FARMINGTON — After coming close in past years, the Farmington school district won the Ben Lujan Gold award for best maintenance department of all 89 New Mexico school districts.

The award, sponsored by the Public School Facility Authority and the Cooperative Education Services, honors the best maintained schools in the state. Farmington Municipal Schools has come close to winning the gold in the past with bronze awards in 2006-2009 and silver awards in 2010 and 2011.

Steve Vollmert, plant operations supervisor, was excited about being first in the state after the department faced setbacks at the beginning of the school year.

"That was amazing, actually," Vollmert said. "It was a really tough year. A lot of our veteran technicians retired. We lost eight in the last 18 months that had to be replaced while maintaining a good production output and retraining. They did a great job and paid attention to detail and worked really hard."

The program sends inspectors to schools to evaluate compliance with the state-mandated Preventive Maintenance Program, as well as looking at energy issues, record-keeping and equipment inventory, and tracking data in the state Facility Information Management System software program.

A team evaluated Farmington schools in October, touring two schools Mesa View Middle School and Esperanza Elementary School.

"We kept bouncing around to Mesa View and Esperanza. They looked at field work and inspected the schools, the grounds and the mechanical rooms and overall conditions of the facilities," Vollmert said.

"We've been pretty much been hitting the silver (award) for a few years. When they came up this year, they were very impressed with the program."

Vollmert said observers told him the district was very consistent with its life safety issues, along with maintenance, cleanliness and professional development.

A lot of effort was placed recently in training employees in handling the new work order system, which transitioned from paper to computer forms.

Vollmert said employees were taught to use the computer to input accurate data. He said it was a challenge adjusting to the system while ensuring smooth operations.

Superintendent Janel Ryan said the Ben Lujan Gold Award was well deserved by the maintenance department.

"They take care of everything here and the safety of the kids," Ryan said. "They repair the buildings, I have some of the most conscientious people I've ever seen."

The state's preventive maintenance program and facilities management system are both required to get funding by the Public School Capital Outlay Council, so the effort of the 106 maintenance, grounds, warehouse, custodian, office and department workers are helping the district make strides toward the future.

Their work had a direct influence on FMS receiving $3.1 million for work on Farmington High School this past August.

"We not only received the award, it helps with the PSOC," Ryan said. "We are starting the architecture process for FHS, they look at the maintenance and five-year plan. They always used Farmington as a plan for what they want (from other schools)."

Vollmert was excited to see the work done in previous years come to fruition.

"It took a lot of years to get to a place were we were comfortable as new schools were added and other schools remodeled and reinventoried," Vollmert said. "Fortunately, a lot of good guys have stepped up and helped."