While students and teachers stay home with their families over Thanksgiving break, one former student is heading back to school—with a can of paint.
The former student, Luis Santana, Sr. (pictured), grew up in the Hill neighborhood. He attended Welch-Annex, Gold Street, Roberto Clemente, and Lee High schools. Then he attended a city-run trades program, where he learned to paint by practicing on city schools.
Now he runs his own business—painting some of those same schools.
Over this holiday weekend, Santana plans to slip out of his house to work on his next job: sprucing up the drab cinderblock of High School in the Community (HSC).
The 250-student magnet school sits in a former industrial space on Water Street. It hasn’t been painted in at least 17 years.
In addition to repainting the facade around the inner parking lot, the district plans to repave the lot, improve the signage, and replace some windows in the spring, according to Chief Operating Officer Will Clark. The improvements are covered by the state’s $1.5 million grant to HSC this year for being a state-sanctioned turnaround school in the Commissioner’s Network, Clark said.
Santana traced his finger along the faded yellow paint Tuesday and came up with a layer of dust.
He hooked up a hose to his brand new Troy Bilt 3000 max PSI 2.7 GPM powerwasher. (Never turn it on before running the water first, he advised.) Then he fired it up and set to work.
He climbed a ladder and sprayed years of grit off of the front of the building.
Santana, who’s 47, launched his own business in 2008 with the help of the city’s small business initiative. He runs the company, International Remodeling, with his wife and his 25-year-old son, Luis Santana, Jr.
Santana never finished high school. He did get a G.E.D., which was a requirement of a city trade program that trained him to be a painter.
In 2010, he landed his first deal with the Board of Education, a $50,000 contract to paint city schools. In 2011, he scored another contract for $90,000. This year, the sum grew to $100,000, he said.
He called the contract “the best thing that ever happened in my life.”
“This is where I first started my training,” he said between trips up the ladder Tuesday. “It’s like a circle.”
As he blasted the facade, he came across a bird’s nest, which he planned to carefully remove. He zeroed in one one crumbling area, where dust had collected.
“When you’ve been doing it so long, it becomes an art,” he said.
After blowing away the dirt and loose paint, Santana planned to apply one coat of primer and two coats of paint. He didn’t know which color. The school system chooses that, not him. Santana said he’s going to try to get the job done by the end of next week, before the weather gets too cold.
“Time is of the essence,” he said.
To achieve his mission, he planned to slip out of the house early Thanksgiving morning, while his wife was preparing dinner, to start making preparations to the facade.
“I’m going to sneak out and try to get a few windows covered up,” he said.
“I’ll be here,” he said, “unless my wife ties me to my bed.”