In Working Order
By David Thiel
Photographs by Brent M. Hale
After students and faculty leave campus each spring, the summer days grow long indeed for Deerfield’s Physical Plant. In the narrow window between spring final examinations and fall’s opening days, they need to work miracles. And they do.
This past summer has been a case in point: the Dining Hall, Fitness Center, and Greer Store construction projects were completed, patios and walkways were installed near the science center, and Ephraim Williams was expanded. Several dorm rooms were reconfigured, and two large houses were refinished after being stripped to their studs.
Most pressing are the schedules for on-campus moves. There were 26 “moves” into or between Deerfield campus residences this summer, and between those exits and entrances the Physical Plant squeezed in a mountain of work. Painting, floor refinishing, updated kitchens and baths: required maintenance to ensure that Deerfield runs smoothly and the campus stays in tip-top shape.
- Physical Plant is always ready to meet Deerfield Academy’s constantly changing needs.
“You can imagine how difficult it is to refinish a floor while people are walking on it,” says Chuck Williams ’72, Deerfield’s Director of Facilities. “Since we have virtually no ‘extra room’ on campus, the gap between faculty moving out of a house and the next family moving in is a critical time for us to repair and restore things—but it’s typically only a couple weeks for each residence.”
With such a tight timeframe in which to perform so much work, planning and scheduling is key—especially when you consider the interdependencies between different types of construction work. (One example: both plumbing and electrical work must be started after walls are framed, but before they are plastered—but fixtures can’t be installed until after the final coat of paint.) Through it all, resources—human, financial, and physical—must be carefully managed.
In spite of the campus’ longevity, the school’s needs change constantly. In the past 20 years, the faculty has shifted from mostly single men to mostly families, and housing has needed to shift in response. Above all, the needs of Deerfield’s academic and residential programs prevail: in the summer of 2009, the Physical Plant needed to create additional dormitory spaces to accommodate an especially large group of freshman girls, and this past summer they removed several of those rooms to restore common areas.
- There are no quick fixes or shortcuts for Deerfield’s Physical Plant.
Anyone who’s ever done a bit of work on their own home—or watched HGTV—knows that construction projects almost always hold surprises, but for Deerfield’s Physical Plant, there are no quick fixes or shortcuts. “We’re going to own these properties for a long, long time,” says Mr. Williams, “so it’s worth it to do it right the first time and save on maintenance costs down the road.” When something untoward is discovered deep in the bowels of a building, it gets fixed—and fixed right. Much of this hidden work is beautiful to behold: a manifold of copper pipes with perfectly soldered connections; carefully labeled wiring which snakes gracefully through old beams; countertops and trim tightly scribed to the wall; dead level and plumb framing; crisp caulk and grout lines; pipe unions and cleanouts in just the right locations; perfectly mortised hinges; window ropes and ballasts that rise and fall freely in their sashes. These details matter: even the locks on campus benefit from an intelligent design, making it easier to key and rekey any of Deerfield’s thousands of doors.