Albion’s campus caretaker retires

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 July 2013 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Dan Shuler served as buildings and ground superintendent at Albion for more than three decades. He is pictured inside the elementary school, which was renovated and expanded during his tenure.

ALBION – When visiting teams and their fans come to Albion Central School, they often remark about the well-kept campus, the lush lawns and clean buildings.

District Superintendent Michael Bonnewell said a lot of the credit should go to Dan Shuler, the district’s buildings and grounds superintendent for more than three decades.

Shuler retired last week after 36 years with the district. He worked in buildings and grounds for Albion since he was 19, beginning as a laborer.

Shuler played a key role in the overhaul and upkeep of the district’s 480,000 square feet of buildings. Albion has tackled several multi-million-dollar renovations in recent years as well as an expansion of the elementary school. Some districts will hire a clerk of the works to coordinate construction crews. Shuler handled the job when Albion took on the big projects.

“I’ve got awesome people,” Shuler said about the 27 employees in the B and G department. “The board has been supportive and we’ve had stable superintendents.”

During Shuler’s long career, Albion has only had four superintendents – Doug Houck, Ron Sodoma, Ada Grabowski and now Mike Bonnewell.

Many of Shuler’s counterparts in Niagara and Orleans counties see a lot of turnover at the top, which can be unsettling at a district.

“The stability at Albion has been huge because we’ve been able to keep those key people,” Shuler said.

The district has become more energy efficient behind Shuler’s lead, swapping out incandescent lights and their fixtures with new high-efficient ones. Albion installed motion sensors in the gyms and other spots, so the lights are only on whether there are people in the rooms.

“The lighting is where you get your savings,” he said. “The payback has been huge. You need to look to save every penny you can.”

That includes the exterior lights – the pole lights, shoe boxes and wall packs on the building. They all have energy-efficient lights, reducing the wattage from 450 to 72.

Albion has tackled several building projects in recent years, replacing roofs, improving classroom spaces, upgrading athletic fields and adding safety measures to its buildings. Shuler said the district also keeps up an aggressive plan every year, spending about $300,000 on various projects. That has staved off some of the bigger and more costly capitol initiatives.

Shuler remembers his early days on the job, back when the district had the Waterport Elementary School and the Grammar School on East Academy Street. There wasn’t a maintenance garage for the department in those days. There base of operations was a maintenance shed in the boiler room of the Grammar School.

A much smaller maintenance crew with far fewer tools and equipment tried to keep old boilers going. The heating system at the middle school was only 45 percent energy efficient. Some of the buildings weren’t insulated.

“The middle school was horrible,” Shuler said. “We spent more heating the middle school than we do on the whole campus now.”

Albion had a cinder track that was labor intensive to maintain, requiring 400 gallons of paint a year. That was replaced with an all-weather, rubber synthetic track that is far less time-consuming to keep up.

Shuler spent a lot of time when he started his career on small lawn mowers. He used a 1940s tractor to pull a mower early in his career. Now the district has a mower with a 16-foot cut, plus two 11-footers. That helps the crew mow 80 acres of grass on the campus.

Shuler is Albion’s third Buildings and Grounds superintendent since the district created the position in 1960, following Herb Dawson and Kevin Doherty.

Shuler was the first person Doherty hired when he led the department. Doherty, who now serves on the Board of Education, said Shuler served the district well over his career.

“He has been very good at integrating the hands-on and people skills with the business office requirements,” Doherty said.

Shuler and his department keep the buildings clean and grounds safe. The staff works hard behind Shuler, Doherty said.

“He has their respect because he has done every job,” Doherty said.

Shuler said he typically juggled 150 work orders as the B and G superintendent. His staff, many long-term employees, deserve the credit for working on a variety of projects.

“It’s a lot of work and I think my guys do awesome,” he said.

Shuler’s four children graduated from Albion. He has 12 grandchildren. A past Scout leader, Shuler said he looks forward to more time for camping. He would like to hike the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail.