Education was blueprint for career
Operations manager to retire after 27 years with district
March 15. 2013 10:07AM
Todd Williams knows more about locks and keys than the average person. He knows how to read blueprints, what chairs work best in a theater, and what kinds of communications equipment a past president uses.
After 27 years as operations manager for the Brandon Valley School District, Williams has a storehouse of knowledge about classrooms and the buildings that house them. He may know the details of what’s inside the walls and ceilings, and under the floors, of the district’s six school buildings than anyone else. After all, he was around when half of them were built.
Williams, 67, will retire at the end of this school year.
“Todd has a wide range of expertise that will be difficult to replace,” Superintendent Dave Pappone said. “He has been an intricate part of the district's continuous construction program and has overseen hundreds of thousands of square feet in new buildings and additions.”
A Watertown native, Williams took classes at South Dakota State University in Brookings before serving three years in the U.S. Army, two of those in Vietnam. He returned to college after his discharge and earned a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in guidance counseling from SDSU.
He didn’t leave the school, though, but stayed on for a decade, first as assistant director of the student union, then as director.
Seeking a change in career, he owned a hardware store in Iowa for a time. One day, his wife, Irene, saw the Brandon Valley operations manager advertised in the Des Moines Register and told him, “You can do that.”
He got the job, and since 1986, he has overseen the transportation, custodial, grounds, maintenance and child nutrition services departments. “Fortunately, we have very good people managing those areas,” he said.
When Williams started his job at Brandon Valley, the district had a total of 186,000 square feet of physical plant space. But the physical plant grew as the district’s enrollment grew. In 1994, the district added the middle school. Two grade schools – Robert Bennis Elementary and Fred Assam Elementary – followed that. The high school has seen two major additions during Williams’ time at Brandon Valley – a theater, and a project that included a new wing of classrooms, plus a gymnasium.
Today, the physical plant space totals 700,000 square feet. “I never knew that was coming,” Williams said.
Of the many projects he’s worked on, he said the Performing Arts Center stands out in his memory because of the unique needs of a theater. Light, sound and space are all particular to the space. Williams became familiar with every detail. He and district business manager Paul Lundberg picked out the theater seats, for example. They chose ones what have a counter weight that makes the seat fold up when someone’s not sitting in it. That is better than seats with springs that relax over time, causing seats to sag, Williams said.
Williams’ office is in a former bank building, another project he worked on. When First National Bank built a new building in Brandon, the school district acquired the old bank building to use as an administration center. It is named after one of the district’s former superintendents, George Gulson.
Retired now, Gulson remembered the time then-President Bill Clinton came to Brandon, for Homecoming in 1996. “His security guys checked out the school ahead of time,” Gulson said, and Williams was one of the district employees that worked with the security people.
When the president’s crew put antennas on the high school roof, Gulson remembers that Williams put on black pants and boots to assist. “And he was just in his glory, working with those guys from D.C.,” he said.
In fact, the administration office people started calling Williams “Rambo” because of the black clothes with boots he wore.
Williams’ two daughters graduated from Brandon Valley High School, and now Todd and Irene Williams have five granddaughters. Irene is a retired teacher, and the Williamses hope to spend more time with family after Todd retires. They also want to travel. They have been to Ireland and Italy, and last fall they were among a group of four couples who drove four Corvettes to Niagra Falls and some historical sites on the east coast.
Williams would like to go to Tennessee and visit the site of the Battle of Shiloh. His family’s lore says an ancestor was the first soldier to fall during the battle there.
Williams enjoys traveling and likes to mentally reconstruct the history of the places he tours.
He will remember the years he worked at Brandon Valley schools. “I enjoyed working with the students and facilities,” he said. When he first visited the district, “Something just clicked, and that’s why I’m here today.”