The school plant manager’s task list is lengthy.
He checks to see if the climate controls are keeping the buildings cool or warm enough. On chilly mornings, he heads to the portable classrooms to turn on their heaters. He explained that they don’t have automatic heaters, and he wants the rooms to be warm when teachers and students arrive.
He takes care of whatever work orders he can before teachers begin their day. He wants to avoid classroom disruptions.
Gandy also checks his computer to find out which teachers will be out for the day. Once he knows that, he goes to their classrooms to unlock their doors so substitutes can get in when they arrive.
Those are just a few chores in Gandy’s routine — and that’s all done before 8:30 a.m. and his workday doesn’t end until 3 p.m.
And then there are emergencies that pop up that he must deal with immediately.
“A few years back we had those hurricanes,” Gandy said. “One of the oak trees back here was actually falling over. There was a weeping willow that fell over. … I took care of the small tree. Maintenance came out and took care of the big tree.
“Remember the no-name storm that we had? Well, it took some of the coping (metal roof trim) off of the school. It was laying all over. I had to pick all of that before school even started that day,” Gandy added.
Basically, if there’s something that needs to be done, Gandy said he does it.
Gandy has been in charge of taking care of the building and grounds at the school since it opened two decades ago.
In a nutshell, he and his custodial staff aim to keep the school safe and clean.
It’s a big job, but Gandy enjoys the challenge.
Recently, his efforts were acknowledged when he was named noninstructional, nonbargaining Employee of the Year from Pasco County Schools.
Letters recommending Gandy for the honor say he is most deserving of recognition.
“Even after 20 years of daily use by over 1,200 middle school students, our campus always looks fresh and free of dirt, debris and the occasional writing on walls that tends to happen,” wrote Nicole Sciaratta, an assistant principal at Weightman.
Shae Davis, principal at Stewart Middle in Zephyrhills, was Gandy’s boss for eight years.
“Steve takes tremendous pride in the work he does as a plant manager. He will expedite work orders as needed and he will truly work as a team player to get the job done,” wrote Davis, who was principal at Weightman from 2004 to 2012.
Gandy’s current boss, principal Brandon Bracciale, is impressed, too.
“Steve is always pleasant, calm and willing to do whatever it takes to keep our campus as beautiful as it is,” Bracciale wrote in recommending Gandy for the honor.
The plant manager knows his priorities.
“Safety is No. 1, and then, of course, if the principal wants something, that’s No. 2,” he said.
Keeping the school in tip-top shape for daily school life and special events requires constant management.
“I love it,” Gandy said. “For one thing, the job involves working with my hands. I like building things. I like repairing things, making them work again, maybe even better than they were before.”
The plant manager knows every inch of the campus. He can rattle off the location of every one of its 110 fire extinguishers and the last time each was checked.
He carries dozens of keys and knows which ones open doors, cabinets, compartments and such.
When the power goes out, he knows which circuit breakers to check.
He has dozens of binders on shelves in his office containing current work orders, completed work orders, safety check lists, training materials, schedules for inspections and so on.
He manages a staff of eight that keeps things running and looking good around campus.
Gandy said he began working with his hands when he was a kid and his dad was making repairs on the family’s frame house.
He also began playing music and tinkering with cars when he was young. He still enjoys doing both when he’s not busy at his day job.
When Weightman was under construction, Gandy said he knew he wanted to be the plant manager. It was a step up from the job he had as assistant plant manager at Quail Hollow Elementary, also in Wesley Chapel.
He was thrilled winning the Weightman post and has been delighted to work there ever since.
“At this school, it’s kind of like a family. It’s been that way ever since I’ve been here. There’s not a whole lot of stress. I’ve heard horror stories at other schools where the plant manager and food service manager don’t get along. I’ve never had that problem. We all help each other. We work as a team; we’ve always worked as a team,” Gandy said.
He was gratified by the district honor.
“I was surprised I was even nominated, really. And then, to see who I was up against — they’re two great employees, also.”
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