Robert Bonner - Class of 1975
Safety and Environmental Manager for Facilities Services Burke County Public Schools

When most people think of the public schools, usually their first ideas are of textbooks, teachers, sports, band, or buses. But there is far more to operating a large organization like a school system, keeping the buildings and other environment safe for students, teachers, and visitors. These tasks are not often visible to the public, but their efficient implementation is crucial to the success of the system.

Robert Bonner serves as the Safety and Environmental Manager for Facilities Services for the Burke County School System. “I handle all of the regulatory inspections for the school system,” he explains. “These include fire marshall and electrical building inspections; fire and property inspections for the Department of Public Instruction; Utica Liability Insurance inspections; annual fire alarm, sprinklers, extinguishers, and café hoods inspections; and playground inspections. I currently chair the Facilities Services Safety Committee which manages work related injuries to employees. I also handle ADA issues with elevators and lifts from a maintenance standpoint and manage the systems Asbestos Management Planner program. I also manage the school systems Community Use Contracting program for use of the schools outside of daily school routine. Whenever an organization wishes to use a school facility for a non-related school event, it is my office that handles the contract.”

Such a complicated job with so many duties requires a great deal of organization. Robert explains that much of it is process oriented, which requires visualizing a program, planning for steps to implement it, anticipating issues along the way, and finding solutions to any problems that may arise. “I enjoy the opportunity to utilize my Process Management training which I learned in the private sector prior to coming to work for the schools. Process Management gives an individual the opportunity to find effective and efficient ways to work through problems and find solutions and do so in a way that is beneficial to the student population and the facilities program.

Robert earned an Associate of Arts degree from WPCC and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Appalachian State University. He also received Energy Management Certification from NC State and is a licensed NC Property and Liability insurance agent.

“Before working for the school system, I was a claims adjuster for Wachovia Bank and Trust and worked in lending for a brief stint. I moved over to Earthgrains Baking and learned Process Management from their association with Anheuser-Busch. The ability to work with raw ingredients and develop those ingredients into a finished edible product for sale and profit had its influences. It was at this juncture that I became involved with Worker Compensation administration and overall Plant and Sales team safety that propelled me to seek an Insurance certification. All of these job experiences helped me prepare for the work I do for the school system every day.

“Challenges come in many forms. Budget and finance considerations are always paramount in facilities projects. Certified labor to accomplish project parameters and actual time to complete the job task are always challenges in a system where many tasks cannot be implemented while teaching is being conducted. The rewards are finding satisfying if solutions in order to move projects forward given the obvious challenges.”

As a member of East Burke’s first graduating class, Robert has special memories of high school. “Being elected Student Government Vice-President our first year at EBHS was big, as this was the first time for our class that four high schools were combined into one school. So it was up to us to bring things together during our senior year. Also, playing baseball that spring was fun. Here’s a shout out to the ‘Bench Warmers Club of 75.’ You guys know who you are and are not forgotten!

“How could I have ever imagined back in those high school days that I would someday be working not only to keep my own alma mater safe but also with the entire school system. It’s amazing where life takes us. “As for mentors, history teacher and coach Sam Wilkinson and science teacher Jimmy Hipps were solid influences, as were E.R. “Rocky” Vaught at Western Carolina Industries and Durwood Clark at Wachovia Bank and Trust. And, of course, my Heavenly father and my Earthly father have left their mark on me!

“Maintaining a safe environment for our students and staff is a very important job. We have a huge responsibility to the public, and we work hard to keep things running properly. I hope, if the Lord allows, to finish my time here at the school system at age 66 ½ and then continue to use the skills I have used here to start my own Consultation Company for Safety, Energy, and Environment (S.E.E.).”

The public school system is one of the most widely known institutions in our society, but so much more is involved than teaching methods, club activities, and sports. The people who work diligently to maintain the facilities and keep everyone safe may not get the public recognition, but they are so necessary to provide the proper environment for learning and achieving.

Published October 2019

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