VIENNA - Throughout Wood County Schools, custodians are polishing floors, cleaning windows and arranging desks in preparation of Thursday's opening day of school.
It is a side of the school system most people never see, but one that remains vital to maintaining a positive environment for students and staff alike.
Head custodian Mary Gates has been at Greenmont 19 years and says keeping the school a bright place for children is a year-round task.
Greenmont Elementary School custodian Ray Reynolds, left, and head custodian Mary Gates, right, put the finishing touches on the school gymnasium. (Photo by Michael Erb)
"Our goal is to have the cleanest environment possible for the kids," she said. "When you see the children's faces on the first day, the smiles, that is what it's all about."
Greenmont custodian Ray Reynolds agrees.
"I want to keep the school in the kind of shape I would want my granddaughter to walk into," he said.
The pair are the only custodians at the school, but officials say they, like other custodians around the county, do the work of an army.
"They are representative of the type of service personnel that work for Wood County Schools," said Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services. "Our service staff do their best to make things as seamless as possible for the first day of school."
Gates said that preparation begins after the last day of school. The custodians remove furniture from rooms and begin a top-down scrub.
"We clean everything, the rafters, the walls, the windows," she said. "We even wipe down the blinds."
They then strip the existing wax off of the floors and begin again.
"We put down three sealers and seven to 10 coats of wax," Gates said. "We use about 100 gallons of wax a year."
By the time the new school year comes around, the duo say they have things pretty well under control, focusing on last-minute cleaning, returning furniture to rooms and buffing floors to a polished shine.
"I usually feel rushed all the time," Gates said. "Some years we've had to come in on the weekends to get everything done."
This year school will open for the fall semester Thursday.
"It's crunch time," Woodward said.
The district employs 113 custodians who work in more than 30 facilities throughout the county. The task can seem daunting, but Woodward said many employees have learned to adapt.
"Our long-time employees have paced themselves all summer for that final push to the goal line," she said. "Like a marathon runner, they've trained for it all year. They know how long it takes to wax the floors, they know how many people it takes to complete different tasks. They've got it down to a science."
Even so, Woodward said the run up to the start of school can seem more like a sprint.
"Anything that is left in them, they are giving it right now," she said.
"When those doors open, we are ready," Reynolds said.
Maintaining those halls and classrooms throughout the year is a bit of a team effort, he said, with everyone pitching in to help.
"Everybody works together. If they see something that needs done, they do it," Reynolds said. "The students help us a lot and so does the faculty."
"We're like a family here," Gates said.
Reynolds, who has worked at the school for six years now, takes it a step further.
"I was retired, and I decided I didn't have enough grandchildren, so I came here," he said. "Now I have 280 of them."