Portland school custodian gets the job done, water or not

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PORTLAND — School custodians work behind-the-scenes and their efforts can often go unnoticed.

But that’s not the case for Avalinda Lindsay, the head custodian at Hall Elementary School.

Lindsay was honored by the School Board at its Aug. 15 meeting for going above and beyond in getting the school ready for students to return this week.

For most of the summer Lindsay cleaned the school with no access to running water due to the construction of a new school, which is going up next door to the existing building on Orono Road.

Lindsay also spent the majority of the summer working alone, because the school’s other custodian, Mark Madison, went on a four-week road trip.

But Madison said despite the challenges, there was never any doubt that Lindsay would have the school ready to open in time.

“She always has a plan and it always gets done,” he said in an interview. “This school has never needed any help to get ready to re-open.”

Lindsay, who has worked at Hall School as a custodian for the past 20 years, said, “I love my job and I love the people I work with. This school is a really special place.”

But she admitted that working without water was hard and the hours were long, but when her supervisor asked if she needed any help or questioned whether the school would be ready for students to return, she reassured him.

“I told him: ‘I will get it done, just watch me,'” she recalled. “Nothing was going to stop me.”

To deal with the water issue, Lindsay brought buckets full of water – sometimes as much 50 gallons a day – from Madison’s home, which is near Hall School.

“If it hadn’t been for her idea to tote water in,” Madison said, “we never would have been ready for the kids to come back.”

Initially Lindsay was told the water would only be off for three weeks, but it ended up being six.

Dawn Kenniston, the principal at Hall School, nominated Lindsay for the School Board recognition.

At the award ceremony Kenniston described Lindsay as “the heart and soul of our school, who plays a major role in all aspects of school life. Her work ethic serves as a model for students, staff and families.”

Xavier Botana, the superintendent of schools, said those who know Lindsay “know that she has always gone above and beyond to support all of the needs of Hall School.”

“This year she has been enormously challenged by flying solo at Hall for the summer with 12 classrooms to move due to construction. In addition to this, she has cleaned the building magnificently with no water.”

Lindsay said she had no idea what was coming on the night she received the award from the School Board.

She said Kenniston only told her to show up, bring her family and “dress like I was going to church.”

Lindsay said she also received a personal invitation to attend the School Board meeting from Botana and couldn’t imagine what was going on.

Along with Lindsay’s large family, which includes five sons and 16 grandchildren, 17 teachers from Hall School also showed up at the Aug. 15 meeting so support her.

Lindsay came to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1988. She and her husband originally lived in Portland, but now live in Windham, where her grandchildren all go to school and participate in sports from football to lacrosse to track and cheering.

Lindsay’s first job in Maine was working as a housekeeper at what was the Eastland Park Hotel. Then, in 1990, she got a job as a custodian at Reiche Elementary School on Portland’s West End.

After working at Reiche for several years, Lindsay moved to Hall School, where she initially worked days. In 2007 she took over as the head custodian and now works nights.

She said she misses the interactions she used to have with the students, but also enjoys her work as a supervisor. Lindsay also cleans 16 of the school’s nearly 40 rooms.

She said she’ll be sad to the see the old school torn down when the new school is up and running. But what Lindsay will miss most, she said, is the tile floors, which shine so brightly after they’ve been cleaned.

“When you get done with these floors, it feels like you’ve accomplished something,” she said. ‘They shine so. “

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Avalinda Lindsay head custodian at Hall Elementary School in Portland, was recently honored by the School Board for dealing with many challenges over the summer, including a lack of running water in the building.

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