Groton - In October of 1979 Wes Greenleaf was just one month on the job in Groton when he got word of a ceiling collapse at the aging Eastern Point Elementary School.
Plaster, lighting fixtures and twisted metal rained down on the gymnasium floor, activating the sprinkler system, yanking down the plaster walls and exposing pre-World War II electrical wiring.
"Nobody was in the gym at the time but that was kind of an eye opener. It really set the tone for my entire career here in Groton," said Greenleaf.
After more than three decades of identifying and correcting problems across the school system, the 62-year-old married father of three is retiring this month as the school system's director of facilities and grounds. His last day is Oct. 19. His position carries a host of duties that range from safety and maintenance to construction grants and long-range planning.
"I suspect he knows every nut and bolt and door hinge and boiler in that school district," said Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger. "We're going to miss him big time."
Greenleaf, who is always on call and rarely goes a week without an after hours emergency because of the age of the schools, said it will be nice to take a break. The calls, the politics and countless monthly meetings are some of the things he will not miss. "The people and the satisfaction of seeing a job completed," have made it hard for him to leave.
"The only goal I've had is to balance the limited resources to support the learning process," he said. "The focus is always on the end product."
His goals for the future are to spend more time in exploring his love of history and perhaps a little traveling. But he hasn't ruled out working.
Through the years Greenleaf has worked with 11 superintendents, helped to obtain an estimated $90 million in state construction grant funds, built two schools and closed eight others that had outlived their usefulness - including Eastern Point.
He's had his hands in numerous renovation and construction projects, along with ongoing code compliance projects that include fuel tank replacements, fire alarms, handicap accessibility and asbestos abatement.
"One of the areas I am most proud of is energy efficiency, especially with the age of these buildings," Greenleaf said. "We've gone from using 800,000 gallons of fuel a year to roughly 190,000 gallons for the same square footage. We've held our own with electricity."
Greenleaf credits a strong team in maintaining the schools. He has 56 full-time and 16 part-time employees working for him in maintenance and custodial divisions, among them machinists who have the ability to create parts for some obsolete machines still running in the schools.
Town Council member Jim Streeter said "the service, dedication, knowledge and guidance," Greenleaf provided to both the school board and council," would be hard to replace.
"There's nothing he doesn't know about the internals of those schools," Streeter said. "He's paid his dues. I wish him well."
A Groton native and product of the school system himself, Greenleaf holds degrees in both educational leadership and industrial engineering.
Greenleaf initially started working here as a community development project coordinator in 1978, taking over school maintenance in 1979.
Few things have changed in Greenleaf's office since he started amassing his collection of maps and manuals on subjects ranging from water systems to health policies.
He recalls the challenges of the major technology upgrade in the mid-1990s, upgrades he said would later be used for models for other schools ushering in the use of computers.
"These are the things I find exciting, the challenges," Greenleaf said. "We always like to get things right the first time."
Over the summer, Greenleaf helped to plan for and consolidate three middle schools into two. One of the more recent projects Greenleaf worked on a was a $133 million "Phase II" facilities plan that would have closed two schools and built two new schools while consolidating all middle school students into one building. The initiative failed at referendum by a 3-to-1 margin.
"The person who follows me will have a lot to do with what happens next," Greenleaf said.
The issues of aging facilities and racial imbalances are some of the things Greenleaf said will continue to be challenges for his successor. He also plans to help mentor whoever is hired - even if it means volunteering his time.
Bob Peruzzotti, chairman of the school board's facilties committee, said he's worked with Greenleaf for more than a decade and is constantly impressed.
"His honesty and integrity is only exceeded by his work ethic," Peruzzotti said. "He never says no - just goes about getting it done. I'm going to be sorry to see him go. I don't think people of Groton realize how much he's done and how much he's saved the town of Groton. He's not one to shine the light on himself."