Michael Sullivan is no stranger to Steel Valley. The Munhall native went to Park Elementary and the former Woodlawn Middle School before graduating from Steel Valley High School in 1999. He remained in the area while running his own construction company and doing other work, but, eventually, his alma mater offered an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
He was hired in August as the district’s Director of Facilities and Transportation. He shared more about his journey back to his alma mater and what his priorities have been during the first few months on the job.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Take us through your journey after you graduated from Steel Valley.
After graduation, I took some time off and work in a cleanroom atmosphere as the facilities technician. I ended up going to school for drafting and design with a plan to get my degree in architecture. I went to ITT Technical Institute and during my time there, they stopped the program I was going through. So I finished up with my degree with a general associate's degree and the closest place to go to finish would have been in Indiana. So I put that on hold for a little bit. My family is always in construction, so I kind of got back into that, and before I knew it, it was 15 to 20 years later. I had my own construction company and did that for a while. Once I had kids, it was just kind of crazy. I was super busy and I was missing some of their stuff. I had a friend who worked in property management who would always try to get me to work for him, and finally took them up on the offer. I did that for three years – property maintenance, property management. And then this came up, and here I am.
That background sounds like a kind of a perfect fit for this role. For people who may not know, what is your title and kind of what are you overseeing or focused on here at Steel Valley.
So, I'm the Director of Facilities and Transportation. I oversee the custodial staff. My job is to make sure the facilities, the buildings, the grounds, everything is maintained, taken care of and any problems solved. Also transportation, which we didn't get too much into yet. I’m slowly learning that aspect. That's going to be more for if and when this new school happens.
What's the main focus day in and day out for maintaining the custodial staff and the facilities around here?
The staff is pretty good. This position was vacant for two years. The previous guy had been a consultant. So, they kind of did their own thing and ran their own show, if you will, so they’ve got it under control. The hardest part is the age of the buildings. With a lot of things here, it’s been a mindset of let’s fix it when it breaks. And I want to get out of that. I'm going around learning the systems and figuring out what should we be looking at replacing rather than wait until it breaks to be in trouble and scrambling. We're also planning for a new school. So, I'm working on that and dealing with subcontractors, getting them in here making sure they're getting their stuff done. Electricians, plumbers, HVAC guys. A lot of the HVAC is original here. We've been placed on components, but the ones that are 30 or 40 years old are starting to fail on us.
You had some adventures down at Barrett just before Thanksgiving. Last year, there was the boiler issue at Park. Families have seen that there is a little bit of a need to be on top of things with infrastructure or facilities.
Which is a good reason for this new school. I know a lot of people are worried about taxes going up, which is legitimate concern. No numbers on hand, but what we’ve got to put into these older buildings that are deteriorating, it's got to be upwards of - over the next 20 years – the cost to build a new building. It's kind of like, do you put X amount of million dollars into these existing facilities? Or do you spend a little more money and get a new facility?
Are there any other projects coming up or things that you're working on that you can share that might emerge over the next few months or so?
The new school is one of the bigger ones. That's been a pretty big process. We just completed all the core samples on the campus, did a couple by the pool, just to see what's going on over there. Mainly, it's just trying to find a maintenance schedule, to replace parts that we have. It’s mostly behind the scenes stuff. We have chillers and boilers and pumps and all kinds of stuff that are 30-40 years old. We are working on a new middle school chiller, we had some cooling issues late in the summer. That chiller was put in I think in 1994 when it was built. So it's about time. There's all these issues at Park with cooling because you don't have a central air system, just window units. So there's obviously wear and tear because the window units aren't meant to run 24 hours a day to, keep a building cool. They’re more for domestic use. So it's keeping up with stuff like that, making sure that we get a list down of what we need to do next year, next three years, next five years.
What has it been like being back at your alma mater? You’ve been in the area, but now you’re really back involved with Steel Valley.
Yeah, I grew up in Munhall and I've been here most of my life. I know a lot of the faculty here, a lot of students here. I have younger kids who all play sports, so when I walk through Park I know half the kids in the building. And that's what drew me to this place. I wanted to work for the community that I grew up in and the school that I went to school for, to see the kids that I know, help them develop. I know facilities isn't dealing with kids, but you know, it kind of is. I grew up here and I just want the community to be better.
All across the country, people occasionally come back to their hometowns to give back. But that really seems to be common within Steel Valley. There is a really strong desire to make a difference, isn’t there?
I think it's like a black hole here. (laughter). People I know that that I grew up with, they tend to leave for a few years. And before you know it they're back. It’s a nice community. People get along here, for the most part. There’s a lot of things for the kids to do, a lot of sports and youth activities. Most of the parents care. I know that when I'm here if my kids go into so and so's house, I know who they are. It's a close community.
Has there been anything that surprised you about coming back to Steel Valley?
Being that I've been in the community and I know a lot of people here, nothing surprised me. It's busy. It's definitely a lot of work. I wasn't aware of a lot of the systems that are still here. We have some computers that run on Windows 98 for the HVAC system, which surprised me. We’ve got to kind of upgrade those. But it's been great. Everyone's been good to work with. So far it's been welcoming with a lot of team players here.