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They’re the fix-it people

Langley schools maintenance chief combats vandalism
Tristan Schaufler is the Langley School District’s director of facilities

For what he spends on painting out graffiti, replacing shattered windows, repairing vandalized fixtures and reinstalling stripped wires, Tristan Schaufler says he could repaint an entire high school.

“The exterior, not the interior,” notes the director of facilities for the Langley school district.

Schaufler says the district spends an average of $170,000 every year to repair petty acts of sabotage, or about one per cent of his annual maintenance budget.

His people have had to become very good at quick fixes.

There was a good example of that in May when one former and three current students at D.W. Poppy Secondary School allegedly piled some fake snow in front of the main entrance to the school, blocking it with a waist-high mound of ice shavings from a local skating rink.

It wouldn’t have been a problem if one of them hadn’t gone on to decorate the outside of the school with crudely-drawn obscene cartoons applied with liberal amounts of black spray paint.

Someone broke a small window, too.

A photograph of the graffiti had barely been posted to Facebook by friends of the troublemakers when the crew from the school district painting department arrived.

It took them just over two hours to eliminate every trace.

The culprits were quickly identified and are facing possible criminal mischief charges.

Schaufler is a former professional carpenter who says the big difference between trades work and his current job is that you keep going back to the same building instead of moving on to the next construction project.

He became head of mechanical services at the school district in 2006, rising to become overall director of facilities in 2008.

The 44-year-old married father of three commands his forces in the battle against vandalism from a military-style collection of metal-sided structures surrounded by a chain link fence on 64 Avenue.

On the outside parking lot rows of bright yellow buses wait their turn while indoors the paint shop is preparing plywood silhouettes of children to mark crosswalks and pile of outdated computer monitors are stacked outside the IT hardware section waiting repair or recycling.

Schaufler has 200 people in his department, 44 of them in maintenance which includes the eight in the painting department.

He says his crews usually learn a school building has been deliberately damaged from the private security company that patrols district properties.

At a time when money is tight, his response to incidents of vandalism has to be carefully measured.

It may be tempting to replace shattered windows with metal shutters, he says, but if the shattered windows appear to be the result of a one-time-only incident, it makes more sense to spend $4,000 than $100,000 on shatterproof metal shutters.

With 18,000 students, more than 2,500 teachers, support staff and administrators, an area of 313 square kilometres and an operating budget of over $150 million, Langley is one of the 10 largest school districts in the province.

Langley appears to have a lower incidence of vandalism compared to the others, such as neighboring Surrey which spends an average of $750,000 a year on glass breakage, graffiti and copper theft.

Dan Ferguson

About the Author: Dan Ferguson

Dan Ferguson has worked for a variety of print and broadcast outlets in Canada and the U.S.
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