Mr. Chanmugam. Image: Janet Chen

 

In the quiet hours when all the students and teachers have left the halls of MGCI, the team of eight caretakers, headed by Mr. Luke Chanmugam, stay to clean the school. Some stay as late as 11:00 pm, making sure the school is safe and clean for the students that will walk through the doors again the next day

Becoming a head caretaker requires a background in engineering, energy systems, or building environmental systems. Before becoming a caretaker, Mr. Chanmugam worked in farmer’s markets and delivered produce during the day. He went to school at night to get an Operating Engineering degree, related to engineering in buildings, from Seneca College.

Having worked with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for twenty-five years, Mr. Chanmugam began working as the head caretaker at MGCI in 2012. Previously, he was “floating” around between different schools, working in one school one day and moving to another school the next. Eventually, he got the chance to move into MGCI permanently, where he has been working for the past seven years.

Reflecting on the significance of his role as a caretaker, Mr. Chanmugam firmly believes that his absolute first priority is to ensure the safety of anyone who steps foot into the school. To Mr. Chanmugam, everything else is secondary: “Regardless of what we do, as long as it is in a safe manner, that’s what is the most important thing to us. When there’s snow, instead of cleaning the cafeteria, we will go shovel the snow first to ensure that no one will slip and fall. We want to keep the students and teachers safe.”

Apart from cleaning the school, the caretakers are also known as jacks of all trades, taking care of numerous jobs during and after school. Depending on the season, they might shovel the snow or cut the grass. They clean up the hallways after school and clean up the cafeteria for the lunch program. They also take care of general maintenance jobs, which include replacing classroom lights, fans and filters, and fixing mechanics. The caretakers are also in charge of setting up for various events such as parent-teacher interviews, Music Night, and TOPS Night. They also interact with the tradesmen that come to the school, showing them what has to be repaired.

Unlike the students and teachers who look forward to summer vacation, caretakers work year-round. Usually, repairs are done during the summer to ensure that classes aren’t being disrupted. When students return to school the following year, they might find that the tiles have been replaced, which the caretakers do for certain classes every summer. Mr. Chanmugam prepares for the repairs by obtaining quotes from different companies and waiting to be granted permission from the TDSB to follow through with the repairs. Once again, safety is the caretakers’ number one priority: “The repair companies we usually end up choosing need to have a good safety record. The materials also have to follow and meet safety requirements for certain TDSB codes.”

One of the strangest incidents he has ever encountered during his time at MGCI was a fire that started on the roof during the summertime when the roof was being repaired. Describing it in detail, he said that “There was smoke all inside the school! The people working on the roof didn’t even realize the roof was on fire. I could count at least ten fire trucks that came.” To Mr. Chanmugam, bursting pipes seem normal compared to the fire!

On the caretaking team, Mr. Chanmugam entertains with his great sense of humour and his love for laughter. He is also more than happy to lend his knowledge to anyone who is in need of help or wants to learn something new, being a strong believer in lifelong learning, saying “If someone is interested in learning something, I’ll always be there to teach them! I believe that learning should be something that continues throughout your life, it doesn’t stop. If you think you already know it all, that’s a very bad mindset.”

Throughout the last seven years working at MGCI, Mr. Chanmugam has loved the diverse and vibrant community. He is very glad to have the opportunity to meet and interact with many students from different cultures and lifestyles. He also describes the school as economically diverse, where many students have just landed in Canada from different countries and are going to encounter many difficult challenges. “I believe that keeps you grounded and gives you room to grow. You get to see and know what kind of experiences and hardships different people go through in life. It makes you realize you can’t take things for granted,” he explained.

Despite his love for his job, there are also times that can get quite challenging and mentally tiring for Mr. Chanmugam. The TDSB has a limited amount of funding for supplies and staff, so it is difficult to get coverage when one of the caretakers are absent. Sometimes, he will be the only person in charge of an entire school with thousands of students, when he will be called in ten different directions to do ten different things. Mr. Chanmugam added, “You have so many responsibilities to think about and everything that’s happening has a time deadline, meaning that we have to balance and prioritize events. For instance, the caretakers are only given ten minutes to clean the cafeteria before lunch, but at the same time, we might have to do something else.” But at the end of the day, Mr. Chanmugam doesn’t mind these challenges and faces them with determination and smart prioritization to ensure that the students have a safe and healthy environment to learn in.

When asked about pet peeves, Mr. Chanmugam laughed and rolled his eyes. His biggest pet peeve is when people use something and don’t put it back in the place where they found it. He hates having to look for it again, which is time-consuming and inefficient, saying “I like to be organized, which really helps when you’re in a rush to get something done!”

Outside of school, Mr. Chanmugam has quite a few hobbies and interests. He enjoys playing soccer and fishing during weekends. Always trying to expand his knowledge, he also loves reading. He is currently learning about financial markets. Fitting to his head caretaker role, he also enjoys tinkering with his car and using his hands to build and fix objects at home. Mr. Chanmugam is also the proud father of three successful daughters, the youngest of whom is graduating Grade 12 this year. When Mr. Chanmugam gets home from work, he cooks and drives his youngest daughter to soccer and other activities.

In the second biggest school in the TDSB population-wise, Mr. Chanmugam is certain there is so much that he has yet to learn from his job and from the students of MGCI, saying that “If you can do your job well at MGCI, you can do it anywhere else.” Mr. Chanmugam and the caretaking team are always looking for areas they can improve on to give the students and teachers a safe and clean school environment. Despite working behind the scenes, they certainly play an extremely vital role in MGCI’s school community.