Feature Article - February 2011
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Maintenance Series: Gymnasiums

Beauty and the Beast: Maintaining Your Gym

By Dawn Klingensmith


A bleacher maintenance and inspection checklist includes cleaning drive rollers; inspecting for proper motor voltage; tightening loose handrails and safety railings; and lubricating supports (L-channel, C-channel, brackets, etc.) and moving parts (rollers, cantilever arms, etc.).

"With bleachers specifically, it's critical that school districts be aware that they can break down often and they need maintenance on a regular schedule," Warner said. "When you recognize something's not operating properly, you need to stop and call someone—ignoring the problem will only lead to bigger problems. It could be something as simple as a water bottle jammed somewhere in the bleachers. Or it could be a broken weld that means your bleachers are about to collapse."

Neither bleachers nor basketball backstop systems should be operated by anyone other than a specially trained individual. Students, most coaches and other unqualified operators "are not in tune with or aware of what may be a bad sound or an odd angle" indicative of a structural or mechanical problem, Warner cautioned.

"Once you establish that protocol, then cleaning is probably the next most critical issue with bleachers," Warner said.

The main problem, he added, is that people keep feeding the beast.

"So many schools allow food into the gym," said Warner, adding that he understands it's a source of revenue.

Unfortunately, "Food gets into all the mechanisms—we see this constantly. And every time the bleachers cycle in and out, the stuff gets tracked around and works deeper and deeper into the mechanisms," Warner said.

This can attract pests, cause equipment failure and necessitate costly emergency repairs. Therefore, if food is permitted, trash receptacles should be plentiful and patrons urged to use them, Warner said.

"There are ways to clean bleachers properly," Warner said, "but it's not easy. It's time-consuming. I'd say 98 percent of schools don't do it."

Spilled food is not the only threat to the beast. "The biggest (gym maintenance) challenge we face here at Iowa State is the climate. In winter, people track in snow and sand and salt, and that causes a lot of wear and tear to the flooring and bleachers," said Doug Arrowsmith, coordinator of facility operations, Iowa State University at Ames.

For cleaning crews, "It's a constant battle to keep the grit out," he added. "We have rugs and carpet runners at the building entrances to try to get it knocked off."

Yet grit off the street finds its way to the gymnasium and even up in the stands.

"We are constantly trying to keep the bleachers clean," Arrowsmith said. And special care needs to be paid to the flooring underneath the bleachers when the system is recoiled.