The Shade Shop: Dorm Maintenance with the Office of Physical Plant

Each room in Andover’s 42 dormitories sports white-on-green window shades that offer students darkness during the day and privacy at night. Inevitably, however, the considerable number of window shades leads to a high demand for maintenance and upkeep — a job that belongs to the Office of the Physical Plant (OPP).

The Shade Shop, located in Abbot Gym on Old Abbot Campus, is a workshop filled with supplies and tools used for repairing the shades. According to Dennis Conroy, Manager of Facilities Maintenance, OPP gets around 128 shade-related work order requests a year.

Sometimes, there’s no [calls] for a couple days, and then other days there’s three all at once. It depends more on the student versus me. The student can have a broken shade in his room for a week and it doesn’t bother him or her so we never know about it. On the average, I get one or two a day, not only from the dorm side of it but from the faculty, too,” said Facilities Maintenance Painter Steve Ouellette.

When a shade breaks or tears in the dormitory, students can inform their house counselor, who then calls the OPP Help Desk. From there, a work order is generated and, for routine maintenance such as a broken shade, the shade is usually repaired in one to three days.The time frame depends on who’s available as well as how many work orders are already in the system; and can even be delayed due to severe weather.

“The work is dispersed to different managers that are responsible for different groups. If it was a shade, a work order request would come to me, and then it actually gets assigned to the lead person of the group. Then he would then assign a work order to Ouellette, and Ouellette would get the work order request [and] go to, for example, Johnson Hall Room 313 where the shade is broken,” said Conroy.

From there, Ouellette would enter the required room and evaluate the problem. According to Ouellette, many shades can be fixed on sight with his toolkit, which consists of “quick-fix” tools, and other supplies from his truck.

“In the case of where they’re torn beyond repair or the shade is just missing for whatever reason, I then measure it, and I come back [to the Shade Shop]. I take a roller pipe, and I measure that to length. I put on the pin end, cut it to length, go over to the fabric, put the fabric on it, put the spring in it, cut the fabric on the fabric machine, fold it, put a stick in it, run it through the sewing machine, and put either a tassel or a bell on it,” said Ouellette.

Once the working shade is implemented, Ouellette returns to the room and leaves a door tag which contains the room number, what he did in the room, and the house counselor’s confirmation of his repair. Once the request is closed on his iPad, he moves onto the next work order.

Conroy has worked at Andover for 36 years, and the Shade Shop has existed since he first started. The repair method, however, has changed significantly since then.

“We’re very lucky to have the system that we have, and the reason for it is that it’s very easy to repair. In the past it was a more difficult process. We probably ended up buying the whole shade versus being able to take it back here and fix it and repair it in the matter of an hour. The reason for that being able to happen is the development of the pipe — all the interchangeable parts — which has changed the shop in a big way. OPP can fix your shades at a much greater speed and have no time lost,” said Ouellette.

According to Conroy, maintenance is key at OPP. The shade material in every dorm is standardized, so that OPP can use their own parts and supplies to repair them. If different types of shades and hardwares were allowed, OPP would be unable to maintain them.

Once, according to Ouellette, a student brought her own blue shades and put them up in her room. After two or three years, they broke, and Ouellette had to replace all of the shades.

“When you buy them from Walmart or somewhere else, they’re made very cheap with cardboard liners and non-adjustable ends. When it breaks, it’s junk. Here, if you break a shade, I can take it to [the Shade Shop], and I can have it back in your dorm room the same day. If we can’t maintain what we have on campus, then we can’t service you and the school the way we should,” said Ouellette.

Conroy said, “That’s why we kind of stick with a traditional, good, hardy shade that’s been proven out in the field for years… The shades may not look very fancy, but they’re very durable and they function well, and they’re easily repaired.”

Conroy continued, “It’s the best possible thing that we are able to put out there in the dorms that we can easily repair or replace if we have to, versus some other shade material that may look nicer or give color options, different things like that, but that would slow us down. This is, we think, the best system for our dormitories and keeping operable shades in all our windows.”

Shade repair is only one facet of OPP’s work. In addition to the Shade Shop, OPP consists of houses painters, carpenters, a locksmith, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) workers, technicians, plumbers, electricians, and numerous others who maintain Andover’s residential homes, dormitories, administrative buildings, and athletic buildings.