Luis Returns

Melissa Bailey PhotoWhile 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.”

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posted by: Leslie Blatteau on November 22, 2012  11:25pm

Great story.  This should be the norm not the exception.  Purposeful education and opportunities to live and work in your city.  Investment at its best. 

And great pictures Melissa!  Mr. Santana’s shadows are Bansky-inspired, in the first one, his shadow is a train conductor.  Thank you.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on November 23, 2012  8:18am

Luis Santana Thank you for taking one step forward really hope that some members of your nationhood feel inspired enough to help you and no only with the painting job. So much little activities they can do to improve school and community.

posted by: cp06 on November 23, 2012  4:41pm

What’s the name of his business? How can interested people contact him?

posted by: cp06 on November 23, 2012  5:39pm

clarification to my original comment of “What’s the name of his business? How can interested people contact him?” I am asking the editor if that information can be provided.

posted by: Melissa Bailey on November 26, 2012  2:03pm


Sure—it’s International Remodeling LLC, (203) 535-0759.

posted by: Tom Burns on November 26, 2012  10:12pm

Go Luis—you are truly a champion and an inspiration to all of us—Tom

posted by: InternationalRemodelingLLC on November 27, 2012  12:30am

Hello all! Our company is International Remodeling LLC phone number has recently been changed to 203-684-0432 sorry for any inconvenience. Thank you everyone for your support.