Sign of spring: How low can you mow? (Hint: Not too low.)

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) officials are forging ahead briskly with an extensive list of construction, maintenance and repair projects during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Northam on March 23 closed all Virginia kindergarten-through-12th-grade school facilities for the remainder of the academic year. FCPS is taking advantage of the shutdown to perform the work, while abiding by social-distancing requirements and other safety guidelines, said spokesman Lucy Caldwell.

The school system is speeding up work on roofing projects, turf replacements (upon delivery of all materials to the work sites), middle-school security cameras, testing for and abatement of lead in school facilities’ drinking water, flooring repairs and replacements, installations of new mechanical and HVAC systems, and asbestos-abatement projects.

In addition, FCPS is accelerating playground repairs and installations, lighting replacements and painting of some facilities’ parking lots, gym-floor refinishings and switching off “Wink-O-Matic” flashing lights for pedestrians near schools.

FCPS officials also have accelerated construction of a science lab at Edison High School in Kingstowne and expansion of the parking lot at Shrevewood Elementary School in the Falls Church area.

The Energy Management Section of the school system’s Office of Facilities Management (OFM) continues to rotate staff on its weekly call-out list and remotely monitor energy use, temperatures and humidity levels of FCPS buildings, Caldwell said.

OFM’s grounds section, which employs 32 groundskeepers, has resumed mowing activities for administrative centers, fields and school-perimeter areas, Caldwell said. Grounds crews have installed “Facility Closed” signs on all the school system’s playgrounds, courts and athletic fields.  

County schools on March 31 began rotating custodial staff to perform building checks, landscape maintenance and equipment operations, Caldwell said. Crews conduct two-hour-long building checks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and perform three-hour-long checks on Tuesdays and Thursdays in order to have sufficient time to mow the perimeter grass, she said.  

Six technicians with OFM’s Plant Operations Section are accelerating repairs on custodial equipment to support those efforts, and 14 plant-operations monitors are providing scheduling, training and supplemental custodial support at county schools, Caldwell said. Thirty-six field custodians also are doing building checks and cleaning at administrative centers, and substituting for school-based custodians when needed.

The Plant Operations Section also is finalizing plans to speed up custodians’ summer cleaning work, which usually can be performed only during a narrow window of weeks before schools open each fall, she said.

The warehouse at the school system’s Sideburn Support Center has remained open during the shutdown and has rotated two-person teams on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to allow continued shipping and receipt of critical supplies, she said.  

FCPS officials continue to work on a solar-energy partnership with the county government. Announced in December last year, the partnership aims to expand solar-energy use to 87 FCPS schools and facilities.

“We are continuing our work with the solar [equipment] vendors and evaluating the schools they feel would be a good fit,” Caldwell said, adding that the work includes reviewing roof warranties, structural elements and other factors.

The school system, in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo, was among the nation’s first to install solar-energy equipment, according to the FCPS Website. When Terraset Elementary School in Reston opened in 1977, the  building had tubes that collected solar heat. Five other county schools subsequently have installed rooftop solar equipment for demonstration purposes, school officials said.

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