Gaining Ground: A day in the life of a maintenance officer

There’s much more to maintaining a school than meets the eye. Matthew Downey’s work is crucial to keeping his regional primary school running.

When Matthew Downey had a serious accident while servicing heavy machinery in 2009, a job at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School Orange was a lifeline.

Under a back-to-work scheme, Matt started working one day a week at the school. His wife, Nicole Downey, is Finance Manager at St Mary’s and a member of the IEU Executive.

“One day a week turned into three days a week and, as the school grew, the role became full time,” Matt says.

Early starts

Matt’s day starts at 7am when he unlocks the school and walks around to check everything is in order. He makes sure there are no leaks in the toilet block, that the lights are all working and he fixes anything that needs attention.

This generally takes about 90 minutes, then it’s time for a coffee before he jumps on the mower to maintain the ovals. As the day proceeds, he might move furniture or boxes, or do some gardening, plumbing or electrical work.

Once a week he runs a gardening club for kindergarten students.

“The kids love watching what they’ve planted grow and taking it home to their families,” he says. “People don’t get their hands dirty so much these days so it’s nice to see them having fun digging and growing their own veggies.

“It’s a fun and satisfying part of my week.”

No two days the same

Matt never knows what each day will bring and Matt says he loves this about the job.

“I grew up on a farm, so looking after trees, plants and lawn is second nature to me,” he says.

“I just don’t know what I’m walking into every morning, but there’s always something interesting going on.

“I do miss working with heavy machinery, but that was harsh on my body, and this is a safe alternative,” he says.

Matt has some funny anecdotes from his job, such as the time a student asked him to retrieve a shoe from the school’s roof, because it had “fallen off his foot”. Then there was a pesky crow that kept stealing children’s lunches.

“One day I was sitting on the oval and it dropped a golf ball quite close to me.” Matt says. “I had to get that golf ball back from the crow.”

Matt says he enjoys the relaxed atmosphere at the school, where everyone works together.

This update is part of the May 2024 edition of Gaining Ground enewsletter.
Gaining Ground is distributed to support staff members of the IEU two times per year.

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