McKinney, Texas - “We have HVAC guys, and they basically live on the roof,” says McKinney ISD Director of Maintenance Justin Price as he turns and locks a heavy, gray metal door in a nondescript brick building on McKinney’s east side. On the other side of the door is a storage space that houses the district’s prodigious paint and HVAC filter supply. 

That filter inventory is an important part of daily life for those guys on the roof.  

They service the nearly 4,000 HVAC units that keep MISD kids comfortable throughout the school year—huge cubes of sheet metal, wire and tubing, pumping out conditioned air for about four classrooms’ worth of space, in most cases. Almost all of the units are located overhead, scattered across the rooftops of MISD. 

And, they all have filters that need to be replaced regularly.

“Our target is to replace all filters on a 30-day cycle,” says Price. “Not only does that keep the units running as efficiently as possible and give us the most life out of them, it keeps the air inside the building cleaner for students and staff.”

This filter effort is part of MISD’s long-term facilities plan that has placed each school on a 15-20 year refresh/renovation cycle. Everything wears out eventually, of course, and school facilities are no exception. But MISD works diligently to get the most out of its physical resources in terms of appearance, usefulness and lifespan, so that they remain in the best possible shape for students and staff.

The 56 members of the maintenance department are the ones who help keep things running in a district with 40 school, office and storage facilities. They fix things when they break, and through regular preventative maintenance, help extend the life of the district’s systems and facilities. 

Among a host of responsibilities, they maintain MISD’s landscaping, pruning trees away from buildings to prevent damage. They are responsible for pest control and new paint and for waxing floors to maintain the appearance and durability of MISD’s school corridors and gymnasiums. 

Of the ongoing preventative maintenance needs that occupy the attention of the department, some of the most persistent are those filters. Replacing them is essentially a full time job.

But, time spent on MISD roofs allows maintenance staff to attend to another vital responsibility: checking for potential leaks. 

“They keep an eye out for us and let us know if they see anything that’s concerning,” says Price.  “If a storm drain cover is blown off or a part from a unit has fallen off and punctured the roof, then we can go in and fix it.” 

MISD roofs account for about 5 million square feet of space, an area equivalent to nearly 87 football fields. They are covered with material similar to a residential roof shingle spread out flat across the roof’s surface. It’s rated to last about 20 years. But, punctures happen and can lead to a leak that eventually makes its way into a school.

“Once you have a good membrane on the roof, in theory, unless something hits it or something weird happens, that thing should stay dry,” says Price. “But, things happen. These buildings aren’t submarines. They’re going to leak eventually.”

On rainy days, if a leak is reported, maintenance will head to the roof. “We’ll get up there during the rain and at least try to identify it,” Price explains. Once it’s had time to dry out, they get to work patching it.

Two years ago, a major hailstorm damaged about two thirds of the roofs across MISD, and the district brought in a company who used thermal imaging to pinpoint every location where water was sneaking in. The damaged roofs were either replaced, recoated or repaired, and that makes the job a bit easier today. 

At any given moment, there is probably a member of the MISD maintenance staff on a rooftop somewhere in the district, replacing a filter, working on an HVAC unit or tending to the roof itself. 

Heedless of the elements, they’re up there—whether it’s miserably cold and wet or a savagely hot Texas summer. And, the work they do helps the district deliver the best possible learning opportunities to our students in the best possible facilities.