September 26, 2012 - David Blehm of Clarkston has worn a lot of hats for Clarkston Community Schools over the past 36 years – custodian, head custodian, building maintenance supervisor, and all-around go-to guy for any and all maintenance issues.
David Blehm checks to make sure Bailey Lake Elementary’s utilities are working properly. Photo by Phil Custodio
(click for larger version)
"It's a good job, I enjoy it," said Blehm, who maintains boilers, roof top air conditioning and heating units, sewer pumps, and other systems throughout the district. "I'm at the time when I could retire, so now I come to work because I want to work."
A couple years ago, seven head custodians retired, so he also had seven replacements to get up to speed, he said.
His commitment is an inspiration to everyone in the district, said Jessica Kimmel, facilities and energy manager for Clarkston Community Schools.
"He takes great pride in making sure our buildings are never closed due to any issues that are within our control," Kimmel said. "He is a vital part in the success of our Energy Management Program, and all of the savings the district has realized as a result."
"That's always the goal, to not close school due to a maintenance issue," Blehm said. "That's what they pay us for, that's what's expected of us."
The district can never replace the knowledge Blehm brings to his work behind the scenes, said Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock.
"Not only has he worked at CCS for 35+ years, but he grew up here, which is the case of many of our staff members," Rock said. "We are very fortunate to have David serving our kids, school district, and community."
Blehm, who has two children, two step children, and a grandchild, graduated from Clarkston High School in 1975. He was hired by the district in 1977 as a custodian at Pine Knob Elementary School.
"I heard there was an opening, and I wanted the job," he said. "I called Bill Dennis (maintenance administrator at the time) every day for a week."
In high school, he took bus and truck maintenance in the 11th and 12th grades at the tech center.
"I figured I'd start as a custodian and transfer into bus maintenance when there was an opening," he said. "But I got going on this, and I'm still doing it."
Clarkston schools have changed a lot over the decades, he said.
"In the 70s, there were a lot of roof leaks and heating issues," he said. "Kids in the 70s and 80s – there was a lot more vandalism back then. They've mellowed out since then. They seem to appreciate things more now."
Since then, the district has built new schools and installed high-tech systems that allow monitoring and control from computers at home.
"They're very nice," he said. "A lot of changes were possible due to bonds people in the community passed in 1999, 2000, 2005. Without them, this job would be a whole lot harder. We appreciate it."
His motivation is to help kids, Kimmel said.
"In working with Dave, we constantly have to prioritize repairs, projects or requests," she said. "He makes that process simple. He often asks, 'Will it help the kids,' or 'is it for the kids,' which helps us to focus on the tasks that do just that."
"People like David represent and shape the essence of Clarkston as a community and school district that constantly seeks to serve, contribute, achieve excellence, and get better," Rock said. "Our school district is extremely fortunate to have many people like David who give above and beyond their job descriptions and work hours to make positive differences for kids."
Blehm's decades of experience with the district's changes, renovations, construction, repairs, additions, and upgrades is extremely valuable, Kimmel said.
"He has a wealth of knowledge that we all try to tap into as much as possible. Having someone on Clarkston Community School's team with his experience and institutional memory is a boon that is rare these days," she said. "I'm very grateful for Dave's ability to troubleshoot the wide array of issues that happen daily and even the rare ones that thankfully happen less frequently."
At age 56, Blehm hopes to keep going until he's at least 62 years old.
"If I can keep healthy, I'll be right here until then," he said.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.