Moments after finishing an interview, Forest Hill Collegiate Institute chief caretaker Darren Lewis stoops to pick up a tiny, almost indiscernible piece of shredded paper in the school’s staff room.
It’s part of his job.
But not all caretakers are this dedicated. Maybe that’s why Lewis and his team were recognized by the Toronto District School Board with a 2012 Excellence Award.
Lewis said his team was responsible for all the hard work it takes to keep Forest Hill Collegiate clean and safe.
“To be recognized as a group is nice,” he said. “We were a little bit shocked, because we didn’t even know we had been nominated.”
According to a school board spokesperson, this is the first time she can remember a caretaking team receiving the award. Forest Hill Collegiate principal Peggy Aitchison and the student council nominated the team for the award.
Aitchison praised the team for being constantly proactive. She cited an example of when she called Lewis to report a door that didn’t lock properly, and he told her they already have a new work order in and a carpenter had measured the door.
“While some principals would have to point out those sort of things, they were already on top of it,” she said.
She mentioned how when the area’s superintendent visited the school and asked students what stood out, there was a consistent pattern.
“The first response was ‘This school is really clean’,” she said.
The board’s director of education, Chris Spence, visited last year and asked students what they thought of the washrooms, because he had heard of facilities so dirty students refused to use them.
“They looked at each other as if he was from another planet, because it was just never an issue for them,” she said.
Lewis, who started caretaking in 1983 at Western Technical Commercial School has a wide gamut of duties.
“I’m basically responsible for the whole building,” he said. “In addition to cleaning, I’m a stationary engineer so I’m responsible for the heating, air conditioning, operating the pool. And I [act as a] liaison with all the various trades for repairs as needed.”
Although he has major responsibilities, he points out his team won the award together.
“It’s a team effort. Honestly, without my guys, we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”