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Sweat equity: New River Falls School District hire put on hot spot

He’s the newest school administrator, but Building & Grounds Director Art Tobin is seldom found behind a desk, not with scores of school referendum projects to be completed this summer. Tobin was a building services director in St. Croix County and before that in Minneapolis. Going by first impressions, Tobin said River Falls residents seem very curious and supportive about the work they see going on at their public schools.

It’s been baptism by fire for the school district’s new building and grounds director.

Art Tobin began work in late April. A month later he was overseeing major construction at three schools – Meyer Middle School, Westside Elementary and Greenwood Elementary.

“It’s definitely been a 0-60 mile-per-hour in five seconds start,” said the 54-year-old Tobin, who’s worked in building maintenance for 25 years, the last 5 ½ years with St. Croix County.  “But what a great chance to learn these buildings from the ground up, identifying issues and problems, correcting those we can now, and planning to budget for others in long-range planning.”

For Tobin, a newcomer working under such pressure is a stretch he welcomes: “Taking the job for the River Falls School District allows me to use and expand on my skills and years of training.

This summer much of Tobin’s job training is to monitor the pace of school construction that’s part of the 2011 $19-million referendum.

“As part of the administrative team, it’s my responsibility to work with team members to deal with daily construction issues that come up and find solutions to problems to keep each project moving smoothly and be ready for the schools’ opening day in the fall,” Tobin said.

While construction ends in late August, Tobin says there will be a continuation of work in the fall because of newly installed mechanical systems

“Before these projects end and school opens, we need to review our daily operational policies,” he said. “With the many various upgrades, we need to be trained and ready.

“We need to be a leader in energy management and work at lowering our carbon footprint. When making improvements, we need to work with local utilities and groups like Focus on Energy, both for efficiencies and to capture available rebate dollars.”

Besides his own crash course learning about the school district and getting a handle on construction, Tobin says this summer is one of contrasts.

“There’s the short amount of time available because of the construction to get up to speed,” he said. “But a large part of this district is not under construction, and so the daily operations go on. Teachers still hold summer classes, events still happen daily.”

Tobin said being new on the job while overseeing school referendum schedules is inspiring.

“My goal is for us to be the best stewards for what the local taxpayers have granted us to do with these school buildings,” he said. “I want this project to come out right and be the envy of Wisconsin for energy efficiencies, for forward thinking, and for planning and wise spending of the public’s money.”

For more on Tobin and Meyer Middle School construction pictures, see the June 27 print edition of the River Falls Journal.