For most Peninsula School District employees, the school year is their busiest time of the year, and summer is a time when things slow down — at least a bit.
That’s not the case with the maintenance and operations crew, which keep buildings habitable and in working order and makes sure athletic fields are playable.
“We go from busy to busier,” Director of Facilities Ernie Elton said.
Doing maintenance, custodial and groundskeeping work is easier with a lot fewer people around, Elton said, but there’s a lot more to be done before school starts again in September.
It’s not just a job for Elton and the team of 17 he leads. He and his coworkers want to make sure students have the best environment possible in which to learn — be it in the classroom, in a swimming pool or on a track.
“All of those areas are teaching situations also,” Elton said.
He makes sure he and his crew provide first-rate customer service.
“When they got me, they got ownership,” he said. “The district’s my bottom line.”
Elton, 52, was quick to give the bulk of the credit to the people who work for him.
“My people are the people that make it happen,” he said.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t work hard himself. Elton is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
He recalled the 2008 gym collapse at Vaughn Elementary School just before Christmas that put a crimp in his holiday dinner plans.
He’s a man who enjoys his work and the people with whom he works, including Peninsula School District employees and students.
“I love my job,” Elton said. “I’m a people person. I like people.”
He’s honed his people skills – as well as his maintenance and repair skills – during a 34-year career, the past six with the Peninsula School District. He graduated from what was then known as the Kitsap Vocational Skills Center — today’s West Sound Technical Skills Center. He’s since spent time working in South Kitsap, Longview, Port Townsend and Clover Park before he came to Peninsula — a homecoming of sorts, as Elton attended Artondale and Purdy elementary schools.
“It’s kind of fun to come back to where you started,” Elton said.
He also has fun on the job, saying a sense of humor is essential to having a good working environment. He has a number of funny posters and jokes that decorate his office.
Still, he’s serious about his work. He says a positive attitude and good work ethic can make anything happen.
He’s also the first to admit he doesn’t know it all.
“I don’t know everything,” Elton said, “but I can find out.”
Working on a shoestring budget means Elton and his team do what they can to keep things running smoothly, including upkeep on equipment and parts that are past their life cycle and deferred maintenance.
If Elton and his team are successful at their jobs — and they are, the vast majority of the time — it takes place behind the scenes, with few people knowing what’s going on.
“That’s the beauty of this job,” he said. “We can make things right that nobody knows was wrong. We try to handle it before somebody even knows it’s a problem.”