Unsung Heroes

By Sam Goldman
Winter 2017

Header image: Franklin Dunlap assists students with crossing Jamesville Road daily.

Soft wisps of snowflakes cascade from the sunless sky. As the morning draws closer, Mike Longden emerges from his basement “office” and reads the poorly lit analog clock; 3:30 a.m. He grabs his keys and approaches his locker to put on his insulated winter boots.

Longden exits the building, stepping on top of a thick blanket of snow as he unhurriedly makes his way to the truck. The rugged old truck whirls on and he lowers the plow. As the sun rises, Longden unearths more and more snow, painting a black and white picture with snow and asphalt. Once the artist has completed his craft, he parks his truck and makes his way to the crosswalks to guide people safely across the roads.

Snow continues to fall as he gazes at his masterpiece of the neatly plowed roads, only to be alarmed by a genuine voice, thanking him for letting them cross. These nods of appreciation don’t come often.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s every single day, but it’s not completely rare,” Longden said.

This is a typical winter morning for the the maintenance crew, which spends countless hours tending to the campus. By sacrificing their early mornings, late night and summer vacation, the maintenance crew prepares the school grounds so MPH students can learn in a comfortable and ever-improving environment. Yet the crew of six members receives little to no recognition in the nine months of the school year. Andrew Park, an MPH senior, called them the “unsung heroes,” the “milkmen” of MPH.

“Before anybody is even awake they already delivered all the milk,” Park said. “They are modern heroes, man. … I don’t think they are appreciated enough. We don’t even know their names. We don’t even know how many there are.”

In fact, the combined custodial and maintenance staff will increase in order to accommodate the rising demands that will come with maintaining additional buildings such as the new gym.

The maintenance crew’s typical morning consists of arriving at 7:00 a.m., though they often arrive at 3:30 a.m. to deal with the treacherous Syracuse weather. Once they arrive, they unlock the doors, coordinate traffic and the crosswalks, and manage daily issues that the day brings.

Hundreds of students and parents are guided through the crosswalk before and after school.

“There are parents that do talk,” Jeff Smith said. “[Sometimes] we say ‘Hi, have a good weekend,’ and they don’t say anything, they just keep walking. I feel better about myself because I know I said what I had to say.”

The soccer field, tennis court and basketball court aren’t magically set up either. Hours are spent weekly maintaining MPH’s athletic facilities. On cold winter nights, some maintenance crew members stay well past their regular shift to remove snow, their days stretching into 12 and 13 hours. Some winter days that start in the wee hours can stretch into the evening until the end of basketball and volleyball games, meaning an occasional 20-hour work day for some.

Once the winter weather has parted, the job doesn’t let up. In the months outside of school, the crew spends its time making improvements on the campus for incoming students. Over the summer, the maintenance crew painted the whole school, put in new air conditioning and windows in Bradlee, along with more behind-the-scenes work most students aren’t aware of and are overlooked.

For all the work that the custodial staff does—both out in the open and behind scenes—in allowing a smooth start and finish to each school day, Head of Upper School John Stegeman put it best.

“They are really the glue,” he said, “that holds that process together.